by Andy Bettis
The end of a dance event can often bring an abrupt transition for the participants. Having been gently led from 'cold' through greetings dances, active dances, deeper dances and meditative dances to different states of being, the change back to an 'everyday' state at the end can come as something of a shock. Finding a way of smoothing this transition can not only make things more enjoyable for the dancers but can also let the dance experience 'spill out' into everyday life, and one of the best methods I've found is the blessing circle.
Blessing cards, like Angel cards, have their origins in the Game of Transformation. They are small, rectangular cards with a coloured symbol in the centre and the name of a quality printed at both ends. In the context of the Game the colour of the symbol indicates the level at which it operates (physical, emptional, mental, etc.) but this is not really relevant for use in the circle. In our group we use a Native American woven basket to hold the cards, this is large enough (about eight inches across) to hold a good number of blessings and has a snug fitting lid which is handy for packing. (As well as cards the basket contains a 'bean bag' toy frog for reasons that have been lost in the mists of time.) When travelling to distant workshops we sometimes use a drawstring bag instead, which works just as well but hasn't got the same nice feel as the basket.
The blessing circle provides a gradual transition between dance experience and the outside world by giving it a ritual format. Following the last dance and completion (such as a period of silence, guided meditation, group hug or whatever) the group sit down around the centre and pass the blessing basket round. Each person in turn may choose to share something with the group - how they feel, how the event was for them, or something else entirely - and then take blessings for themselves and (if they wish) for others, either in the group or outside. Once the basket has gone full circle we blow out the candle together to signal the end of the event.
An important aspect of the ritual is that the cards are not returned to the basket after being chosen, they are gifts to be kept. They can be seen as souvenirs of the dance experience, small physical reminders which can evoke in us the feelings of a particular group or event.
We have some 'rules' for the blessing circle, nothing set in stone but suggestions that help the process along. These include:
Over the years that we've been using the blessing circle at my regular group various other 'traditions' have grown up around the ritual. Rather than having the teacher initiate the process the basket is placed in the centre for anyone who choses to start things off, as well as going some way towards letting people choose their own pace of transition this also blurs the division between 'teacher' and 'pupils' (which I think is a good thing). People often draw blessings for the group to share, these are normally placed in the centre of the circle but sometimes they will be given to one of the dancers to receive and 'hold' on behalf of the whole group. A recent change has been the suggestion that people might want to not rejoin hands after their 'turn' with the blessings, as they make the transition from group to individual.
One of the most immediate results of using the blessing circle has been the reduction in 'lost property' at the end of events, as people return to a day-to-day state of mind which is better equipped to remember garments and possessions. As well as reducing the pile of unclaimed sweaters and leggings that I need to carry around this (hopefully) means people are better equipped for driving home!
On a deeper level I find that a formal end to a dance event paradoxically makes it easier to bring the insights and experiences of the dance space 'out' into everyday life. The blessing circle gives people a chance to move into a more 'practical' state of mind (where this is appropriate) and the cards themselves remind us of aspects of our selves that blossomed in the dance and may be 'available' in other situations.