Instructions For the Elm Dance
Circle up with plenty of room to move, holding hands. If the numbers are too great to form a single circle, make concentric circles with about one large step of distance between them.
It does not matter when in the music you begin the dance, except to start on a beat. The dance consists of four beats of movement, alternating with four beats of swaying in place. When swaying in place, imagine that you can feel the energy from the heart of the Earth spiraling up through the floor into your body. When the energy reaches the heart chakra, send it out for the healing of the elms and all beings. This is an act of intention. Anastasia Geng who created the dance from the Latvian song, said the purpose of the dance is for building strong intention.
The circle moves counter clock-wise (to the right). Always begin with the right foot. Start by taking four steps backward (to the right). After four beats of swaying in place, the next four steps are facing forward, still moving counter clock-wise. Then, after the next four beats of swaying in place, move four steps toward the center of the circle, raising your arms high and unlinking hands so they can wave like boughs of a tree. Remember to sway for four beats, then move four steps back from the center and continue in this fashion until the music breaks midway. In the silence before the music resumes, the leader reminds the dancers that throughout the second half of the dance they can call out by name those parts of our world – beings, places, institutions – for which they desire healing.
The Elm Dance – by Joanna Macy
Around the planet, as people gather to work together for the healing of our world, a simple, beautiful practice is spreading. To celebrate their commitment to life and solidarity with activists the world over, they join hands in a circle dance.
Set to the haunting strains of a Latvian song by Ieva Akuratere, and choreographed by Anastasia Geng, the Elm Dance took form in Germany in the 1980s. In 1992, having learned it from my friend Hannelore, I took the Elm Dance with me to workshops I was leading with a Russian- speaking team in areas poisoned by the Chernobyl disaster. There, and especially in Novozybkov, the most contaminated of inhabited cities, the dance became an expression of their will to live. It was here the dance evolved a distinctive form with the raising and swaying of arms, evoking their connection with the trees they so loved.
When I was with the people of Novozybkov, I made them a promise: to tell their story wherever I went. In keeping that promise, I shared the Elm Dance. Then, in a way that no one could have imagined, the dance in this form began to spread, beyond all reckoning, with a momentum of its own, and became associated with The Work That Reconnects. We have come to realize that the dance gives activists and lovers of life the world over a tangible way to feel their bone-deep commitment and their solidarity with each other across the miles.