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My Dance Leading Story

by Arjuna


Somewhere in the early 90s I walked into a hall in the Bondi Pavilion, a community centre at Bondi Beach. There was a sign outside: Dances of Universal Peace. A tall very warm woman, Tomi or Hakima, greeted my partner Karen and myself and we began to dance and sing. It was around this time that I’d been to a Spirit of Learning Forum, where we did some circle dances, which I found quite captivating, however it was to taped music and we didn’t sing. This dance experience was to live music and we sang and danced. I was hooked!

I danced with Tomi for a few years and then a couple from the US came and they also led dances – that was Zubeida and Lowell, as they were known at the time. I attended the dances as often as I could and then as part of my Alternatives to Violence Training (AVP) I was introduced to the dance Haida, by Elaine Dyer from New Zealand as a Light and Lively in the AVP workshop process and I began to lead the dance in workshops, both in the community and in the prison context. It was around that time that the AVP group, who used to run weekend workshops in the lower hall of the Quaker Hall in Devonshire Street, Sydney, began to include the dances as part of the AVP training. As an AVP facilitator I found this very helpful as it would relax the participants after a hard days working looking at alternatives to violence.

Becoming a Dance Mentee

Then in 1996 my dancing friend Amrita invited me to attend a weekend workshop with Anahata, who was visiting from New Zealand. I connected to her from the start and she became my dance mentor. She came back later that year as the musician for a dance retreat by Saadi and Kamae on the theme of the Ancestors of the Dance, as well Saadi was promoting and teaching from his new book Desert Wisdom. It was also at this time that I began to connect to Hakim, a Sheikh in the Sufi Movement, who became my Sufi initiator and guide for a number of years. In the late 90s he moved to the Blue Mountains 80k west of Sydney, and he invited me to lead dances in the mountains for his Sufi mureeds. I’ve been leading dances there ever since. I also sometimes led in Sydney and in various dance outreach situations, like with my Social Ecology teachers and peers at residentials and later with my Social Ecology students in undergraduate subjects like Foundations of Well Being and Learning and Creativity, as well as in post grad subjects like Ecology and Spirituality. These courses were at the University of Western Sydney (UWS).

Jewish Renewal

Through my connection to Anahata and the dance Haida, I reconnected with my Jewish roots and I began to lead meditations and dances in the Jewish community as part of a Jewish Renewal group. Some of these were inspired by practices and dances I learnt from Anahata and Saadi, and practices that were drawn from Saadi’s work and other Jewish dances in the dance repertoire like Shekhina, by Nasrudin. Later Khannah began to lead more Jewish dances and she also attended our Jewish Renewal retreats with people like Rabbi David Cooper and Shoshana Cooper, Rabbi Shefa Gold and the Sephardic cantor, Robert Esformes. This introduced a kind of Jewish Kirtan and occasionally we’d also dance. We ended these retreats with The Blessing Dance to the words of Hazrat Inayat Khan.

Dance and Sufi Experience

Since that time in the 90s, I have attended retreats with many visiting dance teachers and Sufi leaders who came to Oz. This included several with Saadi, Tasnim, Allaudin, Mariam Baker, Anahata, Prema, Tansen, Shabda, Nasrudin, Nawab, Devi Tide, Narayan, Amida, Zamyat, Radha and Alima, Wali and Arienne, Abraham and Halima… being the main ones I can recall. I began to regularly attend at the Devonshire Street dances and I went to all the locally led retreats like the Spring Renewal retreat in October, which were used as dance trainings by Sitara as she later became known. I also deepened my Sufi practice by attending the Sufi Summer School in Katwijk, Holland, twice as well as regularly attending the Australian Sufi Summer Schools with Nawab, for several years, where I was often invited to lead dances.

It was around this time that I became a certified dance leader on the occasion of Anahata’s visit to Sydney, when I led an evening of dances. Then some years later Khannah began to lead her Dance Darshan training weekends at Inana and I attended these as often as I could, which further deepened my training process in the dances.

By this stage Hakim had left the mountains, however the dances continued and as an experienced dance leader at this stage I began to informally mentor other dance leaders in the mountains like Sabira, Sofia and Karen. As well Sherry in the Sydney circle asked me to be her mentor and we started working together. Also at times I would support Robyn, Kafia and Karen to lead dances in the Sydney circle, especially musically as I was also a guitarist and occasionally the drummer. Robyn and I also led dances as part of our regular Monday night Sufi group.

Then when the January Australian Sufi Summer Schools stopped around 4 or 5 years ago, I began to attend retreats in New Zealand, and there I made a good connection with Shafia and Wendy and their Maori dances. As Anahata was now living in Brazil and the US, I had less connection with her, so I took on Shafia as my co-mentor in the dances, and I attended a number of Maori dance trainings with them. Then Sitara and Jelaludin had to return to the US and I became the senior and most experienced dance leader in Sydney, however I didn’t want to take on the role of exclusive leader so I suggested we start a Wisdom Council to lead the dances and we did. This council consisted of all the dance leaders who wanted to be part of it and we began to draw up rosters for dance leading, and whenever other dance leaders couldn’t lead I would lead the dances. Then when Khannah sadly passed away, several of her mentees officially wanted to become my mentees – so Robyn, Sabira and Kafia, became my mentees along with Sofia and Sherry. As well Jami would often ask me for guidance as he was now living in Sydney and I am now co-mentoring Gini with Sitara.


As well as the leading and mentoring I’ve done within formal dance events, I’ve done a lot of outreach over the years as a way of spreading the dances in the wider community. As I mention above there were the Social Ecology Residentials, that also led me to leading dances at a number of Spirituality Leadership and Management (SLaM) conferences at UWS. I’ve led dances at Interfaith services at places like Chapel by the Sea, a local Bondi Uniting Church and ad St. Candice catholic community; at Peace Vigils like the 21st of September, the International Day of Peace, which were in the Sydney CBD at lunchtime with city workers as well as school children of different religious denominations, this was part of the Peace Ministry Campaign; at several school venues for both teachers and students, like the Steiner School Glenaeon, the Kinma Free School in Terrey Hills, Cleveland St High School with predominantly Aboriginal children; at the Cairns Healing Centre; at the Sydney Chapter of the Theosophical Society, where I’ve also been invited to give several talks on Sufism and the dances; at the Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland, where we had large circles of over 300 people; at a Hindu Temple and at an Interfaith group in Baulkham Hills; for refugee and migrant youth at the Adult Migrant English Centre in Sydney, where I was a teacher for several years; and at a Zen retreat on the Central Coast led by Ranchba, a local Zen teacher.

Original Dances

A number of original dances have blessed my life over the years. The first of these was Building Bridges, based on a song by a Venezuelan Quaker. Then over the years came The World is a Beautiful Place, May Peace Prevail on Earth, The Shamanic Alhumdulilah, the Bondi Zikr and Bereshith for Standard Tuning Guitar. For all these dances I composed the music as well as creating the dance. Two of my most popular dances have been: Angels of Peace and Yihiyu L’Ratzon ( May the words of my mouth).

Sufi Practices

Another relevant development is that while attending the Mana Dance Retreat with Abraham and Halima a few years ago, I took on Abraham as my Sufi guide. This led to visits to the US to see him and later being invited to the Jamiat Khas last year and being initiated as a Sufi guide myself in the Ruhaniat by Abraham. I was already a Cherag in the Sufi Movement and initiated in the Sufi Healing Order of the Sufi Order. So now I’m connected with all the 3 major Inayati Sufi groups.


So the Sydney circle has continued and we began to organise our own Spring Renewals in October, which last year was on the theme of the Tent of Abraham. The previous year I organised for Shafia and Wendy to come and lead a weekend of Maori Dances or the Sydney circle and the year before that, Zeb and I coordinated the Spring Renewal at the Magnolia Centre in Rose Bay.

On the national level we began to have our homegrown retreats on alternate years at the suggestion of Tansen, who could see that we now had sufficiently skilled dance leaders locally. Consequently, Zebunissa, now Noorunissa and I coordinated our home-grown Easter retreat a couple of years ago on the theme of the Pachamama Alliance work and the Change the Dream Symposiums, this year we’re in the process of planning an Easter retreat in April on the theme of Integral Consciousness. Noorunissa has been the President and I have been the Vice President of the Australian network of the dances for several years now, as we became incorporated and need to have official leaders.


Led by Murshid Mariam Baker with husband & German musician Michael Ali

A rich canvas of activities for a smaller group than usual. It worked well with 20, a good dance circle and more time to share our thoughts. Mariam lets it flow rather than organize, her experience knows where it’s going for the group and how to orchestrate an outcome. Yes , there were less dances but generally my minimum of 3 per session!

It was a rich Sufi experience with wasifirs, 1001Tambo beads, authentic twirling and long soul meditations daily which were profound for me. I asked to be happy and came away singing in my soul as always happens. They are such a wonderful group, people I only see once a year, but with whom one can dance in a relaxed warmth of loving gestures, truly nourishing!

I feel fortunate to be able to Retreat with them. I may have felt so unspiritual that I could not see why I should go BUT as ever I came away with a heart on fire, feeling full of love. This morning there is no babbling brook to sing beside, I’m in Surfers with Silver and Geoff who turned 87 yesterday.

by Cedar Prest

Earth Water Fire Air

Dancing in Peace with Murshida Mariam Baker, Gunnebah, NSW
April 18-22, 2103


Thursday evening
Eighteen dancers excitedly gathered for the first night at Gunnebah, nestled under the scenic rim that encircles Wollumbin (Mt Warning).

The evening meal, prepared by Andrea and Casper, was a prelude of delights to come.



Murshida Mariam Baker, resplendent in ankle length dress, led the first dances, the Introductory Bismillah and the healing dance, Let me do Thy will Allah. Nizamuddin grounded us with throaty drum and Michael Ali led us with open tuned guitar. The caravan was underway.

Energised and focussed by the dance, we moved to a carpeted altar area for a sitting Zikr. We passed around a Native American style rattle, intricately decorated by Noorunissa (formerly Zebunissa), gave our names and expressed what gift it was that we desired from the retreat.

We chanted four wasifa, accompanying them with movements of arms and body:

Ya Fattah – The Opener, The Revealer
Ya Rashid – The Appointer to the Right Path, The Unerring
Ya Mu’min – The Faithful, The Ultimately Trustworthy
Ya Muhaimin – The Protector, The Bestower of Security

Our desire:

…if a peaceful person comes into the room, someone might say, “It’s wonderful to see a peaceful person.” The dervish, however, would say instead, “Isn’t it wonderful to see Divine Peace coming through this person?” What they mean by this is that the human personality has the potential to become the vehicle of the Universe’s archetypes. This is the intention behind the practice of wazâ’if… to connect a specific quality in oneself to its source…

Awakening, by Pir Vilayat Khan


We moved into the silence before sleep:

Sunworld dissolving       ahhh……
Bathing in moonlight        ooo……
Dreams ………


Friday EARTH
A Cedar Prest mandala of rocks and soil, borne by a Robyn Hutchison poppy field, honoured the Earth and greeted the dancers:


Honouring Earth:

Mother earth is a great, great ship that we are sailing on

Sailing on through space and time.
Touch the earth, feel your worth,
Wake up to the universe.
Open up your heart and touch the divine!


Honouring Earth:

I walk beauty way, beauty way, beauty way.
I walk beauty way, ________, __________.
Healing ourselves,
Forgiving ourselves,
Loving ourselves,
Honouring ourselves.

After morning tea, we gathered outside on lush grass, a cathedral site with soaring walls of camphor laurel and brushbox, light filtering between the crevices of a million leaves, sparkling water murmuring in the bend of the creek, whip birds slicing the air with their song as we inhaled the elemental breaths of earth, air, fire, water and ether.

In the afternoon, we gathered in a circle, united in holding an enormous string of 1001 beads, large and small, of wood and stone, smooth and crenulated, from every corner of the world.

Tasbeeh (tasbih, tajbee) – a new word and, for many, a totally new practice. Tasbeeh literally means “to travel swiftly”. It is a Zikr practice where the beads are used to count the praises of Allah. For what seemed merely a breath and, simultaneously, an eternity, we passed the beads through our fingers, chanting the name Allah, breathing the name, shouting the name, crying from the heart.

The ONE and the many – beads with a multitude of shapes and textures, each bead with a story of the ones who had shaped it, touched it, dreamed it, prayed with it – voices of many timbres, now hushed, now full, now insistent, now in awe – all united in the weaving, pulsing, harmonising, yearning  iterations of ALLAH.


In the evening’s subdued light, we travelled to the desert:

Mohammed loves camels because they are so neat
Mohammed loves camels because they have big feet.
At night in the desert they will keep you warm,
Sleeping together sheltered from the storm.

Hu Allah, Hu Allah, Hu Allah, Hu.

We sat to pray a Zikr transmitted by Afghani women. We stood to dance Te he Moriora and Alhamdullillah El Shakur Allah.

Once again, the silence before sleep:

Sunworld dissolving         ahhh……
Bathing in moonlight          ooo……
Dreams ………


Saturday WATER

Prayers of the Confraternity led from the heart by Talibah at the bend in the creek:


We danced Wishita and the Beauty Way Dance.


We invoked and chanted Allah Noor over our whole bodies – head, ears, eyes … throat, heart … arms and feet … and heart once more.

We moved into the semidarkness of the hall to be greeted by another one of Cedar’s evocative creations:


We chanted the wazifa Musawirr (the Shaper) and the song Willing, unwilling, what does it matter.

We moved to a soul dance subsequently danced many times:

There is a secret one inside.
All the stars and all the galaxies
Run through her hands like beads
Ishk Allah mabud lillah

Then followed a long meditation guided by Mariam segueing into painting, writing, moving, resting in stillness ……

In the afternoon we began with dance:

Goddess come down


Allah (in four directions).

We checked in with our dreams. We chanted the wazifas Wahabo (God the bringer of gifts) and Ya Wahido (The One, the manifestation of Unity).

Moving to our feet, we were led by Nazamuddin in a mercurial walk. Such a sight! Nazamuddin, thoroughly grounded, walking with small, swift steps, eyes moving rapidly to take in right, left, up, down. We followed suit!

From this mercurial context, Mariam’s prefaced her leading of the next beautifully grounded dances, saying, “We live in paradox”!

Ave maria

Kwan Zeon Bosai

Water of life (Lilla Flood)
link to YouTube video

Water or life, cleanse my soul
Fire of truth, burn away my fear.
Wind of the spirit, let my spirit soar.
Mother Earth heal me again.

In the evening we danced

Namo amida Butsu

This was dedicated to Maria, Zebunissa’s mother, who was awaiting burial. This was followed by

May all beings be free and happy
May all beings be free from strife
May all beings return to love.
Peace be with you, forever more.

We told the Tasbeeh with the marvellous beads .Once again, the silence before sleep:

Sunworld dissolving ahhh……
Bathing in moonlight ooo……
Dreams ………



Sunday FIRE

Breakfast was eaten around a fiercely burning brazier of logs. Welcome to fire!

After breakfast, the women moved to the creek for “women’s business”.  The men later joined them in procession, bringing gifts of fire red roses.


Zebunissa, Zubin, Nirtana, Talibah and Karima led a wonderful healing service on this day of fire.

We danced      Om nama Shivaya.

We chanted    Allah noori, Allah hay, Allah noori, Allah haqq.
This is my body, this is the temple of God
This is my heart, this is the altar of God.

We chanted    Who are you who stands before me?
I am you in another form.

We danced    Musawirr Allah

We chanted  Willing Unwilling What does it matter?
No longer resisting, moulding, kneading,
Like every lump of clay.

In the afternoon, the pot bellied stove in the hall was kindled.


We danced:     The Ram Nam dance
The fish in the water’s not thirsty (link to YouTube video)
Bismillah Alhamdulillah la illaha illa’llah
Shakur Allah Shakur

We chanted:   Ishq allāh ma’būd allāh
swimming in the great ocean of God’s love.
Ya wahabo
Ya wahido
Hayyee Allah

All our gatherings were centred around the marvellous mandalas created by Cedar.


In the evening, after dancing the Kalama and Bismillah Ya Fattah we moved into a Sama celebration. Sama literally means “listening”.  Mariam told some wonderful stories (the huntress and the deer) while Michael Ali accompanied her on didgeridoo and drum. Nirtana presented a many textured dance of the prophetesses and prophets. Zubin evoked the Aborigines of northern Australia and their country with its sacred rocks, lakes, birds and animals. Jami’ danced fire and the evolution of Wollumbin, the volcano at the heart of the Tweed. Jalila told gently humorous stories of the mundane and utterly extraordinary relationships of people in her retirement village.


Monday AIR



We danced:   Go sweep out the chambers of your heart
Use me for the purpose that thy wisdom chooses
This how I would die


After morning tea there was a soul work meditation guided by Mariam followed by the opportunity to rest in stillness, paint, write or move in dance.


Angel wings provided by a superbly generous and imaginative Andrew.

Gunnebah15aGunnebah15bIs something amiss here, or is something very right!?


Tuesday ETHER


Ether is the element that encompasses the integration of all the other elements. It is the element of wholeness, centeredness, quintessence. Cedar captured this wonderfully:


The highlight of the final morning was the walking of the labyrinth created by Cedar.


Inwards to the heart and outwards to the world.

Many thanks to Murshida Mariam, Nizamuddin and Michael Ali for travelling to this side of the world to be fire and earth, to be the melody and the song that continues to sing in our hearts.


A final good bye to Wollumbin on the road back to a life yet again transformed!

Jami’ Phillip Elwin


Tashi Delek! from South Australia

Our next Dances of Universal Peace gathering is to be –
Saturday June 15th  2013
3-5pm at ‘The Christian Community Church’ 3 Anzac Ridge Road Bridgewater in the Adelaide Hills.
All are welcome.

Here are some photos taken at one of our gatherings in March this year.
Open hearts and goodwill flow….







I look forward to sharing some dances which were included as part of the recent Dances of Universal Peace Pilgrimage to India and Nepal where I was one of the 17 members of the travelling peace delegation. My heart was warmed by the people of India and Nepal and the pilgrims and I hope always to carry the essence of their generosity. It was a blessed journey.

Tashi Delek has taken on a whole new meaning for me since walking and praying with the Tibetan Buddhist people, as has the greeting; Namaste.

Travelling together with a united purpose is very empowering.


Pilgrims with Pasang ( our Tibetan friend and guide )
Pilgrims with Pasang ( our Tibetan friend and guide )


Kathmandu - Bouda Stupa. Buddhist full moon in April, sponsorship of prayer flags
Kathmandu Bouda Stupa. Buddhist full moon in April – sponsorship of prayer flags


Kathmandu - Bouda Stupa - Buddhist full moon in April, sponsorship of prayer flags
Kathmandu Bouda Stupa. Buddhist full moon in April – sponsorship of prayer flags


Community of pilgrims at full moon - Bouda Stupa
Community of pilgrims at full moon – Bouda Stupa


Saffron garlanding
Saffron garlanding


in peace

A New Venue for the Dances in Sydney

by Arjuna

A new venue for the dances is emerging in Sydney. It is a boutique studio venue to use Prema Desara’s term. We were very blessed to have Prema stay with us and lead a weekend of Tara practices, barely a week after we moved back into our newly renovated house.

The first stage of the process of return was the house blessing by Satpurananda Kulavaduta or Baba for short. As you can see from the photo, this was quite a complex process as Indian/Tibetan rituals tend to be. Previously, the land itself had been balanced by our late beloved Peter, a master dowser, some months before the build began over a year and half ago.


Then a week after we moved in we picked up Prema and Myri from the airport. They stayed in our guest rooms for over a week and had a good time in Sydney, which they presented with their story in the Tara Dhatu newsletter. It was so wonderful to see the space come alive with the Tara dances and with Prema’s teachings. After this first weekend in November last year, the space felt quite different energetically. Something had changed in its atmosphere. The very basic altar that we set up for Baba was expanded into 3 altars to Tara and to the ancestors of the dances. Here are some pics from that weekend. The first shows Prema leading a Tara dance with me playing guitar in the middle:


The next shows some rather wild dancing by Kafia in the middle:


The third shows Prema giving some of her profound Buddhist teachings:


After that weekend we’ve had regular Tara meetings here once a month. Prema’s visit rekindled the flame of the Sydney Tara group which is now meeting on a regular basis. This is a blessing for our house to have such beautiful sacred practices in our living space.

As well the venue has become a space for visiting speakers and teachers. Most recently on the 20th of March we had a dialogue evening with Manish Jain, an Indian American who had come to Australia for the Economics of Happiness conference in the Byron area and was brought to Sydney by Juli Gassner, one of our Sydney dancers, who is the educational coordinator at Kinma, a democratic free school in Terrey Hills.

Manish is the coordinator of Shikshantar: The Peoples’ Institute for Rethinking Education and Development, and co-founder of Swaraj University, which is dedicated to the regeneration of local culture, economy and ecology. He is the editor of several books on such themes as learning societies, unlearning, gift culture, community, and tools for deep dialogue. Juli has been giving out his book at our dance meetings.

One of the special gatherings was our house warming New Year’s Eve gathering where many friends gathered over the afternoon and evening. As well as a wonderful collection of friends, conversations, food and drinks, we had a soundasations session in the afternoon. This is a fully improvised drumming, percussion, chanting, dancing and whatever else music session. Then in the evening when it got dark, we watched photos and some short videos from the fabulous Uplift Festival 2012 at Byron that I attended, thanks to Zebunissa and Andrew, on whose floor I slept and Brigitte who drove me there and back most days. Finally around midnight, we did some dances and thereby danced in the new year.

Here’s a photo of the house at 15 Blair Street, Bondi, for those who have not yet had the privilege to see it live: