Just as there is no one story of the Planetary Dance, so there is no one Planetary Dance Philosophy. Anyone, regardless of their philosophical or religious persuasion, can participate in the Planetary Dance as long as they embrace it as “a dance for peace among people and peace with the Earth.”
It is true though that many people who participate in the Planetary Dance view it as a ritual dance in which the dancers are dancing to accomplish an explicit purpose in the world. They recognize that the tradition of ritual dance goes back thousands of years.
Dance in Traditional Cultures
In ancient times and in traditional cultures, dance has functioned as the means by which people gathered and unified themselves in order to confront the challenges of their existence. When, for example, the members of some hunting cultures need food, they do a hunting dance, preparing themselves for the rigors of the hunt and supplicating the divinities and the animal spirits to bless their undertaking. Often the dancers enact the whole ritual of the hunt, bringing it to a successful conclusion.
It is believed that when the dancers enter the dance they actually become the hunters and the prey. By enacting the hunt, the dancers seek to invoke a sympathetic magic by which the correct completion of the ritual ensures the successful completion of the hunt. In fact, they believe there is no difference—the hunting dance and the hunt itself are the same spiritual event seen from two different temporal angles.
Dance and song constitute one of the most important languages for traditional peoples. It is a magical language of power. It is the language of the spirits. It is the language nature understands. It is the language in which are enacted the myths and stories that provide people with the correct way to make sense out of their experience. To celebrate birth and marriage, to initiate the young into adulthood, to initiate adults into the sacred mysteries, to prepare for war, to celebrate victory or lament defeat, to heal the sick, to help the dying on their journey into the land of the dead, to maintain the life of the community on the proper path, traditional peoples sing their songs and dance their dances.
In the evolution of Western industrialized urban culture, a great many people gradually lost both the language of dance and their deep connection to the natural and spiritual worlds. Insulated from nature by the construction of a mechanical, technological order, Western culture has deeply disrupted the delicate fabric of life to the extent that we now face a serious threat to our continued existence. We are also confronting a thorough-going social dislocation growing from the same roots—manifesting in deep economic and social inequalities, crime, disease, confusion, and war.
The Planetary Dance is a way of rediscovering the lost language of dance. It is not the expropriation of traditional ritual dance. Rather, the Planetary Dance is a new creation that utilizes the principles of ritual dance in order to create something that has the power of the old dances but grows out of and addresses our current reality.
Understanding Ritual Dance
The power of ritual dance may not make sense if you think of it mechanistically, from the point of view of materialistic cause and effect. However, from another point of view, its power makes very good sense indeed. In this view, everything finds its place within a unified, living whole – each part of which affects every other part, as well as the whole.
Ordinary human physical experience only touches a limited portion of this diverse unity. Subtle energy dimensions, often referred to as spiritual, pervade and extend beyond the physical dimension. People with developed inner senses can experience these other dimensions, as well as utilize them to have powerful effects on the physical dimension.
A ritual dance, guided by a vision, seems to be able to reach right into the subtle energy dimensions and directly create an energy pattern. The more times the dance is repeated, the stronger the pattern becomes. If people act in the physical world in a way that is receptive to and guided by the energy pattern, then that energy pattern will tend to manifest fully in the physical world of everyday occurrences.
To utilize this type of ritual dance to accomplish a purpose, it is important to understand the distinction between “subjective art” and “objective art.”
Subjective art is the art with which Western culture is most familiar. Subjective artists use their craft—painting, music, dance, poetry—to reveal some aspect of their own personal, frequently subconscious, world of experience and expression. The art is good to the degree that it works to draw observers—its audience—into the artist’s world and give the observer a strong, interesting, perhaps inspiring taste of things from that artist’s perspective. With subjective art, the aesthetic experience is precisely the experience of being drawn into the artist’s world of experience.
Western culture is less familiar with the concept of objective art. Objective art is art that evokes a pre-determined experience for the participant and has a predetermined effect in the world. A rain dance at the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico is an example of objective art. The dancers follow precise, predetermined steps to the beat of the drums, with a precise predetermined psychological reality, in order to accomplish the purpose of evoking rain.
There is no room for subjective, personal expression. If the Santa Clara Pueblo dancers let their minds wander, or miss a step, or their dress is not exact, they are pulled out of the line by the Koshare and reprimanded. If the infraction is serious enough, they may be removed from the dance. It is believed that the dance must be performed perfectly (or at least close to perfectly) for it to be effective in bringing rain.
The Planetary Dance aspires to be a work of objective art. When dancers call out their intention, cross into the circle, and begin the Earth Run, they are supposed to keep exactly to the beat of the drum and keep their mind focused on their personal intention and the collective intention of dancing for peace among people and peace with the Earth.
In the Planetary Dance, the dancers have the opportunity to step away from their personal egos and completely join a community that is dancing together in unison, with one pulse, and one collective purpose. Occasionally, a participant who is new to the Planetary Dance will begin to whirl or hop or get off of the pulse in some other way. I have seen Anna Halprin go over to such a participant and gently bring him or her back to the collective, to the one pulse of the drum, to the community dancing in unison.
The Power of Ritual Dance
You may believe that the power of traditional ritual dances comes from the coordinated imagination of a unified people, or you may join with those traditional dancers in the belief that the dances actually configure and channel a subtle, all-pervasive spiritual energy that tends to control what will actually happen in the physical world. In either case there is no denying that ritual dances have had the power to help cohere and maintain societies for hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years.
From the spiritual perspective, crossing the circle and beginning the Earth Run involves crossing into ritual space and ritual time. This should be undertaken with a certain non-denominational reverence.
The moving mandala that is formed by the running dancers creates a spiritual energy form that is an enactment of peace. The release of the dancers’ intentions is a non-denominational prayer for peace. The actions that the dancers take for peace between Planetary Dances are concrete ways to manifest peace.
In the ritual, the boundaries establishing space and time are loosened somewhat. There is a sense in which everyone who dances the Planetary Dance anywhere is dancing together with everyone else everywhere else. And, there is a sense in which everyone who ever has danced a Planetary Dance and who ever will dance a Planetary Dance is dancing together with everyone else who ever has danced or ever will dance a Planetary Dance.
Every time the Planetary Dance is danced, the Planetary Dance spiritual energy becomes more powerful and attracts more people and makes a stronger contribution to the manifestation of the dancers’ individual and collective intentions. Many Planetary Dancers describe the experience as an altered state that is palpable and profoundly powerful.
Whatever your beliefs about how ritual dance works, the Planetary Dance gives you the opportunity to join with a rapidly growing worldwide community of Planetary Dancers, to rediscover the power of the language of ritual dance, and to create dances that apply this power to the great challenge of our time—transforming and renewing our society to help us find the peace among people and peace with the Earth that we so desperately need.