Why Dance the Myths?
Inspiration can happen in many ways. Sometimes it’s a spontaneous recognition, sometimes it trickles in, and sometimes it floods the senses and overwhelms us. Isadora Duncan was inspired by the movement of waves and the swaying of trees in the wind. When she journeyed to Europe, she contacted a deep well of inspiration in classical, renaissance, and neo-classical art depicting the great Greek myths. Paintings and sculptures such as Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” or the “Victory of Samothrace” capture moments of mythic resonance beyond time and space. They transported Isadora and transport us to the sources of our deepest dreams and ideals.
“Dreams are private myths. Myths are public dreams,” wrote Joseph Campbell in Myths to Live By. The great world mythologies are the “rivers beneath the rivers” as Clarissa P. Estes wrote, which connect our lives to deeper psychological patterns. In the epic tales of the Greeks, for example, lie the foundations of Western Civilization – heroism, quests, tragedies and victories carry the values of the humanism that made Greek culture a force of evolution in the ancient world.
The Greeks were the first ancient western culture to recast the gods in human image. Prior to them, the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Sumerians worshiped “composite” gods. With animal heads, human bodies, tails, and such combinations, their deities were more primal, closer to nature and the raw realities of earthly existence. Their powers were composite – in the pre-Greek cultures we see an aggregation of powers in one deity that the Greeks later separated into full personifications of the great forces that rule human existence. Love, Wisdom, Sovereignty, Justice, War, Nature, Fertility, the Ocean, and the Underworld were all represented by gods and goddesses who were the great “ubermenschen” of the epic sagas that shaped the Greek collective consciousness, and consequently, western culture.
Mythology is an exciting inspiration for the art of the dance. Myths give us images, text, meaning, and what choreographer Twyla Tharp called “spine” for dance expression. They are stories we can use to inspire us to build characters and narratives in our choreographies. But instead of simply telling someone else’s story, in mytho-poetically inspired dance we connect to the deeper truths of the myth to tell our stories as well. We are all heroes on journeys and quests, and the mythic heroes and heroines that inspire us at once the epic heroes of legend and the surging hero within. We identify with them on a deep, unconscious level. They permeate the cultures we swim in, flowing in from a deep ancestral well of sacred memory.
For modern humans, these narratives ring true on an even deeper level. They remind us of our need to transform and transmute as human beings. We “sacrifice” old selves, old lives or out-dated paradigms in order to emerge into more evolved versions of ourselves. But like all heroic quests, we must journey into our own depths to find the power to rebuild the new Self. In those heroic journeys to our personal underworlds, we encounter repressed parts of ourselves and face our Shadows, those Dark Twins who hold the keys to our transformations. We find strength we never knew we had and the courage to pass tests, face our fears, and emerge newly integrated into the light of the new realities we create. We return stronger, more creative, more intuitive, and empowered with our new discoveries. Just like the Goddess.
The field of archetypal psychology works in exactly that way – by showing us that our stories mirror the stories of the archetypes – and that even great Goddesses were obliged to descend and pass the tests of the underworld in order to deepen their magic and integrate the powers of the Self. When we realize that these transformations come in cycles, we gain courage and hope as we engage the processes of self-evolution. As above, so below – our journeys mirror the great journey of the Goddess, and by discovering this journey, we discover that her powers can also be ours.
As dancers, we often confront fear and insecurity as we engage our art form. When we delve deeper into our art, we delve deeper into ourselves, and come up against barriers to our evolution – be they physical issues, creative blocks, or the fear of being seen and judged. We need to find ways to engage our inner reality in safe and inspiring ways that put us into contact with our authentic, creative Selves. Dancing the great myths is a wonderful way to do this. When we dance in mytho-poetic reality, the movement of our bodies transmits the story of our heroic soul.
The objective of archetypal, mytho-poetic dance work is to put the dancer in contact with greater inspiration, artistic authenticity and poetry of expression. We discover how Goddess energies already live inside us – what parts of the body they rule, what their walks are like, their archetypal gestures. With these tools, we aim to contact the archetype, open ourselves to its narrative, images content, allowing it to flow through us, bringing out our inner Muse and inner Queen.
The greatest gift of all is the opportunity to look within and discover that we are all works of art in progress. That we all have divine potential that can be tapped and channeled through the art of the dance, and that our bodies can shine forth the radiant intelligence of the Divine Feminine. In dancing the story of a Goddess, we dance our own Goddess nature…and for a brief eternity, we become Her.