Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance:
Awakening Spirituality Through Movement and Ritual
A Book by Iris J. Stewart




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 own results.
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.

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