The Evansville Courier and Press recently interviewed several from our local group and a photographer caught a few good (and bad) images! However, the bad images keep us humble and isn't always a bad thing.

The story, written by Sara Anne Corrigan, was excellently written and provided great exposure to the group. Here is the article (minus a few images)! You may also find it at the Evansville Courier and Press.

Mary Beth Davis (in green) dancing with Kate Ray. To her right is Donna Iman Heinlin.
The musicians (from left to right) are Jo Ann Wolff, Karim Shelton and Marla Minton.

It's been about eight or nine years since Evansville native Lance Sandleben, who has lived in Arizona for most of his adult life, first hosted a dance in Evansville, during a visit home to see his parents.

It was not a sock hop or rock 'n' roll jam, although Sandleben is of that generation.

Instead, Sandleben teaches and participates in "Dances of Universal Peace."

This form of dancing, older than most organized religions and common to virtually all of them, involves dancing in a group, in a circle, around a central core of musicians.

"It is highly spiritual — sacred — in nature," Sandleben said. "I've been doing it for 30 years.

"I love it," he said. "I thought it would be a nice thing to do it here; I contacted various churches and organizations I thought might also be interested.

"We held our first dance at the Evansville Yoga Center on West Franklin Street."

About 25 people showed up at that first workshop, he said.

Dances of Universal Peace is international in scope and borrows from all the world's major religions — Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Native American, among others.

"Peace songs cross all cultures," said Lezlie Ward, formerly of Evansville, who attended Sandleben's first dance workshop.

"We (Christians, in America) do not have a corner on the market wishing for peace," she said.

Ward, now a dance leader in Columbus Ind., is credited with founding the Evansville group six years ago.

"I really enjoyed the dancing and realized I wouldn't be able to do it again unless someone learned how to do it and lead it locally," she said. "That someone turned out to be me.

"Lance mentored me, then (fellow dancer) Donna Heinlin and I, we only knew a few dances, but we began leading the dances we did know, without Lance."

Joined by dancers Mary Beth Davis and Erich Shelton, who now leads the Evansville group, Ward recalls attending a workshop in Fort Wayne: "I really felt called to the dances and wanted to do them and share them more often."

Ward and fellow dancers have since led workshops for groups as diverse as the Girl Scouts (who were working on a multicultural unit), Kay's Dance Studio in Darmstadt and the nuns at the Convent of the Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand, Ind.

The Evansville Dances of Universal Peace group meets monthly at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Morgan Avenue, Shelton said.

Ward continued: "To me, one of the most important things is the guiding principle: 'Love one another.' That is what we are all directed to do. That is the spirit of these dances and the dances are the practice of it.

"People get into arguments about God and spirit and these dances are a way of finding what is universal — a Christian peace prayer, a Muslim peace song, a Buddhist poem set to music about compassion and wholeness, we do all of that … it is a practice of being loving and tolerant."

"Movement itself can be sacred, Sandleben said. "Joining hands in prayer is a worldwide movement. It is sacred. It has an effect on mind and heart, bowing, backing up, coming together …"

The dances are not difficult, physically, nor are they complex. "They cannot be taught … they must be caught," said Davis who, through her work as an interactive medicine specialist and owner of Holistic Health Resources LLC in Evansville, offers to lead dances in various venues regionally and nationally.

And they are not meant to be performed for an audience, she said.

"It is about participation and they are all very easy dances so everyone can participate. If you can't dance, you can sit in and just absorb the energy … (the dances) create such a wonderful energy, a loving space … people get inspired and they want to come back."

'It is all sacred'

"It's not aerobic; it's not strenuous. It's more about movement … it is all sacred. There are some very old dances and some newly developed," said Erich Shelton, leader of the Evansville Dances of Universal Peace.

There are currently about a dozen regular members Shelton said, and they come from varying faith traditions including the nonreligious.

The dances, while international in their origins, should not be confused with international folk dancing, he said.

Although often (and not incorrectly) thought of as a Sufi tradition, from the mystical side of Islam, that is not the origin of the dances, or the limit of their scope, Shelton said, explaining that sacred dance predates recorded history and can be found in the practices of disparate cultures and religious traditions around the globe.

The history of Dances of Universal Peace movement dates to the late 1960s and a Sufi teacher, Samuel L. Lewis. To learn more about Lewis and this movement, go to

To learn more about Evansville Dances of Universal Peace, visit

Shelton said anyone who is interested in the dances is invited to attend.

"You don't have to dance. Just come and watch. And dance if you want to."