Shall We Dance

Shall We Dance? Moondancing

By Amy Brunvand

It’s a marvelous night for a moondance: Amy visits the women’s full moon dance circle.
by Amy Brunvand

In January, the first full moon of 2009 was the biggest one we are going to see all year (though it happens that the last moon of 2008 was even bigger). The moon doesn’t actually change size, of course-it just gets closer to the Earth and looks bigger. Nonetheless, that evening there was a huge, round, luminous orb staring through the city lights as a reminder that the cycles of Nature keep on turning no matter what.

Seeing the moon up there also reminded me that I was planning to check out the Women’s Full Moon Dance Circle that meets each month on the Saturday nearest the full moon at the Red Lotus School of Movement. I had been getting invitations by e-mail for several months, but the sight of the moon confirmed my intention to actually go.

“That’s how a lot a lot of us remember that the dance is coming,” says Sylvia Nibley, who helped start the dance six years ago. “When we originally started, several friends and I did kind of a guided meditation. A common theme was that we would dance around the time of a full moon so at some kind of primal level our energy knows we are naturally connected to those cycles.” The group also decided that they wanted a women-only dance, in part because the moon is a powerful symbol of the divine feminine as it waxes and wanes in harmony with women’s monthly fertility cycles, and in part because many women feel safer and less self-conscious without the mating dynamic present. Men can come sometimes, but only when they are specifically invited.

To Nibley, dance is an ideal way of reconnecting body and spirit with natural cycles. She says, “I think there’s a deeper relationship that modern women feel but don’t articulate. It’s a wonderful space to explore that connection. How do we really relate to cycles and seasons? Over the years I’ve got from where I didn’t know if the moon was waxing or waning to where I feel the moon. The more you dance, the more you connect to nature in ways that really can’t be articulated.”

Nibley is a graceful woman with a long Rapunzel braid. When she lets her hair loose to dance it swings about her like the fringe of a scarf. She describes herself as a “living room dancer,” and when I asked her if she had any formal dance background she replied, “Not at all. I think I just have a dancing soul. I did belly dance, and African, but choreography felt too limiting. When I felt how the music wanted to move me, it was different from proscribed steps.”

At the Full Moon dance the free-form style of dancing is what Nibley calls “authentic movement” or “free dance.” It’s part of a growing movement that inspired other Salt Lake events such as Dance Church and Barefoot Boogie. Nibley says, “When we are moving to music and our bodies do things that surprise us, that’s mystery and life moving through us in unexpected ways. I love looking around the room and seeing the real experience and how it’s different in everyone. That is so perfect and so beautiful. There is no expectation about what you are supposed to look like.

The theme of the full moon dance changes each month, because as Nibley points out, “the energy of every moon is different.” Each month someone takes on the task of holding the space sacred and developing the theme. Last year’s themes included “21 phases of Tara,” “Birthing dance,” “Carnivale,” “Honoring the crone” and “There is still time.” The dance organizer decides on the feel/intention for the dance, selects music, holds the sacred space and leads any special experiences or rituals.

In January, Nibley herself was acting as host for a “whole body dance” in order to invite all the parts of ourselves to join the dance of the New Year. Before the dance began she taped banners on the mirror to remind us that our bodies consist of more than just dancing feet. The words on the wall were thought provoking: How, I wondered, could someone dance with their teeth, jaw, bladder, nerves, ovaries or aura?

When it was time to gather the circle, Nibley asked each of us to say a bit about why we were there. Several women were first-timers like me, drawn by the moon or some other impulse. Two women said that they wanted to reconnect with their bodies, and a third laughed and said that she felt exactly the opposite-she felt too grounded and needed to dance in order to reconnect with her spirit. The music started, and created a soundscape to let body, mind and spirit to join in dance. Then, after dancing for a little over an hour, the women joined arms in a tight circle and spontaneously began to sing a resonant, beautiful harmony of tones. It felt perfect.

The evening ended with a potluck feast that included fragrant spiced rice, juicy clementines, dark chocolate and roasted vegetables. As the women ate, they talked about other dances in other months and what some of their future dances might be like. The mood was communal, peaceful and connected.

The Women’s Full Moon Dance Circle has been going for six years now and Nibley says it feeds her need for community, “I’ve kept it going all these years. The original circle has come and gone and evolved and there are always new people coming in.” Then she adds, “But I still dance in my living room.”

Contact: to be on the invitation list. Website: Red Lotus School of Movement, 740 South 300 West, SLC.

This article was originally published on January 30, 2009.