How to Dance: Eleven Keys

August 10, 2012
This list was created by Wali Ali Meyer from Spiritual Dance and Walk by Samuel Lewis. It is especially helpful as a reminder to all dancers (and leaders), no matter how long they have been using dance as an expression of faith—and especially helpful to those new to the dance. Enjoy!

    Do not simply recite the sacred phrase. Listen to the other voices. Listen to the person directing the dance. When you begin to listen, you voice will automatically begin to harmonize. Find the center of the sound.

  2. FEEL
    The dances are designed to take us more and more into the universe of feeling. Stay with your feeling. If you go into the world of thoughts, don't judge yourself; simply bring your concentration back to feeling. The heart center, found in the middle of the chest, is the natural place to begin.

    The sacred phrase, sometimes referred as Wazifa or Mantra, centers the dance. We all say this together. The Grace of Allah can operate through the sacred phrase if we are willing to receive it, to let it be. With each repetition feel the phrase touching your being in a deeper and deeper way.

    This is for dance leaders, if the dance gets out of control, or just isn't making it. It is much better to stop and begin anew. Learning is much more important than just doing.

    This can be a great aid. Guitar and drum are especially helpful. Musicians should emphatically resist going off on their own. The sacred phrase must be uppermost in their concentration. The music should accentuate the natural rhythm of the sacred phrase. Drummers especially bear this in mind. The simpler the better. Don't dominate the space. The sacred phrase should by far the be loudest sound. If you play your instrument correctly, no one will even notice you. Isn't that wonderful?

    Restrain the exuberant impulse to make an individual expression. You will be amazed how much higher/deeper the dances are when you use that same energy to harmonize with the others in the circle. Feel your body fully. Then gradually or suddenly become the whole circle.

    Breath is life. Breath is movement. Voice is breath. Let breath breathe. Return to awareness of breath in silence between dances. Notice the subtle changes in breath brought about by each dance.

    These dances can lead to states of ecstasy. Joyously invigorating! In dances where you are brought to the center of the circle, especially soar. But soar with your whole being. Taste all the planes at the same time. If your feet are grounded on the earth then your head can be heavens.

    This is a grace. To willingly submit ourselves to Allah/God in Whom we move and live and have our being. Hypocrisy may be the only sin. How wonderful it is when we actually feel like bowing in humility before the eternal truth. These dances can be worship: the celebration of the Divine Presence. The Sufis call this Akhlak Allah—acting as if in the Presence of Allah.

  10. AMIN
    This means, "So be it." We say this at the conclusion of many dances. (Other phrases such as the Sanskrit "Shava" are also used). The important thing is not to say it, but to mean it, to affirm it with one's whole being.

    There may be a silent meditation before the dance starts but if the participants are not experienced in this they may learn the meditation through dancing and also learn the dancing through meditation. As the sound and music of the dance stop, enter the silence. This is your opportunity to hear what has been created. In this silence one can absorb the qualities evoked during the dance. This is the most important part of the dance.

All these words are in hope of your falling awake and finding the truth in your own self. You know your own experience better than anyone else. Be true to that. Don't let anyone pull the wool over your eyes; neither be swayed from what you know by the opinions of others. Always be willing to learn!

Introduction to the Dances

July 31, 2012
Here is a YouTube video which explains a little more about the dances for those who are unfamiliar with them. While it is interesting to see on video and is an excellent introduction, there is nothing like participating in them. As has been said many times, it cannot be taught, but must be caught!


Newspaper Coverage

July 30, 2012
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."


October 18-20, 2013
Indianapolis, IN)
Dances of Universal Peace Retreat with Munir Peter Reynolds

The retreat will be held at 6505 Ralston Avenue. You will be part of an intimate gathering in a beautiful room. Attendance limited to 30. Cost: $90 without a bed, $105 with a bed.

For more details or information contact Paula Saffire at 317 257 0537.


March 28-30, 2014
(LaSalle Manor, Plano, IL)
Midwest Dance Retreat

Mark your calendars NOW! More details to follow.

Check out the venue here.