Dance, Somatics and Spiritualities
                                                  Contemporary Sacred                                                   Narratives

REVIEWS

Dance, SomaticS and Spiritualities: Contemporary Sacred Narratives, A. Williamson (ed.) (2014) Bristol: Intellect 489 pages Print ISBN: 978-1-78320-178-5 Price: 47.00 BP
 
Daniel Deslauriers, Transformative Studies Doctorate Program, California Institute of Integral Studies
“A tremendous gift for somatic practitioners, artists, teachers and all who seek to illuminate the subtle nuances of embodied life. This collection reaches wide and deep to trace the diverse contours of somatic knowing in its fullness.”
 
 
Reviewed by Maria Luise Oberem, Dance/Movement Therapist, Psychologist, Independent Researcher
 
When I first heard this book being announced, it was with great anticipation that I awaited its publication. The book‘s title and sub-title deeply resonated in me, and I was wondering how these fields, experiental and intensely personal realms for me, would be addressed in the form of a written book. Since four decades, I have been actively engaged in dancing, moving between cultures (artistic, academic and clinical), countries and continents. Researching the living, sensing and moving body in this ‘process of becoming’, we call individuation and life, is close to my heart. When I finally held this anthology in my hands and began reading each contributor’s article, I found myself immersed in different universes, each offering tremendous richness, wisdom and knowledge articulated from somatic experience. I knew in my bones that this comprehensive body of work has the potential of becoming a classic and standard work of assigned readings in the future.
 
This anthology offers a comprehensive body of written work, documenting a wide array of somatically informed scholarship; it comprises twenty chapter contributions by 27 women and  six men men engaged in the field. The voluminous book is divided into three parts; each part is introduced and contextualized by one of the editors. The first part, titled Moving Spiritualities, introduced by A. Williamson, offers six chapters by leaders of the field. Its topics range from embryology, alchemy of the body and Jungian thought, dance in the natural world/environment, to philosophical reflections. The second part, introduced by S. Whatley, addresses the Intersection of Spiritualities and Pedagogy. In nine chapters, various approaches of the spiritual dimensions of somatic dance education are presented, covering topics from embodied spirituality, the making of consciousness, inner dances, meditations on language, to contemporary wisdom keepers and shamanic somatic approaches. Part three is dedicated to Cultural Immersions and Performance Excursions and is introduced by Glenna Batson. It offers five contributions on topics such as the dancing Kalahari bushmen, dancing with the Divine in Bali and America, outdoor performances in sacred sites in Java, the role of meditation in dance performance and spirituality and Akram Khan’s performance.
 
What makes this anthology so unique and fascinating to read is not only the tremendous open-ness with which the editors have approached the subject, thus inviting and allowing for such a diverse collection of individual sacred narratives to emerge, but it abounds with multi-faceted gems. It is also the variety of presentation styles, ranging from personal narratives interwoven with articulated scholarship, philosophical reflections, various research approaches, imaginary dialogues and interview conversations, that turns this work into a rich and colourful fabric woven by the hands and hearts of its 33 contributors from across various cultures.
 
The framework of storytelling and the spirit of sharing personal narratives of lived experiences with others is reminiscent of the original ways women have traditionally passed on their knowledge and wisdom, which was orally, rather than in written form. The bodily aware scholars of this volume have taken on the challenging task of moving from direct physical experience, from sensing the soma and spirit to written words, well aware of the fact that some things cannot be translated to the pages of a book. Writing cannot do justice to the physicality of the experience, and it is understood that gaps will remain between experiental knowledge and the written word. With this in mind, this anthology is a tremendously important work, holding particular significance in the intersecting fields of dance, somatics and spiritualities for several reasons. For the first time, an impressive array of unique voices of movers, dancers, performers, somatic movement practitioners, educators, scholars, poets and philosophers is presented, who have been working in these fields since many years. This collection offers insightful views into the multiple possibilites of experiencing the soma and accessing bodily wisdom and the diversity of somatic approaches by successfully interweaving dance, somatics and spirititualities in new scholarly ways. Clearly, a new model of thinking is emerging, a thinking from and through the body, by living consciously and in connection with breath, honouring the ultimate life force through which we are all connected. This anthology is a testimony to the human spirit and particularly to the feminine spirit, which for so long has remained in the shadow, often wounded in partiarchal culture, by its language and its institutions. Often, dance and somatic spiritual work remain on the margins of society and in the academic world. The publication of this anthology marks a departure from this position and advances the field of dance, somatics and spiritualities, moving it from the margins towards the centre, putting this field onto the map of the academe.
 
The ‘slowly emerging revolution’, which Don Hanlon Johnson refers to in the preface, is the gradual and continuous building of a somatically informed scholarship, making itself known and turning into a voice to be reckoned with in the future. Knowing that there are many somatic movers, dancers, educators and scholars deeply engaged in their somatic practices and in communion with spirit, offering their work in the spirit of service to humanity, and, ultimately, for a better life on this planet, fills me with great joy.
 
While immersed in the narratives of this book, I noticed my heart pounding in excitement, my breath deepening, the cells of my body singing and, at times, tears flowing in recognition and resonance to the contributors‘ journeys. This anthology is a real treasure; its various contributions are nourishing my body/self/soul. I now realize that there are many of us and to whom I feel connected in spirit. With connectivity as the core component of spirituality (Williamson 2009) and ‘attentive connection with body-self, to others and to the imagination’ shaping somatic practice, it feels reassuring to know that there is a community of like-minded who are dancing-spirits embodied – on the path of conscious embodiment, cross-culturally.
 
Living one’s personal and professional life in a conscious relationship with the body, movement, dance and spirituality in various parts of the world can, at times, be a lonely journey. Yet, it is the only one that feels truthful to me, forever intriguing, challenging and surprising. The best surprise in recent years to me is the publication of this rich anthology, which I can recommend whole-heartedly to all who are interested in the inter-relationship of body, dance, somatic movement and spiritualities. The readers will be rewarded and inspired by the rare, honest, gifted and creative sacred narratives. It is with much appreciation and gratitude to the editors – for their vision and creative conception of this project – and to the contributors – for sharing their courage, insights and wisdom – resulting in the creation of the most significant anthology in this field that I have gladly written this review.
 
Contributor details Maria Luise Oberem is a dance artist, dance/movement therapist and certified authentic movement practitioner with the Center for the Study of Authentic Movement; a scholar and researcher in dance and somatics; Co-chair of the First International Conference on the clinical application of dance/movement therapy (1994) in Berlin, Germany; lecturer at various universities, among others the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco, California; Rotterdam Dance Academy, the Netherlands; INTAT Vienna, Austria; University of Central Lancashire, UK; formerly affiliated with the Authentic Movement Institute in Berkeley, California, USA. Maria Luise Oberem holds a Ph.D. in Psychology, an M.A. in Dance/Movement Therapy (USA) (BC-DMT) and an M.A. in American Studies and Political Science from the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
  
Cheryl Pallant, teacher at University of Richmond, Virginia, and author of Contact Improvisation: an Introduction to a Vitalizing Dance Form
     
'Finally exists a book that offers a range of perspectives that looks academically at the numinous in dance without belittling or aggrandizing the subject. With a preface by Don Hanlon Johnson, editors Amanda Williamson, Glenna Batson, Sarah Whatley, and Rebecca Weber have pulled together an impressive anthology of essays on a topic often overlooked. Questions considered by dancers, somatic therapists, dance scholars, and anthropologists include the following: What is spirituality? How does it manifest in a body atuned to the nuances of movement? How does a dancer reclaim the sacred from a culture that marginalizes it in favor of secularization? Linda Hartley writes about Authentic Movement. Daria Halprin writes on the body as entry to embodied knowing. Sondra Fraleigh looks at the actions of consciousness. Bradford Keeney discusses N/om and Bushman healing dances. Twenty substantive narratives on embodiment, mindfulness, Balinese dance and more make a juicy collection and a significant contribution to a field largely neglected.' – 
 
Veta Goler, Division Chair for Arts and Humanities and Associate Professor of Dance, Spelman College
“By addressing various notions about forms of spirituality within the contexts of meditative movement, classroom and other directed movement activities, and dance performance, the authors provide an expansive view of somatic experience and spirituality.”

Duncan Holt, Lecturer in Dance and Performance, University of Hull
“This anthology shares a fascinating range of ideas, addressing the development of learning and perceptions of self through social, cultural and historical constructs.”

Fiona Bannon, Senior Lecturer in Dance in the School of Performance and Cultural Industries, University of Leeds
“Academics and practitioners will find stimulation for related research projects in this substantial work, which also provides a basis for literary research for students in this field.”