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Madonna of the Dance
When Samuel Lewis brought the Dances of Universal Peace into being, he credited two people with influencing his vision: Hazrat Inayat Khan and Ruth St. Denis. Both of these teachers expanded his spiritual understanding, taught him about the esoteric and sacred aspects of the arts, and shared his desire to foster peace in the world through what Inayat Khan referred to as “the unity of religious ideals.” Both have been called grandparents or godparents of the Dances, and Murshid SAM wrote about them as having been equally important inspirations. But while many people who participate in the Dances come to know quite a bit about Hazrat Inayat Khan and his teachings as a Sufi master, St. Denis is less familiar to some. In this issue of the newsletter, we explore Ruth St. Denis’ contributions to the Dances and share a few attunements that we hope will give more people an opportunity to connect with this beloved ancestor of our practice.
Ruth St. Denis in Egypta, 1910
"The Dance is motion, which is life; beauty, which is love; proportion, which is power. To dance is to live life in its finer and higher vibrations, to live life harmonized, purified, controlled. To dance is to feel one’s self actually a part of the cosmic world, rooted in the inner reality of spiritual being.”

~*~ Ruth St. Denis ~*~

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Dancing with the Divine
by Angela Gayan Galik

Ruth St. Denis (1879-1968) was born in a farming community in rural New Jersey. She was a dancer from an early age, performing in a wide range of styles from classical ballet to ballroom to vaudeville. By the 1910s she was emerging as a pioneer of the American modern dance movement. 

According to a popular story, St. Denis’s curiosity about world religions was sparked when she saw a drawing of the Egyptian goddess Isis on an advertisement for cigarettes. Something about the image spoke to her and inspired her to learn more. She soon became very interested in Eastern mythologies, particularly Egyptian, Indian, and Japanese, and created projects in which she tried to present what she called a “translation” of the culture itself and stories from its spiritual traditions in a performance-dance format. 

By the 1920s, St. Denis had become famous as a master of modern dance and an artistic innovator, as well as a sought-after teacher and co-founder of a prestigious New York academy of dance. Her passionate engagement with the spiritual dimensions of dance also continued to grow, and this became more and more a focus of her work. 

A core tenet of St. Denis’ approach to her art was that through dance, one could connect with the Divine. Though in her early performances and “translations,” spirituality was more associated with something from another culture, as she grew older, she became more interested in planting the seeds of sacred dance in American soil. She founded a number of organizations to promote exploration of the sacred through dance, including the Society of Spiritual Arts in the 1930s, the Church of the Divine Dance and the School of Natya in the ‘40s and the St. Denis Religious Art Church in the ‘50s. Gatherings of these groups included meditation, talks on the esoteric aspects of dance, and performances of  sacred dance by St. Denis. 

Farrunnissa Rosa writes, “In 1954, the Hindu mystic Swami Papa Ramdas visited Los Angeles on his world tour, and was Ruth’s guest speaker. He describes her devotional dance which closed the meeting: ‘She went in and dressed herself for the occasion and came out dancing.  Her dance exhibited serpentine movements of an ethereal type. There was perfect silence in the church. The slow movements of her dance created waves of peace that rose and fell in cadence. For us, who have never witnessed such dances, it was indeed a revelation.  The impression left on our minds was a combination of surprise and elevation.’”

St. Denis wrote that “The Dance is motion, which is life; beauty, which is love; proportion, which is power. To dance is to live life in its finer and higher vibrations, to live life harmonized, purified, controlled. To dance is to feel one’s self actually a part of the cosmic world, rooted in the inner reality of spiritual being.” It is not hard to see in these words a connection to the mysticism of sound taught by Hazrat Inayat Khan. Indeed, while Inayat Khan used the concept of harmony to describe peace within the self and among people, St. Denis promoted “Peace through the Arts.” Both teachers were instrumental in impressing upon Samuel Lewis, creator of the Dances, the idea that music and movement can not only put people in touch with their deepest and most sacred nature, the arts can also be a pathway to lasting peace.

To Murshid SAM, St. Denis, or “Miss Ruth,” as she was known in the dance world, was a teacher, a colleague, and a “fairy godmother.” Having devoted much of her life to the study of spirituality in dance, she transmitted to Murshid SAM what Neil Douglas-Klotz describes as “the importance of re-visioning a form of American sacred dance which could be shared in groups.” Murshid SAM would be the one to carry out this project, as he created the joyfully embodied practice which became known as the Dances of Universal Peace. Both Lewis and St. Denis believed that through dance, people could access their inner connection with the entire universe - and through dancing in a group, they could experience the realness of their relationship to other human souls. The effect was more than a fleeting high - both teachers understood that a dance practice which combined ecstasy and devotion could be truly transformative.

Murshid SAM developed the concept of the Dances in discussion with St. Denis, and he sought her approval of his plans, which she gave. Lewis dedicated the very first Dance gathering to her. She passed away soon after, at the age of 89, leaving a legacy of grace, depth, and vision. The Dances would not be what they are without her pioneering groundwork and her commitment to developing the potential of dance as a means for everyday people in modern society to have an experience of the sacred that is both transcendent and fully embodied. Though her name is not always mentioned, her influence goes to the very heart of the Dances.

Ruth St. Denis in Radha, 1904

Subhan allahu
alhamdulillah haiku
allah ho akbar

~*~ Muraq'abba Mike Monahan ~*~

Next month's theme is Joe Miller's role in helping to foster the Dances. Please send your haiku to

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Ruth St. Denis as an elder

A Few Dances with an Attunement to
Ruth St. Denis:

The Eternal Ecstasy of Being

Unbroken Flows the Rhythm

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Newly Certified Dance Leaders

We send blessings to the newly certified leaders within our region. We bow in gratitude to their service and devotion, and in joy at their stepping forward to do this work! 

This month we bless...

Tal John Inayat (Cary, NC)

Sylvia Edwards (Colorado Springs, CO)

Hurakhsh Skaler (Somerville, MA)

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 New DUP logo banner for sale
New Logo Banners!

Many thanks to Lucinda Abbe for designing our new color scheme. These banners are hand batiked in Bali. If you would like to purchase one, please send a check for $40.00 to our office, DUPNA, PO Box 6372, Longmont, CO 80501

Please write "logo banner" in the Notes section on your check.
"As we rise higher in the understanding of ourselves, the national and racial dissonances will be forgotten in the universal rhythms of Truth and Love.”

~*~ Ruth St. Denis ~*~
The Board and Staff
Dances of Universal Peace North America

In This Issue:

  1. Dancing with the Divine: Reflections on the Legacy of Ruth St. Denis

  2. Song of the Month: Unbroken Flows the Rhythm

  3. Videos of the Month: Ruth St. Denis

  4. A Few Dances with an Attunement to Ruth St. Denis
  5. Haiku
  6. Gratitude for Donations
  7. Newly Certified Dance Leaders
  8. Dance Recording Project Seeking Volunteers
“Make way for the dance! See if it does not repay a thousand fold. It will enlarge the horizons, give meaning to many things now hidden, new power to the self, a new value to existence.”
~*~Ruth St. Denis~*~

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Song of the Month:

Unbroken Flows the Rhythm

originated by Ardvisura Carol Griffin, led here by Zareen Connie Delaney.  This Dance was inspired by the writings of Ruth St. Denis, grandmother of the Dances of Universal Peace

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Dance Recording Project Help Needed

We are seeking one, or more, people who enjoy recording music at events to contribute to our Song of the Month feature.  Rahmana has been the pipeline for music the past several years, and she will be completing her service this fall.  We would like to keep the flow of music coming, as this is one of our most enjoyed highlights of the newsletter. 

Please contact Rahmana at if you can help.

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Ruth St Denis in “From a Grecian Vase” , Orpheum vaudeville act based on the Greek Theatre pageant of 1916. - Production: The Siamese Ballet, Denishawn
Ruth St. Denis East Indian Nautch Dance (August 1944)

Videos of the Month:

Ruth St. Denis in East Indian Nautch Dance

This is a 1944 color video of Ruth St. Denis performing one of her famous dances inspired by Indian culture and mythology. This video shows her personality as a dancer and as a performer, and illustrates her passionate interest in Eastern aesthetic forms.
“You and I are but specks of that rhythmic urge which is Brahma, which is Allah, which is God.”

Ruth St. Denis

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Ruth St. Denis Project 2006 Part 1 of 5

Ruth St. Denis
multi-media project series
(part 1 of 5)

This is part one of a five-part “multi-media project celebrating the life and legacy of Ruth St. Denis, originally compiled for presentation at the National Museum of Dance in January 2006.” The series contains wonderful pictures, history, statements, and interviews with Ruth St. Denis from Frank Lombardo.

Gratitude for Donations

DUPNA would like to thank the following circles and events for their dana from their events and gatherings to help further the work of DUPNA and outreach of the Dances. May you be blessed in return!

Willits, CA Dance circle

Milwaukee, WI Dance circle 

Global Peace Dance Milwaukee, WI

San Luis Obispo, CA Dance circle

Santa Cruz, CA Dance circle

Peaceful Sisters in MI

Greenville, SC Dance circle and events

California Events Dance chapter

Rose Heart Sufi community

Joyful Journey Hot Springs Dance retreat with Bernie Heideman and Sky Majida

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Website Resource

If you missed our recent telecon on Reflections of the World Parliament, the recording is archived on our website
Upcoming Events in Our Region

Blue Ridge
Jamiat Aam

April 14-17, 2016
near Charlottesville, VA

Rahmana Bonnie Hockaday


ARISE Workshop- Drumming for Dances of Universal Peace
with Ginger Nuria Lee
April 15-17
Eugene, OR

Ginger Nuria Lee


Hearts on Fire: Deepening in the Traditions
Dancing Hearts Retreat
April 15-17, 2016
Geyserville, CA

Violetta Reiser


Wind Spirit Dance Camp
April 21-24, 2016
Winkelman, AZ



Spring Canyonlands Camp
May 4-9, 2016
near Moab, UT

Sky Majida Roshay


The Joy of Spirit in Motion
May 6-8, 2016
Rowe, MA

Arif Leininger


Toward 7 Generations: Dance Deepening and Leaders Training
with Halima, Abraham, Maitreya, and Malika
May 27-30, 2016
North Central MA



Inland Northwest Sufi Camp
May 27-30, 2016
near Coeur d'Alene, ID

Wakil David Matthews


Pir Shabda Kahn Retreat
June 24-26, 2016
Asheville, NC

Tarana Wesley


Click Here to view and bookmark a complete listing of events at our One-Time Events calendar at the DUPNA website

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