Moving Mandalas by Cherie Hill and Wendy Morrell

Moving Mandalas by Cherie Hill and Wendy Morrell

my palms are open
I feel my heart
love flows to you
I rise towards the sky
with prayer
we dance in peace
to the east
to the west

I was invited to lead a weekend workshop in Ottawa, Canada inspired by the title, “Weaving Webs of Light” by Sacred Dance Guild President Wendy Morrell. Wendy presented the idea of creating a human mandala for participants to perform at the closing gathering. I recall sitting in my Oakland apartment when I received a large book from Ottawa filled with mandalas. The text contained intricate round designs with points and curves reaching in various directions. There were instructions on how to draw them, and explanations on the configurations meanings. I loved the sequences, and admired their beauty. I was excited to create something like this through dance, but I was not sure how to begin. I spoke with my partner, a visual artist, and he suggested I think about the dance from being up high and looking down. What could I see? How could the bodies move and change in a way that physicalized centrifugal formations?

The community dance I am most familiar with is the Planetary Dance conceived by Anna Halprin. The Circle the Earth run involves dancers moving in multiple circles at various speeds clockwise and counter clockwise. I envisioned this type of formation with bodies creating lines and shapes so that if you looked down from above you would see a circular mandala rotating.

Wendy sent me music from Evren Celimi’s album Movement Mandala Music. It felt serendipitous. After listening to all the tracks, I fell in love with #7. It possessed distinct bells that dancers could follow to change their movement. I counted an 8 set of bells, which repeat in the song, and I created 8 gestures/mudras for each of them. I call these the 8 gestures of peace and light. After that I began drawing out the circle formations.

I knew there would be about 37 people so I drew each person on paper as a little circle with a number inside. A small circle was in the center, surrounded by a medium circle, and encased by the largest outward circle. I thought about entrances for dancers, and listened to the bells and how many times the cycles repeated. I wanted to bring in some weaving to address the workshop theme, so I found space in the music where the inner circle could weave to the middle circle and come back, and the middle circle could weave to the outer circle, and then the middle circle could weave either direction. I felt ending in unison with hands toward the sky was powerful.

Group Mandala River 2014
Group Mandala River 2014

Our performance outside was beautiful, and with the clear open sky I believe any being looking down could see our intentions. Wendy carrying the dance on, teaching it in Bali, and other places in the world makes me ecstatic. I hope it continues to spread and bring humans together. Us gathering in sacredness is so critical, and the more we can move together, the greater chance we have at living in peace.

Bio: Cherie Hill is a creative artist, dancer, performer, teacher and scholar, whose art explores human expression and how it is conveyed through the body in collaboration with nature, music and visual imagery. Ms. Hill’s somatic technique, Movement, Meditation, Mindpower (MMM) blends studies of Hatha yoga, Alexander Technique, Movement Ritual, Dance in Nature, and Dance is Life Process developed by Anna Halprin. A certified Planetary Dance facilitator, Cherie’s research on dance and somatic practices have been presented at the Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities, the International Association of Black Dance Conference, California Dance Education Association Conference, and the National Dance Education Organization Conference, Miami. She has published essays on dance in journals, Gender Forum, In Dance and the Sacred Dance Journal.  Cherie currently lives in San Francisco.

The Mandala Moves on…. By Wendy Morrell

For many years the idea of bodies moving as a mandala has intrigued me so I was delighted when Cherie immediately responded to the challenge in the summer of 2014!

The word “mandala” is from the classical Indian language of Sanskrit loosely translated to mean “circle”. It is; however, far more than a simple shape. I believe the mandala represents wholeness; it is a cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds. The mandala appears in all aspects of life: the celestial circles we call earth, sun, and moon, as well as conceptual circles of friends, family, and community. The mandala movement and sequences created by Cherie used our whole bodies to actualize the conception circle of mandala in and as community.

From that first offering in Ottawa I knew that this was a movement piece that would continue to evolve and that would be shared with many the world over. Since we were going to Bali for the Sacred Dance Guild retreat in May 2015 and had been invited to offer movement with the children at the Yayasan Widya Guna, an amazing sanctuary and learning school for disadvantaged children in Bali, I knew that this would be a perfect place to share the Mandala Movement. I created additional intentions to each of the sequences of 8 mudras and added written intentions to each of the mudras themselves to deepen the experience. The 12 participants at the Retreat spent an evening experiencing the Mandala personally and collectively and then following the retreat shared it with the children in a simplified manner – it was heart stopping to see these young children so intently moving into each of the mudras.

Offering at Ashram May 2016 - Mandala Movement at Anand Ashram, Bali
Offering at Ashram May 2016 – Mandala Movement at Anand Ashram, Bali

From there the Mandala Movement continued – it was used with a group of a few hundred people (again in a simplified manner) at the opening of a Peace Park Labyrinth in Stittsville, Ontario, again in Bali at the Sacred Dance Guild Retreat in 2016 we shared the Mandala Movements with those attending a Satsang at the Anand Ashram and at numerous Sacred Dance Guild workshops in various cities. It was also presented as a Moving Meditation in the summer of 2016 done at the Balanced Rock Sculptures in the Ottawa River with music played by Debbie Danbrook on the Shakuhachi and gong by Nancy Porteus (rather than the Evren Celemi music). At the “Dance Pray Love” workshop held in Ottawa in November 2016 on the Saturday night we moved the mandala together and then in silence walked a candlelit labyrinth in – it was a profound experience to move these two ancient symbols one following the other.

Bio: Sacred Dance has told the story of the human spirit since before recorded time.  Dance as an expression of the Sacred has been a journey of discovery for Wendy resulting from a lifelong love of movement and dance, varied and diverse dance studies and a deep respect for the sacred rhythms of the whole person. Wendy is currently the President of the International Sacred Dance Guild (www.sacreddanceguild.org) and coordinates movement and dance offerings at local events in the Ottawa area, has led workshops and presented lectures and information session on dance as a sacred art throughout North America, in England and in Bali and is the artistic director of various dance choirs in Ottawa.

The original Movement Mandala from August 2014 is viewable on the Sacred Dance Guild vimeo site at https://vimeo.com/204986309.

We freely share the process and movements with anyone who would like to bring this experience to their community. For details and information contact either Wendy Morrell at wendy.morrell@sympatico.ca or Cherie Hill at cherie.iriedance@gmail.com.

August 2014 – Mandala Mudras were used as part of the Moving Meditation on the Ottawa River. Above left to right – Judy Hollandsworth, Wendy Morrell, Cherie Hill, Pulelehua Quirk, Marlene Bosch and Mary Kamp. Photographer: John Morrell

August 2016 – Movement Mandala at the Ottawa River Balance Rock Sculptures with Shakuhachi flute player Debbie Danbrook. A double exposure showing different mudras overlapped. Photographer Maria Cerroni

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Posted in Dance, moving meditation, Sacred Dance, World Dance

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