(Author’s note:It is unusual for me to share information about my spiritual life on my professional website. But this engagement was an extraordinary convergence of my scholarship, artistic life, and spiritual leanings. This posts is in response to the many requests for a transcript or recording from audience members. Thank you all for your interest in my work. Those who follow my occasional blog activity will note overlapping comments for this keynote address pulled from some of my other writings. I apologize for the redundancy.)
Welcome to the 2018 Women and Spirituality Conference. Thank you to Terri Alread for inviting me to visit with you. It is such a tremendous honor to be with all of you.
I’m here share some thoughts about embodiment and spirituality. I started structured training in dance at the age of 12, and received consistent messages from educators, parents and media that dance was a recreational pursuit that was a constructive pastime, but not an honorable life path unless you wanted to end up in the gutters of Las Vegas! But my path has led me to a very different conclusion. In fact, I’m here to assert that dancers have a vital contribution to make to our understanding of embodiment, evolution, and utilizing more of ourselves in all that we do. My larger agenda as a dance professor is not to create cookie cutter clones for successful stage careers. Rather, I aim to create more ambassadors in the world whom are integrated humans: emotionally brave and intellectually clear folks whom understand the body is not the obstruction to spiritual and intellectual growth Western history and religion would have us believe.
I’ve always had spiritual leanings, and my path unfolded with some intriguing twists and turns. In short, I was put into a recreational ballet class because I was bullied for my mixed ethnicity and Creole heritage in other afterschool programs. My mother hoped ballet would give me poise and confidence. It ended up twisting my head with impossible standards of Eurocentric beauty, but I did tap into a deep well of devoted discipline and personal excellence that fueled my continued involvement. I couldn’t locate a sense of social belonging in my early life, but I could dive into my own body and relish a sense of accomplishment and increasing facility with each dance practice. It was a sanctuary, that transformed into a form of currency. My ethnic visual ambiguity was unsettling for many people and I was frequently tested, but I knew when I danced I could shut all of that questioning down and self-define. I weaponized dance as a tool for encountering the world on my terms.
Then my health faltered. The body that had produced with such ease and athletic prowess became a source of pain and un-fulfillment, riddled with a quadruple whammy of congenital manifestations with no medical solutions. I ached to return to movement, so dance became my motivator for good self-care to mitigate the impact of my illnesses. Clean eating and yoga became medicine and pain management, allowing me to participate in my passion enough to keep the love alive.
25 years after my initial health problems, science would advance to the place of finally providing some relief, but at a price. I elected surgical intervention, and pledged to weather whatever after-effects would occur. The “price” I paid for this cure was ageing about a decade on my dancing body from the wear and tear of treatment, and my abdomen would endure it’s 9th cut into the muscles. I’m mostly pain free now. I’m still dancing, but I’m different… my 6-pack is a distant memory. I would dare to suggest that I’m probably better as an artist than when I was dancing from a youthful checklist of fanciful tricks and skills. I’m more authentic, braver in my artistic choices, and more generous with audiences.
All of this was in tandem with the budding of my intellectual and spiritual life. Because dance is an ephemeral art that required me to be present, I avoided anything that interfered with the richness of that inner connection. I stopped consuming alcohol and caffeine. I learned to stay clear of people who drained my life force, I stopped watching television so I could have a more clarified mind to focus on sensing, creating and practicing. All of this was a natural response to the gravitational force I felt in my love of dance. But then I began to perceive a specificity in that craving that went beyond dance. Beyond movement, I was actually called to an inner connection, that I now recognize as a spiritual invitation. It was a social wake up call to learn that not everyone I worked with in dance shared a spiritual motivation for their work. I saw that dance had always served as a login process for my inner life, and THAT was what I was in love with. THAT was what made me hungry to move and practice often.
My spiritual life started in Catholicism, then traversed eastern thought, African and Yoruba traditions, witchcraft, shamanism and more. I never felt comfortable claiming a denominational landmark because everything made valuable contributions to my ripening as a person. But eventually I was introduced to the Urantia book by author Timothy Wyllie, and I landed firmly in a devotional study that would sweep me into a new kind of understanding. I was able to geek out on all of the things that I was curious for. It was the homecoming that resonated for me.
From the Urantia Foundation Website: https://www.urantia.org/urantia-book (cache date: September 21, 2018)
The Urantia Book, first published by Urantia Foundation in 1955, presents us with the origin, history, and destiny of humanity. It answers questions about God, life in the inhabited universe, the history and future of this world, and it includes an uplifting narrative of the life and teachings of Jesus.
The Urantia Book portrays our relationship with God the Father. All human beings are the sons and daughters of a loving God and therefore brothers and sisters in the family of God. The book provides new spiritual truth for modern men and women and a pathway to a personal relationship with God.
Building on the world’s religious heritage, The Urantia Book describes an endless destiny for humankind, teaching that living faith is the key to personal spiritual progress and eternal survival. It also describes God’s plan for the progressive evolution of individuals, human society, and the universe as a whole.
The Urantia book is problematic in many ways. It is a compiled collection of papers published 20 years after it was “revealed by a sleeping channel.” A human author is not identified on the publication. Resultingly, a variety of foundations, reader groups and individuals jockeyed for control of the text and its interpretation in the past.
In 2001, a jury found that the English-language book’s copyright was no longer valid in the United States after 1983. The English text became a public domain work in the United States, and in 2006 the international copyright expired.
There is credible evidence that parts of the Urantia Book were plagiarized from over 125 sources published in the same decade.
Most interestingly, The Urantia Book is fairly dismissive of dance as a “institution for self-gratification.”
I differ with its assertion than dance is a vainglorious pursuit. I recognize dance to be a ubiquitous practice found amongst all human cultures (and some classes of animals too)! There may exist legal or hegemonic practices aimed to limit the public expression of dance, but that doesn’t effectively stop people from doing it privately. I define dance rather expansively as meaningful, patterned movement. It seems that dance has intrinsic value to the great majority of humans, and is utilized in a range of traditions throughout the globe: classical and contemporary, urban and rural, secular and transcendental, performance-based and therapeutically oriented. If we look deeper into its social applications, we observe dance to be regarded by many global traditions as a natural emanation of human expression–no different or less important than the spoken word– crucial in work, celebration, religious observation, secular or sacred initiation, military defense, reconciliation in quarrels, rites of passage, healing for individuals and society, and direct connection to the esoteric and divine realms of existence. Dance does not necessarily NEED to be performed for others, or on a proscenium stage, to be a worthy endeavor and meaningful act. In this way, we are united as a human family by our connection to movement. There are so many movement paths to explore our connection to something larger than ourselves.
- In the Yoruba tradition the ceremonial dancer builds a charge of energy until they become a virtual vortex; a doorway to parallel realities and a conveyer of counsel from other realms.
- Contemplative movement traditions such as Tai Chi utilize movement like a stream, or flow of beneficial forces that we consciously step into for balance.
- Repetitious movements accompanied by chants or rhythm alter and expand the consciousness of humans by synchronizing brainwaves between the hemispheres.
- Electronic music dance events provide participants a sense of mutual experience, taking them out of their individuation and social isolation into a communal bond that is profoundly powerful.
- Contact Improvisational Dance practitioners report a quickening of consciousness that endows the practitioner with sensorial intelligence and radical honesty; a ‘flow’ state that transcends social filters and nourishes movers in an act of intimacy that is asexual.
Dance endures as a tool for expanded consciousness because it leverages our most looming question of being human: how do we navigate being conscious and self-aware while also negotiating the physical and material needs of embodiment? Dance provides us an arena for formulating positive association with embodiment beyond the survival issues of nourishment, sleep, physical affection, and ageing. When we relinquish our social anxieties, dance gifts us the experience of thriving in our non-verbal intelligences, and we realize we are so much more than we assumed.
The Urantia book toggles effortlessly and eloquently between the macro view of us as a species in a living cosmos and us as individuals endowed with free will, encircuited within this vast creation. The most dramatic information presented in the book is an explanation of why our planet is so scrambled and conflicted. We are told that because of our history with planetary guides who defaulted in their mission, we are currently quarantined along with 37 other planets from a local universe that has 3 million inhabited spheres, with over 10 million spheres in development for inhabitation; we are an outlying universe within 1 of 7 superuniverses, all progressing under the ministration of intelligent beings reportedly acting on behalf of and in communication with, a central creator. Contextualization is offered for many human myths, creation stories, religious confusions, idiosyncrasies and social inventions we cling to. Benchmarks are given for our maturation and upliftment as a species, and most importantly our evolution as individuals and children of Source. Curiously, the Urantia book states that until we shed our corrupt, planetary practices of slavery and the subjugation of women, we will not be released from quarantine or qualify to re-enter into open association with other intelligent life forms throughout the cosmos. These are explained to be the next markers of maturation in our collective spiritual growth.
Do I agree with everything I’ve read in the book? No. But there are profound resonances for me that made me want to keep reading. There are a handful of cringe-worthy passages and assertions that smack of bias, misapplied eugenics, and western political narcissism.The book does contradict itself in two points of discussion. So, as a critically thinking person credentialed in feminist scholarship, post-colonial studies, musicology and anthropology, would I devote so much time to this book?
It is because I find the hermeneutics of translation to be flawed in all religious traditions, and I trust my ability to smell the weirdness 500 miles away. Why? because I dance. Because I’ve practiced enough to have a profound “yes” and a definitive “no” be fully legible in my body. Because I’ve developed my non-verbal intelligence by excavating down through my social filters and cultural indoctrination. Because I recognize, through dance, that my body is a partner in the process of integrative learning. Because I’ve learned that my body is a reflector of truth to the extreme. The body is incapable of untruth. The body has an innate intelligence that is beneficial to dialog with once the scrutinous social mind of the frontal cortex is out of the way. I observe that the body uses Breath as the ideal barometer/integration point for this balance of consciousness and physical practice, and we possess all we need within to make sound choices. I learned to honor the information that bodily pain or discomfort brings into the awareness. Again, our body is incapable of lying, and will always render the truth visible in the end. It is, by far, the best friend one could ever hope to walk with in this life regardless of what you judge it to be.
From working with clients whom managed a variety of medical, cognitive, psychiatric, or neurological impact to their lives, I have been educated to the fact that even as the body is dying, new skills and understandings are acquired. It is a magnificent instrument no matter what shape or condition it’s in. Our bodies possess a history that is older than our inhabitation of it. These molecules have been many other things before assembling into our physical bodies, and within our corporeal memory and DNA is a library of humanity that spans ages and billions of people. I’ve even learned that physical pain can be harnessed to strengthen mental focus, patience and character. I no longer feel victimized by my body. I feel supremely grateful for the intelligent companion that has accompanied every waking and sleeping moment in my life.
After five surgeries for various medical challenges over the years, I am still in awe of how the body possesses a rhythm to healing. I don’t come from hearty genetic stock. I have learned to be attentive to lifestyle choices and self-care in order to minimize the impact of a congenitally compromised instrument. As always, I witness the pathways of others who may have greater or fewer challenges to mobility and daily comfort than I do. I espouse humility and focus on what I can do to grow and improve.
My last corrective procedure spanning 2013-2014 kicked my butt soundly. Healing could not be rushed, and deep rest became more important than jumping back into a vigorous, rehabilitative dance practice. Nine months passed before I could honestly say I recognized my image in the mirror, or could predictably produce movement without discomfort. I am still finding ways to negotiate what appears to be permanent damage in my body.
The gifts of these challenges are crystal clear: rebuilding has been informative. Being reduced to a near-beginner in one’s craft was the perfect antidote to arrogance and complacency. Learning to engineer movement through new pathways has given me a back-stage pass to more nuanced levels of somatic intelligence. Disrupting my comfort zone has put me back in touch with the inspirations that led me to dance in the first place. Harnessing resistance as a booster rocket for transformation catapulted me forward. Locating my sense of humor while fumbling forward has awakened my grace. I have affirmed, again, that progress is inevitable when you continue to show up and lean into a challenge. Consistency shifts possibilities like water on stone.
When presented with a choice to ease my way into medical retirement, there was no question that I love what I do and will choose it over and over again.
Dance is more than mere frivolity, or a side note serving to enliven our social gatherings. All dance forms require multiple intelligences, rhythm, spatial awareness, mathematical sequencing, emotional courage, and attentive physical honesty… all at the same time. Multi-task that one for a round before ranking dance as a piddling pursuit. As an educator and touring artist I am frequently asked questions that reveal a disturbing, unspoken premise: dance is only a guilty pleasure that is not to be regarded as a serious, intellectual or financially feasible endeavor. As dancers, perhaps we are guilty of perpetuating this trivialization by making what we do appear easy, magical or effortless. Of course this isn’t true at all. The investment that leads to proficiency is significant. The ups and downs of dancing leave an archive in the body as time passes, but there is more to the story than just movement. Dancing is an intensely concentrated dose of the human experience. Sometimes we will produce or share with others, and sometimes we will incubate and study. Sometimes we will feel masterful and courageous, and other times we will feel awkward and inadequate. Cultivating a sense of humor is key as we take on our weak links in the business of practice.
In 1958, James Howard defined dance in The U.S. as a hierarchy that “relegates dance to (1) performances of a spectacular nature by a few professional artists and to (2) a rather mechanical means by which members of one sex meet the other half of the population” 
In contrast, the many global dance traditions regard dance as a natural emanation of human expression–no different or less important than the spoken word. Again, Dance does not necessarily NEED to be performed for others, or on a stage, to be a worthy endeavor and meaningful act. Our species dances.
So when I study the Urantia Book, I see human corruption and EuroAmerican ulterior motives in some places. In others, I experience revelations that my body, heart and mind tell me are important and worth exploration. Specifically, the concept of a Thought Adjuster gifted to us from the Source slammed home as a truism for me. The Thought Adjuster/Mystery Monitor is the name given to Source within us. It is defined as a unique endowment not shared by all classes of beings. It is a piece of Source, God, Allah, Original Love–whatever you wish to call it–indwelling us and offering gentle guidance. It will not override our free will and thus our permission and “cheerful enthusiasm” is required for this fragment of Source to gift us its offerings. Here are some key points about the Though Adjuster from the Urantia Book.
The Mystery Monitors are not thought helpers; they are thought adjusters. They labor with the material mind for the purpose of constructing, by adjustment and spiritualization, a new mind for the new worlds and the new name of your future career. Their mission chiefly concerns the future life, not this life. They are called heavenly helpers, not earthly helpers. They are not interested in making the mortal career easy; rather are they concerned in making your life reasonably difficult and rugged, so that decisions will be stimulated and multiplied. The presence of a great Thought Adjuster does not bestow ease of living and freedom from strenuous thinking, but such a divine gift should confer a sublime peace of mind and a superb tranquillity of spirit.
The Thought Adjusters would like to change your feelings of fear to convictions of love and confidence; but they cannot mechanically and arbitrarily do such things; that is your task. In executing those decisions which deliver you from the fetters of fear, you literally supply the psychic fulcrum on which the Adjuster may subsequently apply a spiritual lever of uplifting and advancing illumination.
The Adjusters are the eternal ancestors, the divine originals, of your evolving immortal souls; they are the unceasing urge that leads man to attempt the mastery of the material and present existence in the light of the spiritual and future career. The Monitors are the prisoners of undying hope, the founts of everlasting progression. And how they do enjoy communicating with their subjects in more or less direct channels! How they rejoice when they can dispense with symbols and other methods of indirection and flash their messages straight to the intellects of their human partners! 5.1/1 (1,199)
Supreme and self-acting Adjusters are often able to contribute factors of spiritual import to the human mind when it flows freely in the liberated but controlled channels of creative imagination. At such times, and sometimes during sleep, the Adjuster is able to arrest the mental currents, to stay the flow, and then to divert the idea procession; and all this is done in order to effect deep spiritual transformations in the higher recesses of the superconsciousness. Thus are the forces and energies of mind more fully adjusted to the key of the contactual tones of the spiritual level of the present and the future.
5.2/2 (1,199) It is sometimes possible to have the mind illuminated, to hear the divine voice that continually speaks within you, so that you may become partially conscious of the wisdom, truth, goodness, and beauty of the potential personality constantly indwelling you.
5.3/3 (1,199) But your unsteady and rapidly shifting mental attitudes often result in thwarting the plans and interrupting the work of the Adjusters. Their work is not only interfered with by the innate natures of the mortal races, but this ministry is also greatly retarded by your own preconceived opinions, settled ideas, and long-standing prejudices. Because of these handicaps, many times only their unfinished creations emerge into consciousness, and confusion of concept is inevitable. Therefore, in scrutinizing mental situations, safety lies only in the prompt recognition of each and every thought and experience for just what it actually and fundamentally is, disregarding entirely what it might have been.
1.5/5 (1,204) The Adjuster remains with you in all disaster and through every sickness which does not wholly destroy the mentality. But how unkind knowingly to defile or otherwise deliberately to pollute the physical body, which must serve as the earthly tabernacle of this marvelous gift from God. All physical poisons greatly retard the efforts of the Adjuster to exalt the material mind, while the mental poisons of fear, anger, envy, jealousy, suspicion, and intolerance likewise tremendously interfere with the spiritual progress of the evolving soul.
7.2/2 (1,223) May I admonish you to heed the distant echo of the Adjuster’s faithful call to your soul? The indwelling Adjuster cannot stop or even materially alter your career struggle of time; the Adjuster cannot lessen the hardships of life as you journey on through this world of toil. The divine indweller can only patiently forbear while you fight the battle of life as it is lived on your planet; but you could, if you only would—as you work and worry, as you fight and toil—permit the valiant Adjuster to fight with you and for you. You could be so comforted and inspired, so enthralled and intrigued, if you would only allow the Adjuster constantly to bring forth the pictures of the real motive, the final aim, and the eternal purpose of all this difficult, uphill struggle with the commonplace problems of your present material world.
7.3/3 (1,223) Why do you not aid the Adjuster in the task of showing you the spiritual counterpart of all these strenuous material efforts? Why do you not allow the Adjuster to strengthen you with the spiritual truths of cosmic power while you wrestle with the temporal difficulties of creature existence? Why do you not encourage the heavenly helper to cheer you with the clear vision of the eternal outlook of universal life as you gaze in perplexity at the problems of the passing hour? Why do you refuse to be enlightened and inspired by the universe viewpoint while you toil amidst the handicaps of time and flounder in the maze of uncertainties which beset your mortal life journey? Why not allow the Adjuster to spiritualize your thinking, even though your feet must tread the material paths of earthly endeavor?
I’ve pasted links to the Urantia Book’s explanation of thought adjusters on the news tab of my personal website, donnainthedance.com.
In that same post is another item of note. As a thank you gift to you for sharing this time with me and hearing my thoughts so generously, I have also gifted you the titles of 76 songs in a playlist used to prepare for this conference. I hope these songs from many genres and worldviews inspire you to move in luscious, rich, and funky ways. I hope you’ll jump onto Youtube.com and sample to these tracks, and if perhaps find yourself swooning or laughing as you make your way through the eclectic list you will support these artists with a purchase of their creative works.
My path as a dancer has given me a charmed life filled with remarkable insights, adventures and shattering amounts of love. I wish more of the world would normalize dance as a part of human expression. I wish the craft were not considered an elite pursuit reserved for the extraordinarily gifted (a specifically Western perspective). More urgently, I wish many humans did not wait for a health crisis to initiate an expressive, intelligent relationship with their bodies. So whether you self-identify as a dancer or not, I cheer you in whatever ways you move, and wish you many days and nights of fierce, rapturous dance in your life!
I wish to leave you with my favorite quote from the Urantia Book. The book uses the word God to refer to Source, but also states that this is our English planetary name for the personalized deity the book is about. This deity has never named itself. But if the name God does not resonate with you personally (as it does not with me), I invite you to substitute your own signifier of something larger, older, and wiser than yourself:
But long before reaching Havona, these ascendant children of time have learned to feast upon uncertainty, to fatten upon disappointment, to enthuse over apparent defeat, to invigorate in the presence of difficulties, to exhibit indomitable courage in the face of immensity, and to exercise unconquerable faith when confronted with the challenge of the inexplicable. Long since, the battle cry of these pilgrims became: “In liaison with God, nothing—absolutely nothing—is impossible.”” – The Urantia Book
 Prokosch Kurath, Gertrude.“Panorama of Dance Ethnology” Current Anthropology . Vol. 1, No. 3 (May, 1960), pp. 233-254 Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (https://www.jstor.org/stable/2739713)