Engaging Young Adults in the Dances of Universal Peace
7th North American Regional Telecon
September 27, 2010
Transcribed by Sky Majida Roshay
Thanks to Dances of Universal Peace North America for this transcript.
Summary: A discussion about how to encourage participation by young adults in the Dances of Universal Peace. Presented by young adult members from throughout our Dance community including Jon Maitreya Stevens (NY), Katie Hamida Wiese (MA), Heidi Stinson (PA), Alliann Rutherford (NY), and Jen Friedman (CO). Moderator: Jen Friedman.
Jen welcomes everyone to the call. She is a member of the Board of DUP NA, and is a 33 year old Dance leader and musician living in Colorado.
This is the seventh regional telecon, a wonderful way to get together to talk about issues of importance and to feel the connection.
The panel of speakers include Jon Maitreya Stevens (NY), Katie Hamida Wiese (MA), Heidi Stinson (PA), and Alliann Rutherford (NY).
Jen will introduce a topic; the speakers will respond first and then the floor will be opened to all participants. There is no rigid structure, let’s just see where the flow takes us.
Toward the One, the Perfection of Love, Harmony and Beauty,
The only Being,
United with all the Illuminated Souls who form
The embodiment of the Master,
The Spirit of Guidance.
Jen introduces the speakers.
Maitreya Jon Stevens was invited to the Dances by a dear friend 4-5 years ago in Cambridge MA, and there was Halima [Sussman] leading Dances, and Abraham [Sussman] playing guitar. He was stunned by the amount of magnetism in the air; he had never experienced that in a group of people, so naturally he was curious. He brought his mandolin to a Dance one day and sat down next to Abraham. Abraham looked at him, he looked at Abraham and they just started playing music. The Dances have become a wonderful spiritual practice that he loves to do with people; he loves to sing and to experience things that so beyond words.
Katie Hamida Wiese came to the Dances literally being dragged there with her mom when she was elementary school aged, where she sat on the outside of the circle for years. She is sure some people on the call have memories of her sitting on the benches, making necklaces, listening and feeling what was going on. When she was a little older, she started dancing instead of sitting on the outside, and that opened up a whole new world. It was coming to the east coast and feeling the different energy there from the west coast that brought it full circle and made it an important practice for her.
Heidi Stinson, from Colorado, is going to school in Pennsylvania. She called her mom to ask when she started going to Dances; technically it was before she was born, then in a backpack, then on the floor and then in the circle. She has grown up being supported in the Dances, feeling really comfortable with them and having them be an important part of her life. A couple of years ago, she had gotten bored and felt a little bit disenchanted because there weren’t young people and she didn’t feel connected. But then she went to Wilderness Camp with the young people and got connected again. There is no Dance circle where she is, but she still feels supported by the Dances.
Allie Rutherford is not on the call at this point.
Jen’s first question is how do we attract young adults to come to a Dance session, get them in the door? Will social media (Facbook, eg) work for us? What kind of successes and feedback do you have for us?
Katie Hamida has been working for a social media network, and feels that online tools are just tools to make it easier to gather in person, and in no way replace the personal contact.
Maitreya says he hasn’t used social media and hasn’t been holding a circle for very long; he has emailed a friend or two to remind them of an upcoming Dance. While Katie Hamida was talking, he was having a vision of a Dance leader tweeting during a Dance to update everyone else on how it’s going.
Heidi gets emails from Sky about Dance events, and even if she can’t go she likes that feeling of being connected.
Astara from Seattle has run a meetup group for a meditation group that draws young people, but you have to make sure that people on meetup know that there are other avenues that draw people in as well, otherwise they get discouraged seeing how few meetup people are responding. Social media is no substitute for one-on-one personal follow up; personal contact is needed to build and sustain a relationship. She mentions meditation because it’s comparable to DUP.
Jen asks if anyone has had success using Facebook, Twitter, meetup, etc. Sky Majida hasn’t, and asks, “How do you get the kids there?” Jen says, that’s my next question!
Marcus from Alberta Canada is 31 and says that he has been dancing for a few years. He hears what everyone says about Facebook and Twitter, which are tools. Where he lives, there are now so many things to do, and you get so many emails and messages about it that they lose their charm. People check the guest lists to see who is coming and whether they will meet new people and such. As a new dance leader, he has to think how to maintain the stream of interest with all these interesting things going on. He thinks we’re returning to a time where we need to make phone calls to invite people personally. Imovies and short videos (1 minute) to show the essence of the Dances are good too.
Jen says she’s hearing to use phone contact to invite people we already know, but how do we get to those who we don’t know, who don’t know what we are doing?
Hayra Fatah from Seattle says they have used Facebook for a couple of years, and says it’s getting younger people as well as older people, and the median age is lower than the old timers, so it’s working – when you’re near 60, it’s lovely to get someone who’s 40!
Ananda is happy to be on the call; she is in central New Jersey. She thinks there’s a lot of possibility in the social media, specifically Facebook, Linked In and Twitter. She’s had positive experiences lately using Twitter, and increasingly effective experiences with FB and Linked In, partly because she has been learning how to use these media effectively from people who are highly skilled and effective in it. It’s important for people who would like to share the Dances to think about ways to communicate with each other using these media, letting people know that we are out there, as an opportunity for them to take advantage of, and if Dancers use it to spread the word, it’s just a matter of time before people of a variety of ages get involved. If we create a presence and use these media effectively, they will find us.
Malina (?) lives in Jackson now, but grew up in Taos at the Lama Foundation, and got introduced to the Dances really early when she used to go with a friend and her mother; a lot of parents brought their kids, which was a great way to get introduced – it was a family thing. Bring your kids, let them bring friends, and then they bring their friends – it’s a connection thing, just by experience and sharing first hand. She thinks Facebook would work; if she saw something on Facebook in Jackson she would definitely go. If youth are journalists, they should write about universal peace dances for newspapers and internet journals to get the word out.
Hamida adds that she feels that Facebook is an imperfect tool; shesuggests approaching it like a bulletin board; now instead of posting flyers with bright colors and graphics, the text is really important; find a really honest straight-to-the-heart way of describing the Dances and getting people’s interest, in one or two sentences, which of course isn’t easy! Also having links to music for people to listen to helps.
Yaqin from Prescott AZ says they have a college that attracts alternative youth from around the country. They have been trying to attract the kids for years, through announcements and flyers, and the New Years Eve dance [Global Peace Dance] happens at the college, but the kids don’t come. This is a school that is stresses spirituality and has lots of courses on world religions and stuff, so it seems like they would be an ideal group. He finally got himself invited to lead Dances at a class there, but there is something he doesn’t understand about talking to them because everything he said just seemed to bounce off and go flat, so how do you communicate with them? What words do you use? Maybe the language has changed since the 60s… That college is the group he has been focusing on but maybe a different group – high school? – would be better. He also knows that when someone comes to a Dance, they either get it or they don’t. He’s interested in feedback.
Allie Rutherford apologizes for being late. She is 23, lives in New York, and learned the Dances while living in Hawaii; the whole group was at least 30 years old, most were in their 40s or older. In her current circle (Syracuse) most people are at least in their 40s. She doesn’t notice that, she connects with people in that ageless place that is their purity. It’s interesting from the perspective of people her age: we are more connected to our truth still in some ways, we want to be happy and have fun. A lot of wordiness, especially the “this is the way it is because this is the way it’s always been” kind of energy from older Dance leaders, [doesn’t work]. We’re looking for more energy, more spontaneity, and more of that awareness that we are all the light and in that state of infinite awareness, where there is not that much hierarchy of leader-dancer, but more that we’re all in it together. She’s thought about how to include high school students, talking to the teachers or principal or whoever, about doing a dance for half an hour to introduce the Dacnes to the students that way. Vitamin L (Love) used to come to elementary schools, including hers, to sing songs like “No put downs, pass it around”, and she loved that. She is a journalist, so writing articles is a great idea. She also thinks posting flyers in coffee shops – she lives in a town with five colleges – would attract people too.
Abraham appreciates her focus on love and universal consciousness and the magnetism that draws people. He started dancing when he was 24, and the leader (Murshid SAM) was 70. SAM had infinite magnetism and infinite energy; there was no issue about youth or age. SAM said something very profound, “I don’t come here to lead the youth but to follow them; I will walk with them into the new age.” As leaders, we need to keep our sense of vitality and magnetism alive in the Dances. The idea of drawing people to the dance through whatever means of communication is good, but he’s more concerned about what happens during the Dance – are the Dances magnetic, do they draw people in, are they something young people will want to attend because they are vital and engaging and full of heart? Their secret in Cambridge to attract young people is having Maitreya and Katie Hamida who are young and vibrant and draw young people in. They have a positive relationship with many generations, which is an important feature for drawing new young people in and helping them feel safe and welcomed.
Maitreya agrees; he says the social media gets the word out, but the Dances teach about developing relationships, so if you are a leader and you want to draw younger folks in, develop a friendship with some – maybe they’ll come in a year or in a week. Murshid SAM or Hazrat Inayat Khan said “Sufism is about experience not [word]”; make it rich and juicy will draw so many people in and young people will forget about holding hands and looking in people’s eyes and dancing with people their parents’ age. Treating younger people differently has a negative impact and creates distinctions and differences.
Sky Majida says that last year Matin Mize from Silver City brought some very old Dances to their local camp, ones that had a lot of vitality and energy to them (Matin started dancing right after SAM died); she compares those intense, high-energy, vital Dances to a lot of the Dances they normally do in their sessions, and thinks that if she had been faced with the kind of Dances we do now when she was in her 2os, she probably would not have been attracted to them. They’re deep and meaningful but it’s more subtle and doesn’t have that vitality. The kids really like Maitreya’s Zikr of the Groove with the old movements; it really got them engaged.
Marcus has a lot of thoughts going on, and they may not be clear, but he’d like to share. He’s so into the Dances and he loves dancing with the 60 and 70 year olds, but as he watches the aging of the community, he wants to share the Dances and make sure they live on, and he does wonder why people don’t come – his Bohemian tribal community may come once, but they don’t come back… After a long dance retreat, his body is so wiped out and he asks it why, and realizes his body needs more freedom, he needs to move it and express the energy moving through him in his own way. The Dances are the practice of Unity, and they are very pure and don’t need jazzing up, but what the sincere seekers of his age are seeking, what his body needs, is to feel the opposite end of the spectrum while he is dancing – yin-yang – to be able to rock out, to balance the practice of Unity with the ability to go within and dance the way he needs to dance.
Jen says the last part of what Marcus is saying relates to one of the questions she has – does the Dance session need to have a different entry point for younger people? In her Dance meetings, usually there is a meditative walk to start, and then they go into the Dances. She hears Marcus saying he needs to move his body more; would free movement be a better way to start? What does it look like, how do we do that?
Patsy from Boise ID totally hears that. She loves to dance, which is what made the Dances so attractive as a practice. She likes to move her body and go wild, and has often had the question, how about rocking out here? How about letting people express themselves here? With certain dance leaders there is that space. She is currently serving as Chair for the Oneness Project Board of Directors because of this question, attracting younger people, and has vowed that on her watch we are going to open the Dances up, with the input of younger Dancers, like the ones on this call. To begin this, the 2011 Wilderness Camp will feature three younger Dance leaders, including Maitreya, Sára Rain from Colorado and a young man from Colombia. She is hoping this will provide a cooking pot for how the Dances can go forward. Now they want to get younger people as participants as well. So these questions are absolutely pertinent. OP wants to provide whatever resources they have to help younger people come to Wilderness next summer.
Allie has added these to her dance leading: allowing free expression to happen in the Dances she leads, including during the Invocation, because it is a meditation to be in your body, to breathe in from the earth and breathing out into the cosmos – it’s guided in the sense of asking people to feel the connection, but moving in their own way. It is essential to have the drum to keep the energy in the Dance. The leader needs to be aware of the energy of the group, and to have an awareness that each dance has a deeper meaning; have the movements correlate to the language the chant is in, connect the movements to the meaning of the song, and keep coming back to that connection so the meaning is clear. Have “on the breath” be a meditation, where people are listening to the musicians. In “I am opening up in sweet surrender to the luminous love light of the one,” she allows free expression to really help people open up.
Heidi has been trying to get her peers to come to dances, and she has noticed that most young people are uncomfortable with the slower dances, with eye contact that is intimate and compassionate but not romantic; up-beat faster dances allow them to be more comfortable with this without giving them a chance to think about it. Free movement is uncomfortable too – they aren’t quite ready to be out in the open in this environment. Having Dances with movements they can follow helps get them started in it.
Tara Andrea from Santa Fe NM has had the great privilege of going to Germany for five years to lead the youth in the [annual] Dance retreat. They have 80 youth now. Most of them started coming when they were really little, falling asleep in the center of the circle, then Dancing, then falling away. When she leads Dances there, it is rough, nothing rehearsed; they all started together, so there was this sense of “we’re all in this together.” She says as little as possible to set up a Dance; she never starts with a walk or with movement, she starts singing with her guitar and getting people to come into the tent. Now people all feel responsible for making a dance happen, co-leading. She might suggest a dance but they will say if they don’t want that one. They like the deeper dances, the intimacy, they love each other through the Dances. There is a space in the middle of the circle where they can lay down, like when they were kids, and let the Dance wash over them. Sometimes after a Dance they sit in silence, sometimes they let a Dance go on for a long time – there are no rules, they just follow the energy. The kids are coming back now, and bringing their friends, dancing with their own “tribe.” It’s important to bring young families with their children, to get the Dances seeded in them. [When they grow up] they know the energy.
Jen says she has been going out of her way to invite friends who have young children. She has made a point of telling them that the Dances are kid friendly and we welcome young children. She sets up a kids’ corner with books and coloring pages from I Open My Eyes to You, the kids book of the Dances. The kids love to sit and the parents can dance. A lot of her friends have told her they were surprised by the depth and meaning in the Dances, and have begun spreading the word.
Jessica, 28, in Oklahoma, loves the idea of making a space for people in the center who may not want to move but want to be involved; she loves the singing. The healing, acceptance, love and community are really important to her. The acceptance has been really important to her; she can go to Sufi camp and dance around outside the circle and be accepted. She likes the idea of starting with structured dances and then inviting people into unstructured dancing.
Evie in Olympia WA says that she has heard people talking about vitality and spontaneity, which is important to her. She walks a lot and has invited her circle to dance in various places around town; they’ve done it and had people join them who were just passing by.
Marcus loves how this conversation is flowing. He appreciates the talk of vitality and free movement, and also how that makes some people uncomfortable too, and he feels we are being invited to expand our picture of wholeness – moments of getting serious and still, and moments for rocking out. There is no one way. We don’t know what people want unless we ask them. Practicing good leadership maybe means asking them what they need. We are – I am - here to bring light on the planet; and as leaders we need to continue gathering our tools so we have more to offer in all kinds of situations, in the Dances and in our lives.
Jen’s next question is, how do we preserve the integrity of the Dance transmission while also fostering an open and inclusive atmosphere for everyone to participate in? How do we reach out to people where they are and still respect the individual sacred attunement of the Dance being led?
Astara in Seattle says that before she came to DUP she led dance evenings, from meditative to dynamic; in hindsight she might reverse that, with more open forms of expression in the beginning and being open to more sublime experience in the end. After Wilderness Camp they stopped at a band shell to do ecstatic dance, and after an hour or so some 20-year olds and then some families joined them. It’s important to preserve the importance of the breath and sound, which can’t be found anywhere else.
Hayra Fatah is part of the ecstatic dance community as well as DUP, finds them both rich, finds younger people in ecstatic dance, and needs that form to provide her some forms of expression that she can’t get at DUP. At a recent ecstatic dance event she started with a peace dance that then morphed into an ecstatic dance. She’s had the thought of creating something that allows a dance to move into ecstatic movement and then back into a Dance, going back and forth, and maybe including seated meditation as well. This gets the full spectrum of expression, from DUP to aerobic to stillness.
Jen says we’re coming to a close with our time together. Does anyone have anything to bring up that we have not already discussed?
Marcus wonders if there is a way to stay in touch and create an on-line forum? Jen lists the dancingpeace listserve, and DUP NA has a Facebook page, which has already had some great conversations. Marcus asks if we can start a sub thread from this conference call. Jen says we sure can, and if people email her, she will coordinate the connection. Her email address is Jennifer@jenniferfriedman.com
Premdaya from Boise ID asks if we are going to have more of these phone calls? It is so wonderful hear everyone’s heart in these calls. Jen replies that we are on our 7th call, the third one this year. The next one will be in December or January. Hayat asks how Premdaya knew about this call; Premdaya says she heard about it via dancingpeace and Patsy is her mentor. She has been on other calls and just hopes they are going to continue.
Hayat adds, regarding meetup.com, that DUP NA will pay for part of a circle’s fee for meetup.com for the first six month. Go to the DUP NA website, www.dancesofuniversalpeacena.org and look under the Resources for the “Social Media and Website Tutorial” page. All the details are there. This is a trial run to see if it will make a difference or not.
Abraham appreciates the heart sharing here; it has been a great conversation. We can meetup.com and we can meet up in the heart, and he hopes it will continue.
Rahmana from Ohio totally supports everyone staying connected through the heart. She would hate to see a separate avenue created for this conversation, and asks if everyone is on dancingpeace or on the Facebook page. Hayat adds that we can start a discussion on Facebook about this.
Marcus and Patsy like that idea; Patsy appreciates this connection so much, it has been so fruitful and so beautiful.
Jen ends with a poem from Sheikh Abu Said Sabil:
If you are seeking closeness to the Beloved,
everyone. Whether in their presence or absence, see only their good.
If you want to be as clear and refreshing as the breath of the morning breeze
Like the sun have nothing but warmth and light for everyone.
Thank you. Have a wonderful evening. Til next time.