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Circle Dance: Exploring the Depth of the Dance

by Julia Lynam

Twenty people stand in a circle, hand in hand in a lovely space, indoors or out, their gaze focused on a glowing centerpiece of flowers and lighted candles. One among their number explains a sequence of steps, briefly telling the origin or story of the dance. The music begins and the circle turns, new and experienced dancers together tracing patterns on the ground and each becoming, in their own way, united with one another and with the ancient human impulse to dance.

These are Circle Dancers, and a large group of them will be gathering in Franconia, New Hampshire in April 2020 to explore the role of the dance in promoting wellness of body and soul. The “Joining Hands: Wholeness in Dance” conference, April 24 – 26, 2020, will convene at Neskaya Movement Arts Center to offer opportunities for thought, discussion and learning, as well as lots of dancing.

Circle Dance is a continuation of ancient traditions of dance in villages and towns throughout the world. Based on traditional folk dances, and often including and cherishing them, it is a contemporary evolution of the folk process in dance.

Folk dance is alive and well in many countries like France and Greece, where many people, dance the old dances but also mold them to their modern taste. In the UK, USA and Canada, immigrants have, over hundreds of years, shared their dances, and these, too, have developed and changed, so today’s Circle Dancers are the inheritors of these rich traditions. While respecting the ancient and the traditional, they apply their own energy and creativity to keeping the dances alive and evolving.

Circle Dance also draws on music from many cultures ranging from Albanian to Zulu, music we would never hear or experience otherwise.

Through a loose and informal network, the dances are shared worldwide. Six people dancing beside a lake in Vermont, USA, may be doing the same dance as a circle of hundreds in a public square in Brazil. An annual World Day of Circle Dance, orchestrated by Gwyn Peterdi, encourages circles around the world to share the same three dances. The resulting videos encapsulate the universality of this practice.

Exponents of the dance vary widely. Former ballet dancer Friedel Kloke-Eibl carries a special inspiration. She was a student of Bernhard Wosien, a German ballet-master based in the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland in the 1970s, who recognized the significance of the universality of the circle in traditional dance and inspired a diaspora of Circle Dance leaders. Others who danced with Wosien and still transmit his dances and philosophy include June Watts and Peter Vallance. In the USA Bobbi Bailin currently choreographs widely-loved dances and is completing the circle by taking her creations to Findhorn. Argentinian Pablo Scornik leads dancing expeditions to sacred sites around the world including Machu Picchu, the Egyptian pyramids and the mountains of Nepal.

Music and dances are brought into the network in many ways: American-born dance ethnographer Laura Shannon accurately transmits traditional dances she’s learned from elders in Greek villages, preserving, with permission, symbolic steps and patterns that might otherwise be lost. The English couple Bethan and Stefan Freedman choreograph their own exuberant and meditative dances to traditional tunes, as well as transmitting existing dances and using the dances in the work of building communities and spreading peace. Stefan, who will be the keynote speaker at next April’s conference, uses Circle Dance in awareness raising for causes, conflict resolution and developing group sensitivity and trust, as well as for relief of stress, depression and anxiety, and to support a deepening of spiritual and meditative experience.

At the first “Joining Hands” conference, held in April 2018, participants heard presentations about incorporation of Circle Dance it into math, language and science lessons in elementary schools; about the healing and therapeutic properties of the dances, and about their role in corporate team building and the generation and interpretation of poetry.

The “Wholeness Through Dance” conference in April 2020, will offer an opportunity to hear about Stefan Freedman’s work with Circle Dance, to talk about the role it plays in your life, or to discover for the first time its strength and appeal. Other conference speakers will include Findhorn-trained Circle Dance leader Ellen Kennedy who works with Christian theologian and Creation Spirituality exponent Matthew Fox. She embodies the spirit of Creation Spirituality in dance and teaches others to do the same.

And there’s more: the conference will be followed by a two-day Circle Dance workshop, April 27 and 28, led by Stefan Freedman, offering conference participants and others an immediate opportunity to deepen their experience of this profound form of dance. If you’d like to join us for either of these events, check out the Neskaya website or email movementarts@neskaya.com.


Neskaya Movement Arts Center, Franconia, NH, USA: www.neskaya.com

Gwyn Peterdi, World Day of Circle Dance: https://globalcircledance.com/

Laura Shannon: https://laurashannon.net/

Bethan and Stefan Freedman: http://www.worldance.org/

Findhorn Foundation: www.findhorn.org

Bernhard Wosien: http://www.sacreddance-wosien.net/mgwosien/mgwosien.html (this is the web page of his daughter Gabriele)

Freidel Kloke-Eibl: https://sacreddance.de/en/

Bobbi Bailin: https://www.bobbibailin.net/

Matthew Fox: www.matthewfox.org

Ellen Kennedy: http://www.foxinstitute-cs.org/faculty

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