Date: January 28, 2021
  • Blog
  • Practices
  • Practice
  • Elm Dance
  • Joanna Macy

January 28, 2021

As our yearly Earth journey around the sun continues, daylight hours in the southern hemisphere grow shorter as they lengthen in the north. We are half-way between solstice and equinox. Most of us who began calendar year 2020 are still here, but by no means all. A word in newly common usage is pandemic. “Pan” means all: in this case, one human family, one earth community.

It’s a good moment to reflect on the story of Elm Dance, a ritual brought forth by Joanna Macy to help us embody flows and connections, even as we clarify and strengthen personal intentions. Each circle of Elm dancers holds our pan-human stories of suffering, as we weave patterns of connection and forward movement, always in relation to the whole.

In 1992 Joanna and Fran Macy brought the Elm Dance to the people of a small city in Russia that was poisoned by radioactivity from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown in 1986. Read about Joanna and Fran’s time in the town of Novozybkov here. Or listen to her Story of the Elm Dance here.

As Joanna tells the story, when the people joined in the familiar folk-dance patterns of the Elm Dance, hearts – grown brittle from daily trauma – began to soften. Stories of suffering, previously held closely within families, emerged, shared with others who were present that day. The Elm Dance was working some magic of re-connection, palpable in the room.

In this lovely video of the Elm Dance ritual, you see Joanna entering the circle just before the dance begins. Do take a couple of minutes to watch it. And this video and article introduce the Latvian poet who wrote the words (translation included here), the composer who set them to music, the recording artist, and the choreographer.

The Elm Dance from Work That Reconnects on Vimeo.

Joanna vowed to tell the story of the people of Novozybkov wherever she went, that their story may never be forgotten. She tells it as she teaches the dance, as do many facilitators of the Work That Reconnects. And so the dance travels the world.

May we be dancing together again – face to face, hand in hand – before too long. In the meantime, one element of the ritual of the dance can continue in our own hearts, and in our virtual gatherings. It is customary, during the second time of moving through the dance, to call forth the people and other beings of earth who kindle in us our passion for justice, our intention to serve life over the long haul. We can still call them forth, in a ritual manner. And may our earth-walk, in whatever form it takes, be our dance.