New Beginning (2010)

Step, step, step, touch, step, touch. Pause. Begin anew. Step, step, step, touch, step, touch. Pause. Begin anew. This is the simplest shape of the oldest dance, the three-measure pattern which appears in every place where circle dance once thrived and still survives, with infinite names and variations. Pravo, Valle, Halay, Omal, Govend, Sta Tria; with a slight zigzag form it becomes Cocek, Zonaradiko, Hasapia, Issos; a little further embellishment brings many more recognisable dances, such as Jeni Jol, Göç, Mairam Govand and all the more complicated forms of Cocek.

Anyone who has danced with me over the past twenty years or so will have heard my theory that this three-measure dance pattern is an embodied translation of the ancient symbol of the Tree of Life. The folk art pattern of the Tree of Life – woven, carved, baked, embroidered – is just as widespread and ubiquitous as the three-measure dances, in the same geographical area of Old Europe and the Near East where the three-measure dances are found. And the Tree of Life itself is an encoded symbol for the Mother Goddess who was revered, once upon a time, also in that exact same geographical area. Travellers today easily find that remnants of her worship can still be discerned in myriad ways, not least in dance.

Step, step: like the trunk of the tree, growth, movement, progress, life; bridging past and future, where we’ve been and where we’re going, earth and sky. Step, touch, step, touch: identical movements mirrored symmetrically to the right and left, like the two branches of the Tree of Life, of equal size and shape, balanced and centred upon the axis of the initial movement. And then a pause, a breath, a rebirth of new momentum, new beginning. In this coming to standstill, starting anew, the dance takes the shape of the Tree of Life in another way, following the annual cycle of the tree through spring, summer, and autumn, times of growth and giving, to winter, the step back to the left: retreat, return, rest and replenishment. Only this moment of stillness, of not-movement, enables the new beginning, the first green shoots of growth, and they are as welcome in our lives
- if we have rested - as are the first signs of spring, right about now.

If you are reading this in the first issue of Neue Kreise Ziehen, it is late winter. We are at that exact point now. Having rested, we hope, over the winter, the rhythm of life stirs in us once again. Having rested, we are ready to allow it to flow through us and into our lives. Having rested, the movement supports us as it flows through us the exact same way the new green growth of plants is supported by the flowing sap filling its cells. Having rested, we rejoice to begin our movement again. We embody the tree of life in our own yearly life cycle, by accepting the simple and vital task of rest in the winter, demonstrated and demanded by all the inhabitants of the natural world, of which we are a part. We allow the Tree of Life to come into being in the world, and in return we are given this great gift, the regular capacity for conscious new beginning.

In this way we ourselves become the Tree, exactly as did those women who danced these steps for countless generations. These grandmothers of the human family danced in costumes made by hand from the produce of their fields, embellished with woven and embroidered images of the dancing Goddess, Tree of Life. Crowned with fringed and beaded head-dresses adorned with flowers, leaves, and fruits, these women themselves embodied the Tree and the Goddess together. Not only the annual cycle, but also the daily cycle of waking, work and rest, thus finds expression through dance. In this conscious repetition of the regular rhythm of rest and renewal, the benevolent power of the Goddess is again brought into the world and made manifest in our bodies and in our community.

Benevolent power, did I say? Yes, absolutely, but what is good for us is not always easy; the winter’s rest is also the time for wild winds to scour dead wood out of forest and garden, to cleanse, clean and clear. This is the power of the crone, the cailleach, the wise old woman, the winter power; and this moment of releasing the old, both in dance and life, is essential preparation for the new beginning. So it is that in our lives we too can relive the essential mystery of life, death and rebirth, the story of the planted grain left to ripen and die, to be cut and threshed, to bring new life in the form of next day’s bread and next year’s seed.

The ancient goddesses of the places where the three-measure dances are still remembered give names and faces to these rhythms and rituals. Demeter and Persephone and the mystery of the grain in Eleusis; the Three Fates and the Triple Goddess; Maiden, Mother and Crone endlessly cycling and renewing in the phases of the moon. When we dance the simplest dance pattern, then, with conscious awareness of its roots in the most powerful symbols and rituals of the ancient world, we too are brought into the power of the cycles we affirm. By giving them life, they give us life. They give us new beginning, as the new priestesses of the dancing goddess and the Tree of Life. May the give us the power, too, to release the old and make space for the new, at a time when our world sorely needs the healing power of exactly these rituals of renewal.