The Dances of Universal Peace were brought together in the late 1960′s by Samuel L. Lewis (1896-1971), a Sufi Murshid (teacher) and Rinzai Zen Master, who also studied deeply in the mystical traditions of Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity. In this creation, Lewis was deeply influenced by his contact and spiritual apprenticeship with two people: Hazrat Inayat Khan, who first brought the message of universal Sufism to the West in 1910, and Ruth St. Denis, a feminist pioneer in the modern dance movement in America and Europe. From his rich life experiences, Lewis in his early 70′s began to envision and create the Dances as a dynamic method to promote “Peace through the Arts”. From the early days and his original body of about 50 dances, the collection has grown since his passing to more than 500 dances which celebrate the sacred heart of Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Aramaic, Native American, Native Middle Eastern, Celtic, Native African, and Goddess traditions.
During the past 40 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. 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 Samuel Lewis envisioned them, a way to make life-energy and the peace that passes understanding a reality for all who come in contact with them.