History of the Dances of Universal Peace
The Dances of Universal Peace were brought together in the late 1960′s by Samuel L. Lewis (1896-1971), affectionately known as SAM, (Sufi Achmed Murad Chisti). SAM was a Sufi Murshid and Rinzai Zen Master, who also studied deeply within the mystical traditions of Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity. In his vision of the Dances creation, SAM was deeply influenced by his contact and spiritual apprenticeship with Hazrat Inayat Khan, who first brought the message of Universal Sufism to the West in 1910, and with Ruth St. Denis, who first brought feminine spirituality in the modern dance movement in America and Europe.
In his early 70′s SAM began to create the Dances as a dynamic method to promote “Peace through the Arts”. His original body of work included about 50 dances, spiritual walks and teachings. The number of Dances has now surpassed 500 and continues to grow throughout the many different countries of the world.
Hazrat Inayat Khan's teaching emphasized the unity of religious ideals and respect for all religions. He did not require his initiates to convert to Islam. He taught not that religions are saying the same thing but that each holds a different ray of truth, and provides a window to the Absolute for different members of the human family:
"As water in a fountain flows in one stream but falls in many drops, divided by time and space, so are the revelations of the one stream of truth. Not everyone can comprehend the idea of different truths being derived from the one truth. Common sense has been so narrowly trained in this world of variety, that it naturally fails to realize the breadth and subtlety of a spiritual fact so far beyond the reach of its limited reasoning."
The Dances of Universal Peace spring from this "universalist" perspective, a stance of respect and openness to the truth contained in a sacred phrase or scripture.
Ruth St. Denis was a visionary, a pioneer of contemporary dance in America. Her groundbreaking work paved the way for the next generation of modern dance pioneers.
In her unpublished book, The Divine Dance (1933), Ruth St. Denis wrote of her vision of a future dance for life and peace:
"The dance of the future will no longer be concerned with meaningless dexterities of the body.... Remembering that man is indeed the microcosm, the universe in miniature, the Divine Dance of the future should be able to convey with its slightest gestures some significance of the universe.... 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. We shall sense our unity with all peoples who are moving to that exalted rhythm."
Hazrat Inayat Khan with vina, Samuel Lewis in New York, Ruth St Denis
The Spread of the Dances
During the past 50 years, the Dances have spread throughout the world, touching more than a half million people in North and South America, Europe, the former Soviet Union, Japan, India, Pakistan, Australia, and New Zealand. Further networking and citizen diplomacy through the Dances are also beginning in South Africa and the Middle East. New grassroots Dance circles are continually springing up around the globe, with anywhere from 40 to 60 meeting weekly or monthly in the United States alone. Even during times of crisis Circles meet internationally via Zoom.
The Dances of Universal Peace have evolved and expanded in practical application to meet the deep felt needs today for rediscovering reverence, creativity, and a body-based connection to the natural world. Teachers share the Dances in schools, therapy groups, prisons, hospice houses, drug rehabilitation centres, homes for the developmentally disabled, retirement villages, holistic health centres, and ecumenical worship celebrations.
They continue to be, as SAM envisioned them, a way to make life-energy and the peace that passes understanding a reality for all who come in contact with them.