Why a dance?

Why a dance?
owl and eagle
The Owl and Eagle make a Gate


Last Saturday we had the first performance of our Dancing the World into Being outside in a landscape overlooking both the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons.  You can see some more pics here.  The response of audience was warm; in some cases people seemed deeply affected by the dance and its music (a capella choir,squeeze-box, gongs and percussion).  One old friend said to me that she felt the dance spoke to her body and I was pleased about that, because that’s what we intended.

Every since I started teaching beginners’ T’ai Chi, I have been aware of how tense most people are, how armoured our bodies are, and how long it can take for people to relax, breathe and move without strain.  It may be that our compulsive digital activities are closing down our physical and sensory awareness – after all, so far there’s no smell, touch or taste on the internet.  We can get trapped in a world made of words and images, imprisoned by a circle of angry flaming, conflicting interpretations of reality, competing views of what reality is.  I can’t be the only one who can finish an internet session feeling tense and stirred up – not in a good way.

Thank God for music, poetry, gardening, films and novels which know how to lead us out of this trap.   And dance, I believe, both doing it and watching it, is the means par excellence of bypassing the sinister sentinels of the linear-verbal world and offering us a way to vivid, sensory and emotional experience,

Dance has a strong connection with mathematics – many folk dances weave complex knots and patterns, play with twos, threes, sixes, sevens, eights, here’s a diagram from our choreographer, Gillian’s notes.

Big Shamrock
Shamrock pattern from our dance


These can all be related to sacred geometry, which is one of the ways I discovered years ago to lift my mind up a level into a liberating (though sometimes scary) and more abstract realm.

This realm is a simpler place than our crabby catastrophising world, and it points the way to understanding how something can come from nothing (some scientists and mathematicians can take us there too, as long as their agenda is not too narrow).  If you are interested in this kind of thing, have a look at these sites – Sareoso and Singinghead.

But for me, the biggest virtues of mounting a dance performance like ours is that it hints at a real mystery – how something comes from nothing – via a creation myth buried in an ancient Welsh tale, the story ‘Math son of Mathonwy’ from the Mabinogion.  Our dance is intended to take you back into a mode of being and perceiving which our ancestors knew.  Certainly they could not afford to be cut off from their bodies and their senses.

These ancient tales are a gift from them to us, but the rub is that the stories from the Mabinogion  can’t be appreciated properly and understood by the linear-logical mind.  They need to be acted out, danced, played with, listened to in English and in Welsh.  And then, just maybe we can hear our ancestors whispering to us, dancing with us.  And I think we need to listen, we need to join in.

There’s another chance to see our dance at the Globe in Hay on Saturday October 21.  details here.

Pig deer dance


Why do children believe in magic while adults don’t?

Why do children believe in magic while adults don’t?
Wayland does magic with the boys

Yesterday Wayland and I did our Mabinogion workshop again, at a rural primary school near Hay in Wales.  We tell the children we have been sent by the Children of Don from our hiding place in the hollow hills to show them what real magic is.  It’s not a lie: Wayland and I share an obsession with a particular story from this collection of old British tales, written down in Welsh in the middle ages.  We do the workshop in English with some Welsh thrown in, especially for spells and charms. The children get to curse and bless, find out about the four magical ‘Hallows’ which the Plant Don brought to Britain and then use them.  They get to participate in an act of magical creation: making a woman of flowers from nothing, to make music, dance, become ‘servants of the invisible’.  They charm the boy-turned-eagle down the tree and turn him back into a human,

Every time we do the workshops, the children (9,10 years old) tell us how much they loved it, and we are always impressed by their understanding of what magic really is, an understanding which disappears in ninety percent of adults.  I always come away feeling inspired and enthused by the kids and their terrific boldness and brio – and puzzled and sorry that most of us lose these qualities as we grow up.


About 25 years ago I was at a party in London, a party I didn’t really want to be at, and I wandered out into the garden with my glass, to waste some time before I could politely leave.  At the bottom of the garden was a fountain and a boy of about ten, idly kicking a deflated football at it.  United in boredom, we started to chat and the boy poured out his heart to me: his mum and dad were separated and he had just been living for a while with his dad in Germany.  Did he mind?  Not too much, but there was one thing upsetting him: his dad was a scientist while this lad was a lover of magic, magic in all its forms, from stage magic to stories and ‘the real thing’.  His dad had told him he was now of an age when he had to choose: science or magic, he couldn’t have both.  He didn’t know which to choose.

‘Listen, I said, I promise you don’t have to choose!  In fact it’s very important that you don’t, that you become one of those people, like me, who goes on believing in magic when they grow up.  You can still do science if you want, no problem.’ ‘Really?’ he asked.  ‘Yes!’ I said ‘and anyway magic isn’t what your dad thinks it is.  You’ll find out that as you grow up, as long as you don’t let go of it’.

When I think of that boy now, as I often do, a man in his thirties, I wonder whether he did stay loyal to magic, or whether he was sucked into the orthodoxies of our scientistic world.

By now you’re asking: what is ‘real’ magic  then?  This is tricky.  In the workshop we say we can’t put it into words because that would destroy it, that we can only show it.

So…I knew a man once who practised the most refined and subtle forms of magic.  He understood the building blocks of creation.  I think he was ‘enlightened’ if that means anything to you. I spent many hours in his kitchen talking to him and being shown strange models and diagrams.  I need to add that this man was utterly unpretentious and had no wish for power or riches.  He was a man of wisdom and knowledge – and magic.

Here is one of the things which he knew how to do: he could slip things into your being which you neither grasped nor understood at the time, but later on, maybe much later on, they would bob up to the surface and you would suddenly find a vista of new perceptions opening up.  Now that he is some years dead, I find there is a quiet place outside of time where many of the moments he created still live and have their numinous power to shift me onwards and outwards – or inwards.

For me this is the real magic, subtle, infinitely skilful, as precise as any science, based on an understanding that forcefulness is never the way, that creation and expansion happen when this invisible ‘third force’ is seen and allowed to manifest.  What is the ‘third force?’  Some would call it consciousness, some the ‘Holy Spirit’, some wouldn’t want to name it.

When the dancers drop their veils and little Blodeuwedd emerges in her flowered wedding dress; when her betrayed partner Lleu, in his feathered cloak, takes the last step down from the oak tree, to be turned by love into a boy again, when, at the end of the session, the ten years olds are clustering round us wanting to talk in Welsh, the old tongue… then we see what magic is and does.  And how it brings us home to what we really are.

Lleu, the shining one, in the oak tree


To find out about a course in real magic, go to this Facebook Page or follow @enchantersweb on Twitter

Sheep in the Graveyard

Mist clears over the pool

It’s odd living in a ‘beauty spot’. People visiting my little chapel are taken aback by it – the climb up the narrow lane which opens out onto a glittering pool with little trees rising from it, Lord Hereford’s Knob and the long sleek ridge of the Black mountains undulating along behind it, and, when they stop to open my gate, the gracious rise and fall of Pen y Fan in front of them. It’s a place of sudden stillness, furious winds, calling curlews, galloping ponies, silhouetted oaks, shrieking lapwings. Even locals notice its mysterious glamour: Adrian, after he’d dumped the load of fire-wood in my field, stood and stared and said: ‘it’s an amazing view all right up here’ before recapping his views of capital punishment.

The problem is the grass and the sheep. I live on a common and the sheep keep it green and trim with their constant cropping. But my graveyard has been hitherto barred to them. In my first year in the chapel, I was repeatedly invaded by one determined ewe and her lamb, who had suddenly evolved the ability to roll over the cattle grid, jump the drystone wall and wriggle through the fencing. I didn’t mind them eating the grass, but they also ate the newly planted trees and hedge and flowers. Sometimes the whole flock would get in, if I had left the gate open in the mistaken belief that they had forgotten how to get over the cattle grid. Then I would stand and sob over my butchered vegetables, after I had chased the buggers out, that is.

But keeping the grass cut in my little field and in the graveyard has become a trial to me: strimming exacerbates my computer-caused carpal tunnel syndrome, and it is expensive to get someone else to do it. People are allowed to visit the graveyard so I feel I must keep it nice, even though most of the gravestones are now moss covered and falling down. Which is why I decided to block off access to my flowerbed and field, and let the sheep in. After all they had been rubbing their bums against the gate for weeks and eyeing the lush pasture within.

I thought they would be eager, but they were wary at first. Then, when my back was turned, I heard them lumbering in, big rangy sheep with stern unwavering gazes, probably acquired for their meatiness. They began excitedly to chomp the long grass, moving every few seconds to grab a new hunk like kids let into a sweet shop. I watched for a while in satisfaction, then returned to my work. When I looked again they were ignoring the grass in favour of the lower leaves of the holly, yew and hawthorn trees and one agile character had clambered up onto a tomb to snap up the nasturtiums I had perched there for safety.

All day I found myself drawn away from the wpc to the window to watch them at their industrious consumption. The cats rose from their daytime slumber to view with puzzlement the fact that these white-wooled lumberers had been let onto their patch. I decided that close-up they were not lovable creatures, that in fact they loved to barge and bully and knock things down and go where they had been barred by wheelbarrow and bicycle. But in spite of their bad attitude and copious piles of shit around the place, the grass was looking flatter and trimmer by the day.

And what’s the moral of this story? Perhaps that, as a city-girl who’s lived in the country for nearly ten years now, I have finally understood that you can’t control and tidy up the countryside. True, I don’t have a strong bent to tidiness, but I had a vision of what my land would look like which has been scotched repeatedly by rain, slugs, wind, and the relentless creeping cooch (sp?) grass. The early darkness of winter, the sudden shifts of weather – snow, driving rain, and flood, which transform the landscape in an hour, can render you passive and introverted. Your bright summer vision dissolves into the messy chaos of winter’s reality. But then, the long dark evenings and nights can tip you into another kind of time and space – a spacious creative place with far horizons. The shadow sheep who have been nudging your gate for months may finally get access, and help you out, just when you least expect it. I hope so.