As part of the programme "Cambridge at Christmas" Dec 2000, which aimed to entertain Christmas shoppers, we offered a real alternative: Dances of Universal Peace and Chanting on the market place for everyone to join in.
By the nature of the meditative "Dances of Universal Peace" it was quite a risky task to do them on the market place - so here are our experiences (just in case you consider a similar venture):
If I had to find a headline, summarising our situation, it would probably be:
"Worst Case Scenario"
Most of our regular attendees did not join us in the public, so we were only a group of less than a handful. The most difficult step was to start the first dance; after this a kind of magic bubble surrounded us, which gave us a feeling of safety. Most people did not seem to take much notice of us, so we gradually forgot about them, chanted, danced and had a lot of fun. The reaction of people passing by was friendly; some smiled and took a leaflet, nobody joined in on the spot. English people are probably too tolerant or polite to show any upset reactions. We did have some difficult moments (see below), but:
all in all the experience was positive. If we can get more people actively involved, most certainly it will be more successful.
Some Questions are still open, like:
Were we really throwing pearls before the swine?
Should we have better not done it?
(as the situation was, when I came back from 5 weeks holiday, there was not much time to organise things differently)
I have not come to a final conclusion myself yet - Please contact me. Ralph
The struggle to get people motivated "to do it in the public"
When I presented this wonderful opportunity to my group, it created an email conversation, which went on after we had started this public class. All positive feedback came from people who could not join in - the doubtful voices came mostly from the core group (and at a point when it was too late to stop it):
"I just don't feel comfortable about a public performance of
that nature "
I think you will have a good response to the DUP in Cambridge, everything at first is always difficult for people in the street,
anything unusual people think we are crazy, but go for it, I think it will be quite successful.
This is just to say I wish you all success with this new and exciting venture. I shall let as many people as I can know about it and we can link together and empower our wishes.
Good Luck. All good wishes
I don't feel that the Cambridge DUP
group is strong enough and prepared enough to put on a public display -
members are too few, and we are not really not familiar enough with the dances. Some hard work of preparation and rehearsal is required (in my experience) for these public demonstration events to go well. There was no real preparation for this event. I am all for practising "faith", but I believe that the spirit does like us to make a bit of effort ourselves! I admire and applaud the courage of you and Tony and Julie, what you did was
certainly courageous, but was it wise?"
[comment: this was NOT a performance, but rather a usual group session in the public, with the option of anybody dropping in - so no preparation from the participants at all was required; only the leader needed to have the right choice list in mind or in the pocket - Ralph]
"I still wonder what was the purpose of Dancing in the Street. To say that
if one person was inspired or touched is not to my mind sufficient reason.
Sometimes, Ralph, you have this missionary urge to 'spread the word' of
DUP at all times in all places whether appropriate or not.
I am glad that you and Tony and Julie found it a good experience and it took courage to do what you did. However, as Ilona says, how can people experience the real attunement without participation. My feeling was that
if I had participated I would be dancing with adrenaline, not attunement. I
do not want the dances to be a public spectacle."
"If I'm not with you dancing I'm with you in spirit and fully encourage you to all continue and enjoy the dancing in the street!"
"But you, knowing what is DUP, must understand that it's not something for entertainment of market people."
These were the thoughts and feelings of the people who did NOT participate. I took 2 angel cards for the coming "Dancing in the Street": the first was "Integrity", which I took as a positive sign, the second angel card was "Courage", which seemed to be a warning: what would be the use of courage, if there were no danger?
Anyway, it was too late, the decision was made and so the first of four "public rehearsals" was to come...
Below you find some feedback from the participants and myself. Ralph
The first Sunday, 11am
We were only 3 of us: Tony was enthusiastic, Julie a bit afraid, I was nervous. At least the arcades of "Boots" provided shelter from the occasional rain. After we overcame the initial hesitation to start, our singing seemed to create a kind of protective aura. We forgot were we were, had a lot of laughter, lots of spirit partners and really good fun. The people seemed used to having musicians or singing around at this spot; people walked by and either didn't seem to take any notice of us or they smiled, while we spread the spirit and good vibrations.
My friend Kathrin passed by in a shopping hurry: she had difficulties dragging her children with her, because they enjoyed our chanting and dancing. One man watched us for a while; when we ended the dance, I invited him to join in: "Oh no, I'm too English to do such a thing" was his honest reply. Us 3 had a great time and fun together for two hours.
I asked Julie to share her experience:
At 10.45 Sunday morning I walked into town feeling
quite unsure of what I was letting myself in for.
I had agreed, wisely or not, to help Ralph with his
Dances of Universal Peace and Chanting "Dancing in
the Street" session outside Boots.
Ralph and Tony turned up a few minutes after me and
we then began.
Well, I must say I was NOT disappointed! Ralph, in
his usual way, encouraged us to flow along with his
singing and drumming. I felt so much enthusiasm from
all three of us and so much exuberance.
People walked past. Some looked but no one stopped to
watch. Even so, I felt we were having a positive
effect on the passers-by, which made me feel good too.
The two hours went so quickly and I had so much fun
singing and dancing that; I promise, the next time
Ralph invites me to "Dance in the Street", there will
be NO hesitation as I walk happily into town !!!"
19 Nov, JULIE B
The 2nd time: Wednesday 5pm Market Place - the first challenge
Right in front of the guildhall was the arranged dance point. Market people were closing their stalls, it was getting dark. This time we had 2 music stands: one on each side, with information about the dances. Again we started with 3, felt more confident.
After the first dance a carrot landed in the centre of our circle. I looked up - and then over to the veggie and fruit stall 20 meters away. A carrot thrown at us! My solarplex became tense. Tony said: "just ignore them!" Suddenly all the warnings and doubts of the others jumped to my mind. Here was my small flock of peace sheep under attack - we cannot possible go on as nothing happened!
I decided to directly approach the attacker, went some steps towards the stall, opened my arms and shouted: "Can I have another one?" A young lad packing boxes hesitatively threw a carrot towards me which I tried to catch. So it has been he! And he knew I received his carrot. So I hoped that would be the end of his game - and we went on with "Haida Haida.." My about 80 year old friend Margery passed by and joyfully joined us while dancing (which she never did before).
Another carrot and an orange came rolling into our circle.
At this point the Universe decided to help: it sent a big blue van to park as a protection between the stall and our circle. How do I know it was the Universe? Because the van had a code that showed it was for me: "www.deutschepostag.co.uk" it said (I am German). I never heard or saw this before, and I felt thankful for this help.
The rest was easy and lovely, especially when Amy and Dan with their tiny baby joined our circle. Then the van drove away, leaving an empty fruit stall. Many people took leaflets and some windows were opened (so that the people could hear our singing better).
We finished earlier, because it was rather cold and windy - but we felt warm inside.
The 3rd time: Wednesday 5pm, at Boots again - another challenge
The weather was mild, no rain - but also hardly any participants. We started as before: Julie, Tony and me. "Bismillah, Alhamdulilla..." One thing was irritating me: a drunken man on the bench just 5 meters from us. He stood up and came closer, with his spirit in his bottle and all around him. Part of me wanted to tell him: "Go away and don't disturb us, we want to sing about love, mercy and compassion - and you will spoil our image.." but I realised that might not be the right thing to do.
When we finished, he came closer to me and asked: "What are you doing?" I replied: "Singing and dancing of spiritual songs from all over the world".
Swaying he looked in my eyes holding onto his bottle and came closer. I wondered what went on in him, if he felt aggressive towards us? Then he put his head on my shoulder and started crying. At this point Julie took her bag and left Tony and me - it was not her day. So after a little while I padded his shoulder and said, we've to get on with singing.
While Tony and I danced to one of my own lively Jewish dances with clapping, the man suspiciously watched us and came closer again. By the end of the dance, he managed to pull out a huge crucifix, which he wore under his shirt and showed this to us. I understood. The next song and dance I internally dedicated to him: "God has given me the power, to change my way, heal the broken..." and after this we sang a lively Taizé round: "Gloria in excelsis, Halleluja!".
He got the message and probably thought that we were OK and strolled away. We felt quite relieved and enjoyed singing and dancing. We ended up with more spirit partners than ourselves and were rather in good spirits. Then my friend Carolin joined us for the last half-hour.
I wondered why nobody stopped - most people seemed so terribly busy. Later I met my pagan friend Kay, and she said how much our dancing did help her:
"I was cycling home after a busy day, all caught up with stuff on my mind,
when I saw three people outside of Boots who appeared to be bowing to each
other. How strange I thought, then, I realised it was Ralph and the peace
dancers and above the hubbub of town I could hear you singing as I cycled
on past. Just a thought, but it was really nice to see you there, and as
I cycled on, my thoughts had changed - somehow less cluttered.
Now here is Tony's feedback, who participated in all first three "Dancing in the Street" sessions:
Peace dancing in the street: what a mad idea - Ralph had really landed me in it this time! I felt bound to accompany him, out of pure sympathy... BUT after the initial trepidations - oh well I thought - I have danced through the London streets with the Hare Krishna devotees - I did not need to be so brave. It was perfectly OK - even quite serene. Ralph has such a large repertoire - and can sing 2nd or even 3rd parts as I hung grunly on to the melody. Also when you sing first (still noticing the bystanders reactions) when you do the steps with it, you just can't keep thinking about the spectators.
So - quite a reasonable environment - quiet walkers, no vehicles, resonant surrounding walls - it can work beautifully. I found it quite inspiring - let's do it some more. Tony H.
And the last one: Sunday 11am Market Place
I was there well in time. Just as I put the music stands out, this professional German musician with his mobile electric street stage approached me rather aggressive: He just had moved his stuff here and now I was about to tell him that I was pre-booked at this place. After 10 minutes of complaining about the bad city management information policy he calmed down and we finally arranged, that I would move to the other end of the guildhall, under the Christmas tree.
And so it was: I was all by myself today - the others were tied up elsewhere. I displayed the specially printed leaflets ("Drop your shopping bag and join our circle!") on 2 music stands. After carefully assessing the situation, I decided to give up the idea of forming a circle; so I became a street musician and just chanted "Hallelujah" and everything which came to my mind. It was OK.
Then my friend Marie-Therese came for some shopping on the Sunday market. She immediately joined me and we chanted together for a while. I even taught her a new dance of mine. What a difference it made: another person! It was so much more fun together...
Background of "Dancing in the Street":
After registering my "Dances of Universal Peace & Chanting" at the Central Library database, I received an invitation to participate in the "Cambridge at Christmas" programme from the City Centre Manager. They produced a glossy leaflet with mentioning many shops on one side and events, entertainment, a map, parking, etc. on the other side.
The entertainment section included the name "Dances of Universal Peace & Chanting" together with 7 more dance, drama and music groups. 150 000 copies were printed and sent to all households, hotels and public information points. You may now understand, why I felt excited and hoping for another chance for publicity for the dances. And I did remember my vision of the Dances (which I put on the Internet 3 years ago). Unfortunately their web site (www.cambridge-city-centre.co.uk) with a link to our dance programme did NOT go online.
At the following dates and places we sang and danced in the streets of Cambridge / UK before Christmas 2000:
Sun 19 Nov 11am - 1pm, Sidney Street (outside "Boots")
Wed 22 Nov 5 - 7pm, Market Place Cambridge in front of the Guild Hall
Wed 29 Nov 5 - 7pm, Sidney Street (outside "Boots"- rain sheltered!)
Sun 3 Dec 11am - 1pm, Market Place Cambridge in front of the Guild Hall
And this was the flyer text I made, hoping for people to join us:
Come and join the Dances of Universal Peace & Chanting
Drop your shopping bag in the centre of our circle and do something special for peace today: healing and reviving mind, body and spirit
This is not a performance.
Dances of Universal Peace - peace in motion: Chant, movement and meditation from the world's spiritual traditions. Dedicated towards multi-cultural understanding and peace - within and without. Take a break from being a spectator to renew a compassionate connection to others, nature and the sacred.
We think there is nothing wrong in praising the source of all creation in many forms, names and languages by singing and dancing with an open heart. "If you can talk, you can sing. If you can walk, you can dance" (African saying). Absolute beginners are invited to join us on the spot!
If you like to join our open circle again, please turn over for the programme!