Jane A. Simington PhD.
St. Augustine of Hippo wrote that “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” I returned recently from travel in Russia and other Baltic countries. For me, travel is the ultimate personal and spiritual development tool. Journeying through other countries and cultures offers an expanded awareness of the soulful ways in which people suffer, survive and celebrate.
During my time in Russia and Finland, I witnessed glorious theater, song and dance re-enactments of mythical stories, ways of demonstrating love, and of how they coped with their most powerful and terrifying emotions. Each performer provided a theatrical expression of his or her own soul story; yet collectively the group portrayed the larger context of their lives, their culture and their country, providing a meaning extending beyond their individual fate.
Since time immemorial, people have used music, theatre and dance as ritual to instil hope and courage in those who might have individually been terrified but who collectively were able to become powerful advocates for themselves and others. Witnessing the Cossack Folk dancers and Russian opera singers depicting their individual and collective stories summoned memories of being in a concert hall in Ireland, surrounded by people overflowing with intense pain-filled emotion and then incredible pride as the performers portrayed the suffering and survival of the Irish during and following the potato famine. During my reverie over the parallels in the cultural presentations and the emotions being stirred, I also recalled being at the Healing Our Spirits Worldwide International Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There I witnessed the soul-chilling pageantry of the Grand Entry of hundreds of Indigenous peoples from many parts of the world, all dressed in their traditional regalia. To the beat of hundreds of drums and traditional songs, their dance-like movements were a ceremonial display of immense personal and collective pride, creating in me a sense of their ever-increasing hope for personal and collective empowerment. During my travels in Estonia, I learned of the “singing revolution.” On a June 1987 evening, more than ten thousand concert-goers linked arms and began singing patriotic songs that had been forbidden during half a century of Soviet occupation. The songfests and protests continued until by August of 1991, the Congress of Estonia had proclaimed the restoration of the Estonian state.
Grieving and traumatized people are often too afraid to feel deeply, because feeling and expressing emotion leads to a loss of control. In contrast, singing, dancing and ceremonial displays permit the embodiment of emotion and the giving of voice to those emotions, be they emotions of suffering, hope, survival, or the pride that surfaces as freedom and independence are won.
Research into the impact of song, dance and theatrical performances demonstrates that the force of communal rhythm in action causes a shift within the participants, who, by becoming rhythmically engaged, have opportunities for trying on different roles and becoming, even for a short time, the person in the role they are embodying. This is why movement, music and dance therapies, and theatrical and ceremonial practices are now incorporated into both individual and collective grief and trauma therapies. Witnessing folk dances and listening to the songs and the music involved in cultural performances also creates a shift at both the conscious and subconscious levels of those privileged to be gifted in these ways. The theatrical re-enactment of a people’s history deepens appreciation for the peoples whose culture we explore and whose land we walk upon. Increasing awareness of their history and their culture decreases our fear of them and our feelings of threat from them. This in turn, can then become a major step toward creating world peace, one visitor at a time.
© September, 2017.