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The Dances of Universal Peace set for April 30

Newberg church will host a dance circle that draws from various faith traditions


As a big believer in the interfaith movement, Newberg First United Methodist Church Pastor Bob Flaherty first encountered Dances of Universal Peace at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona, Spain, in 2004.

Prior to serving as pastor in Newberg, Flaherty occasionally participated in the dance circles, which blend chants and sayings from various faith traditions with simple movements, in Portland.

Earlier this year, Flaherty invited a couple members of the congregation to join him at one and he was pleasantly surprised that they took him up on the offer.

Their experience quickly led to an invitation for Moving Meditations — a group that runs circles in Portland, Hillsboro and West Linn — to bring Dances of Universal Peace to Newberg.

“It’s very cool,” Flaherty said. “Everybody is going to experience it differently. I experience it as fun and spiritually uplifting. That’s probably because of my orientation. I’m very much a Christian, but at the same time I’m pretty eclectic and connected to the interfaith world. It’s just really neat to use faiths from other places and see other people doing this together. I’m excited about it.”

Michael Sheehan and Michelle Sparks-Smith will lead the event, which will take place from 7:30 to 9 p.m. April 30 at First United Methodist.

Those who may be intimidated by the dance aspect of the circle shouldn’t be, according to both Sheehan and Flaherty. All it takes is a couple of minutes to learn the chant and the movements, then the group takes part for eight to 10 minutes before learning a new dance.

“To say ‘dance’ is a little bit intimidating because it suggests you need to be in rhythm and everything needs to be done in time, but there really no way you can mess these up,” Flaherty said. “They have prescribed movements, but if you turn the wrong way nobody is going to be upset about that. It’s sort of a circle dance and you don’t have to know anything to do it.”

Each dance will usually have a theme of some sort and several dances selected by Sheehan and Sparks-Smith just a few days ahead of time, allowing for inspiration to strike and leaving time for them to do a little practice.

In the course of an evening, the circle will usually do about six to eight dances incorporating chants or sayings from Native American, Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Sikh and other traditions.

It is an integrative experience, connecting mind, heart and body in a way that can be quite powerful yet relaxing at the same time, Flaherty said.

“One of the things that really attracted me to the dances is that at the end of each dance, no matter what language you used or name of God you may have used, there is this silence and I could feel this palpable presence of peace and healing and blessing,” he said. “Every dance that I’ve ever been to, when it’s over you can just see people glowing and smiling, happy and de-stressed. That, to me, is always the evidence that it’s just been a wonderful experience for people.”

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