WHAT IS THE DANCE?
Longtime dancer Jan Wylie from Virginia shares her journey of asking the burning question: What is the Dance? It was Jan who petitioned the New York Council to bring 100 year-old Ida Mae Garrison to the NY Dance in 2017. Under Jan’s care Ida Mae made it to the dance, and we all promptly fell in love with each other. Jan writes:
In 2001 when I was first invited to a Naraya, I asked my question – What Is the Dance? – and was simply told that I should go to one. My friends and my fellow Native American flute players, Marvin Taub and Cynthy, continued to issue invitations over the years, and I continued to ask without getting any satisfactory answer. My logical mind wanted to know just what I’d be getting myself into! Over the next 15 years of invitations and asking, I got a hint or two about the format, but not enough information to satisfy me.
In 2016, events conspired for me to finally attended the dance in Tennessee. I went still knowing little more than I’d be singing and dancing in the evenings. I stepped from my car and was greeted with “Welcome home.” My inner sceptic was on high alert, and the greeting felt so wrong – I’d never been there, so how could it be home? I was a stranger and nothing was familiar – definitely not home! There I was in Tennessee with no real idea of what a Dance is, nothing familiar, no idea of the cultural norms or expectations, and no one to turn to. I have to believe that Spirit had arranged it that way so I’d have no preconceived notions, no expectations, and no one to lean into. I’d have to find my way myself. I’d have to discover what a dance is on my own.
At the end of the 2016 Tennessee dance, I had data, but still could not answer the question. I figured that as I reviewed the dance on my long drive home, understanding would arrive. Nope. I had no answer to that question, nor could I answer: “What did you get from the Dance? How has it changed your life? Was it worth it?” I only knew that I had the experience of being there and that some subtle shift was going on in my life. My life was somehow becoming richer. There was a little more joy and optimism in my days. Was this the Dance, or was it the fruit of the work I’d been doing for years? Was I finally walking closer to the Truth and reaping the harvest of that? I really didn’t know, but I gladly and gratefully embraced these changes. And still I wondered.
When the call came for the 2016 New England Dance For All People (Marvin’s home dance), I thought that surely I’d find the answer to that question there. After all, this is the dance that Marvin invited me to back in 2001, and where he had found something that enriched his life. He had recently gone to the Other Side Camp in 2014, and attending would be a way to honor him, to thank him for all he gave to my life. That dance was small, intimate, and allowed me to relax more into the experience. It allowed me to connect with the people there, something that helped me begin to feel less like a watcher and more like a participant. I felt more little shifts in myself. I could not define them. Yet there was this budding suspicion that I just might belong here on this planet, to the human race, that I might be making a positive difference in some small way. Still, I left without an answer to that question: What is the Dance?
My search for an answer continued when I returned to Tennessee in 2017. I stepped out of my car and was greeted with, “Welcome home” just as I had been a year before. This time there was a ring of truth about it. The dance was taking on a sense of familiarity and comfort. I could lean into it and into the people there. I could give back in some small ways because I was becoming familiar with the logistics; I could see where assistance was needed. The end of the dance came, and with it the long drive home to process the experience. I lacked understanding for some of the things that happened, but was growing more comfortable. I was beginning to develop the trust that all was unfolding as it should.
Away from the dance, my life continued to bloom in ways that surprised me. My needs were being met with less effort on my part. New people walked into my life, and enriched me. Opportunities to use my gifts and talents in service to Spirit and others appeared with regularity. And yet I still found myself unable to define a dance in a few simple sentences.
Ida Mae Garrison at the NY Dance 2017
Photo Kwai Lam
When the 2017 Call Letter came for New York, I found myself answering it with a request that the NY Council sponsor Ida Mae, a 100 year-old Hunkpapa friend of mine, to attend. From my then perspective, to request such a thing was a scary, brave thing to do; from my current perspective, it was Spirit working though me. My request was met with a big YES. Ida Mae was welcomed at the dance with open arms – literally. Ida Mae’s grace, gratitude, and joy to hear and sing the traditional songs brought tears to her eyes and ours.
For me, this dance was all about being of service and gratitude for the richness that flows when one is in service to the Divine. I spent the dance in a whirlwind of activity, seeing love in action, tending to Ida Mae, attempting to record the gifts and precious moments, learning names, meeting new people, and witnessing great, deep healings, both personally and culturally. So much happened in so short a time that I left that dance with much to process.
Upon Ida Mae’s return home after the NY dance, she spoke excitedly about traveling to Tennessee in April, but it was not to be. Ida Mae Garrison crossed over to the Other Side Camp on March 25, 2018. It was a peaceful passing, surrounded by family and caregivers.
Even after five dances, I am still searching for a satisfactory answer to my longtime question, one that is succinct and all-encompassing, one that satisfies the logical side of me. I suspect that the question defies an answer. I suspect that the Dance cannot be labeled or defined in a few sentences, it is many things. It is something different for every person. The Dance offers ceremony, community, challenge, acceptance, growth, change, renewal, service, joy, healing, gratitude, wonder, heart-opening, love….
The Dance is a point in time where all the elements come together to allow a deeper connection to the normally unseen world. There is communication through the veil that separates the planes of existence so that we in this five-sense world may receive greater understanding, wisdom, healing, inspiration, vision, and guidance. This communication can be as subtle or as intense as the individual needs. The one common factor: it is always for our good, for the good of all life.
THE NEXT DANCE
Birth family, chosen family, human family, spirit family. We dance into the family that loves us for exactly who we are-and supports us to grow into our best selves. We dance to heal the wounds that are passed down through our families. We dance to lean into the family bonds that lift us up and strengthen us to do our work in the world.
There was this budding suspicion that I just might belong here on this planet, to the human race, that I might be making a positive difference in some small way.
THANK YOU everyone for all your generous NCPC contributions that make it possible for us to help support each and every one of our dances across the country! Your contributions also make it possible for elders to get to ceremonies, and to fund other important events.
Naraya Cultural Preservation Council