Once a month people come together in the Vermillion library to celebrate peace through music, inclusiveness through connecting with one another and spirituality in whatever way they may view it.
Dances of Universal Peace happen all around the country, but Steve Miller, a dance leader in training, started Vermillion’s dances last May.
“They are meditation in motion, it is a form of prayer or a form of silence or sound or meditation that includes movement,” Miller said. “That is the simplest answer.”
Miller said they take sacred phrases to sing or chant to while moving to them. The dances allowed attendees to feel the meaning of the words through movements that connected them with the earth, the people around them and to whatever spirituality they recognize. The dances happen on the second Sunday of every month and for March’s dance, attendees danced to four phrases.
The first phrase, “Abwoon d’bwashemaya,” comes from the Christian faith and Miller said it is the first two words that Jesus would’ve said in the Lord’s Prayer.
Miller said the second phrase, “May I take peaceful steps upon the Earth. I bow to you, a flower,” is an English translation of a Vietnamese and Buddhist phrase. For this dance, Miller encouraged the dancers to feel each step of the dance with peace and then bow with that same peace to those who have wronged them in their lives.
The third phrase, “Kadosh shemaya,” comes from Judaism and the dance helped dancers connect with one another through moving together and then raising their hands in praise. The fourth phrase, “Om mani padme hum,” is another Buddhist phrase, Miller said. For this phrase, Miller had dancers move around the circle with one another, raise their hands in each direction and then bow to the ending to bring it all together.
“It becomes a chance for the words and the sound and the movement to allow us to more deeply connect to each other, to ourselves and to the Divine, in whatever way you understand that,” Miller said.
Before the dances began, Miller reminded the attendees that anyone is welcome to dance in the circle no matter what they believe or who they identify as.
Michael Suing has been dancing in Vermillion since they started. He said Miller creates a welcoming space for people with the dances.
“Frankly, I’m not a church-going person, and this is the thing that feeds me spiritually,” Suing said. “It’s another option for people in Vermillion that maybe are in the same situation or are very content in their church family and want to try something different or experience another way to connect with people.”
Miller said he did his first dance at an interfaith retreat in Chicago in 1990. After that, he danced wherever and whenever he could. He said it was at a weekend dancing retreat in Iowa where he decided he wanted to start having the dances in Vermillion.
“I said to one of the dance leaders there, ‘I wish we had this in Vermillion’ and they said ‘there’s only one way to do that and that’s if you start being a dance leader,’” Miller said. “So I thought about it for a year, went back to the retreat a year later and formally applied to the lineage, there’s a whole history of these dances, to become a dance leader. I was given a mentor and invited to start the dances in Vermillion.”
Miller is also a pastor at the United Church of Christ in Vermillion and instructs religion classes at USD. He said the dances help get him out of his head.
“I’m a thinker, I’m an ideas guy and sometimes that’s exhausting in the world in which we live in,” Miller said. “It’s very peaceful and very renewing and refreshing for me. That is where I feel like I’m in rhythm with something greater than myself. That’s very filling. It’s like sending me back out into the world and that’s a beautiful thing.”
Betsy Hughes has also been coming to the dances since they started. She said she likes that people can come together with the dances.
“You don’t know what another person’s belief is and you don’t know how they feel about politics or anything, and yet you’re sharing this space with them that is committed to being caring and inclusive and loving,” Hughes said.
Miller said he hopes the people that come to the dances “get out of it what they need.”
“People have lots of different words and that’s why we dance lots of different phrases. For some people they’re not really into the essential spiritual part of it, so they maybe just find it’s a lovely afternoon… Other people find connection to the other dancers or to something deeper, to God by whatever name you want to call that,” Miller said. “I feel like we are changing the world one little corner of the world at a time. We’re creating peace right here in our little spot and I believe that energy radiates, that spirit radiates, and it can go out into the world.”