Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance
Reviewed by Marina Bear, Circle Dance Sacred Dance Newsletter of
the San Francisco Bay Area Circle Dance Group
The book had appeared on the table with tapes and flyers during Stefan
and Bethan's weekend last February. The pictures drew me - snapshots of
joy, of ecstacy - even before I read the title: "Sacred Woman, Sacred
Dance." The writer's name was at the bottom, clear but subtle. Iris
Stewart danced with us on Saturday, but moving in the fullness of the
circle we were creating,how many of us discovered her?
I picked up her book and it fell open to a picture of seven women in a
line, dancing. "That's Tulum Havasi!" I said, out loud. And
it was. "Turkish harvest dance at a workshop in France led by Laura
Shannon," said the caption. I felt an instant and personal connection
to this book, but the music was starting up again and the circle was forming
and in fact it was weeks before I really found the time to sit down with
the book and discov er it. It is a treasure.
In spite of an impressive bibliography and a wealth of notes, it is a
very personal book. It's Iris Stewart's journey into spirituality as a
woman and a dancer. The book is a sharing of things discovered along the
way - history and myth and places where women still dance their spirit
together. Some of the sections show particular inspirations to dance:
the moon and serpents and the elements, birth and grief and the call of
ecstacy ... Many chapters end with a section called "Now Let Us Dance,"
which includes invitations, suggestions, and encouragement to the reader
to join the dance.
The pictures are beautiful. There are archaic figures processing on shards
of Greek pottery, scens of women dancing in tribal dress, and wonderful
photographs of women keep the mysterious side of dance alive in our time,
from Ruth St. Denis to Gabrielle Roth.
Because this book is a record of Iris' journey, you may not find your
particular cultural love in it. There are very few Celtic references,
and nothing Slavic or Baltic, but out of the inspiration of this beautiful
volume other dancers may undertake similar explorations and share their
It seemed to me that inspiration was primary gift of this book, not just
the scholarly affirmation of things we might already know. Although it
was fascinating to learn that the whirling of the Mevlevi dervishes may
have its origins in a whirling dance practice performed by women in ancient
China, mainly I want to go out and find a really big, beautiful, incredibly
light veil to see what it feels like to dance with one. Then we can get
a dozen or so of us together and then the guys will want to try it and
we get a swirling rainbow of a circle. That's the kind of thoughts this
book inspires. What a worthwile use of $30.