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The Elm Dance


MUSIC: Song name:K? Man K?j?s? on iTunes

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.

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The Story of the Elm Dance

There is a circle dance we do in every workshop and class I teach, whether it's on systems theory, Buddhism, or deep ecology.ElmDance2We do it to open our minds to the wider world we live in and strengthen our intention to take part in its healing. Each time we put on the music and link hands, I think of Novozybkov in the fall of 1992.

Our team of four, Fran and I and two Russians, had been traveling from one town to another in Byelorussia and Ukraine, offering workshops to people living in areas contaminated by the Chernobyldisaster. Now we had come to this final town in Novozybkov, an agricultural and light industrial city of 50,000 a hundred miles east of Chernobyl, in the Bryansk region of Russia.

Drawing on what we learned from years of leading despair work, we came to offer, as we put it to the authorities, "psychological tools for coping with the effects of massive, collective trauma." We had entitled the workshops Building a Strong Post-Chernobyl Culture. The name had a nice Soviet ring to it, but I soon realized that the word "post" was in error. "It suggests that the disaster is over," I said to Fran, "but it has become obvious to us that it isn't over. It compounds itself through time in vicious circles, in positive feedback loops." The radioactivity was still spreading silently through wind, water, food, creating new toxins as it mixed with industrial pollution, and sickening bodies already weakened from previous exposures. Our workshops, we soon realized, were meant not to help people recover from a catastrophe, so much as to live with an ongoing one.

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INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE ELM DANCE, as Evolved in Solidarity Among Environmental Activists

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.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE ELM DANCE, as Evolved in Solidarity Among Environmental Activists

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.

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The Elm Dance as it has come to be used in solidarity with the people of Novozybkov differs from the original dance designed by Anastasia Geng. I am grateful for the beauty and meaning that surround each version of the dance; both are offered on this website.

The Elm Dance description that follows was translated by Marianne von Schwichow from Anastasia Geng: Bach-Blueten-Taenze, Mechthild Scheffer GmbH, Hamburg, 1996


The most important element of this dance is an intense circling around oneself, describing a spiral with your body, both feet next to one another in close contact to the earth. This is a very personal movement and we do not define the direction (i.e. you are free to circle clockwise or counter-clockwise).

We join hands for the whole dance and after the introduction and the first 8 beats of the song we take 4 steps backwards in dance direction (counter-clockwise), then circle (4 beats) as described above facing centre, followed by 4 steps forward in dance direction. Circle again facing centre and take 4 steps towards the centre, circle there and move 4 steps backwards to the periphery and circle again.

If we start as described, the dance ends outside in the big circle and there is something like an unconscious movement (step) towards the centre.

By starting immediately with the singer, we end up in the centre which is a very sensitive spot and, as I feel, not so good a place for ending the dance, because, unconsciously, when the music ends, there will be a movement away from the centre.

The circling is a very delicate part of the dance. If somebody sways instead, neighbours are forced to sway, too, thus being prevented from circling.

According to Dr Bach, elm is the remedy which helps people who feel overwhelmed by responsibility.