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ElmDance1

MUSIC: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/ieva-akuratere/id260647004 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.

 

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.

Now we have found an equally tangible way to return the favor and honor the people of Novozybkov--by providing radiation monitors with workshops in their use, and public education on the health dangers the local population continues to face. This project, begun in spring of 2003, has already made great strides in reducing the uncertainty in people's lives and igniting ways of working together. As explained below, Elm Dancers everywhere are invited to take part.

 

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THE ELM DANCE

Ko man dosi mamulite, par muzigu dzivošanu 
What will you give to me mother dear, for eternal life
Ko man dosi mamulite, par muzigu dzivošanu 
What will you give to me mother dear, for eternal life
Izplaukst zelta abelite un ka rita migla skan 
The little golden apple tree blooms, and rings out like morning mist
Izplaukst zelta abelite un ka rita migla skan 
The little golden apple tree blooms, and rings out like morning mist
Ko tas dos tev mamulite, ka tavs delinš nenomirst 
What does it give to you mother dear, that your little son doesn’t die
Ko tas dos tev mamulite, ka tavs delinš nenomirst 
What does it give to you mother dear, that your little son doesn’t die
Atbildes nav 
There is no reply
Tikai veja notric ozolišu birzs 
Only the grove of oak trees trembles in the wind
Veja notric ozolišu birze 
The grove of oak trees trembles in the wind
Tikai koki savikšas uz rudeni 
Only the trees put on their autumn leaves
Koki savikšas uz rudeni 
The trees put on their autumn leaves
Atbildes nav 
There is no reply
Izškid visi mani joki, Visi joki gludeni 
All my humour dissolves, All jokes fall flat
Izškid visi mani joki, Visi joki gludeni 
All my humour dissolves, All jokes fall flat
Atbildes nav 
There is no reply
Tikai kajas drošak savu zemi min 
Only our feet all the more surely trample our earth
Kajas drošak savu zemi min 
Our feet all the more surely trample our earth
Tapec draugi ka man klajas 
Therefore, friends, how I am feeling
Itneviens lai neuzzin 
let no-one know
Tapec draugi ka man klajas 
Therefore, friends, how I am feeling
Itneviens lai neuzzin 
let no-one know

NOTES ON INTERPRETATION

Latvian is a language that was only written down when German missionaries spread the Christian faith in the 1700’s, being the last place in North Western Europe to maintain a pagan animistic worship of the land, the seasons and forces of nature. Hence many words in the song multiple meanings and connotations. This trend towards double meaning was accentuated during the years of Stalinist Soviet rule, where to be too explicit about things could land you in trouble. People became very good at saying one thing and meaning another.

The song uses double lines. This is because in the oral tradition, the singer would sing the first line, and the audience sings the second, as there was no way of writing down songs until comparatively recently. Latvia’s rich oral culture was kept alive in this fashion for centuries if not millennia. There are many examples of double meaning in the song.

* “mamulite” - means “Mother Dear”, but has other meanings also. It here seems to be referring to Mother Nature, or Mother Earth - to Gaia herself.

* “muzigu dzivošanu” - means “eternal life” or “to live forever”. It could be referring to either the Earth as a whole or to Humanity on the Earth, as there is no differentiation between subject and object within the lyrics, making the meaning even more cryptic.

* “zelta abelite” - means “golden little apple tree”. The apple-tree was considered to be the tree of life, in the Garden of Eden. Pagan Latvians also had a belief in the sacred tree of life. Using this image of the tree of life in this context may lead one to think that this is the answer to the question of Mother Earth about eternal life.

* “migla skan” - is a strange image. It means literally “how mist sounds” or rings out like the sound of a bell, ringing out over a valley shrouded in mist. It is as if the essence of the Tree of Life has become hidden in the sound of the morning mist. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls” - the mist has its own sound as the season shifts towards autumn and the mist enshrouds the Earth.

* “delinš” - means “little son”. In this conext the “ltittle son” of “Mother Earth” is humanity itself. The question thus seems to indicate “What does it give to the earth that humanity persists”.

* “Atbildes nav” - means literally, “there is no return image”, but in this context it can be that there is no reply or answer to the question the singer is asking of Mother Earth. The Earth is remaining silent about whether or not humanity will persist. Rather than answering the answer, the trees tremble in the wind (with the way nature becomes aprehensive) and moving towards the autumn can mean approaching an “end” of the year in the season of winter. In the conext of the song, this may be the response that “Mother Earth” is giving to the singer’s questions.

* “Izškid” - means to “dissolve”, in the Latvian dictionary, like “salt in water”

* “joki” - literally means “joke”, but in this sense it means a “sense of humour, of fun and joy”. It is as if the persons joy in life is dissolving as a result of the shift towards autumn and the end of the year.

* “gludeni” - means smooth or flat, like a road or a flat surface. The jokes falling flat means that the “punch line” is not working. It is like a joke that no-one laughs at, a joke for which there is no reply.

* “Kajas drošak savu zemi min” - our feet more surely trample our earth is a result of the persistence of humanity, earth’s young child, becoming ever more numerous.

* “ka man klajas” - means “how does your life go for you”, implying health as well as general wellbeing. In the sense of the song it seems to be asking how the singer feels about this strange enigmatic silence of the earth and the answers she is giving the singer. The implication is that as the answers of the earth are enigmatic, the humanity listening to the song cannot know exactly what the earth moving towards autumn and trees trembling in the wind really means.

* “Itneviens lai neuzzin” - means no one can discover, or the idea of permission - letting no one discover what the Earth and the singer really feels. There is no difference here between subject and object so it is not clear whether the Earth, the little son, or the singer herself is being referred to here.