Dancing in the woods of Montecito is always a welcome respite in the press of Los Angeles urban sprawl. At the May weekend dance retreat with Alleluia Dance Theater, a group of powerful women came together for the 36th annual gathering. It was an inspiring time of communing with nature, feminine energy and spirit. Arriving a the peaceful La Casa de Maria retreat center near Santa Barbara is always a homecoming full of orange groves, avocado trees, flowers, peace gardens, a labyrinth and other little nooks and crannies for prayer, meditation, contemplation and just plain joy.
The annual event is put on by ADT, a Christian not-for-profit organization. The progressive liturgical dance troupe is open to all faiths and attracts mostly women of all ages and backgrounds to experience dance in a sacred context. When I first met the one of the founders, Stella Matsuda, she was well into her golden years. She inspired me to accept my own love of dance despite my age, and embrace my inner song and allow myself to move from an intuitive and spiritual space. Since that time, perhaps 12 years ago, I have relished this weekend to let down and let myself explore my inner dancer. I tend toward the Eastern exotic sacred traditions of dance – Bharata Natyam, belly dancing, Balinese, Yogic, Somatic, Ecstatic, Intuitive – and enjoy the African, Hawaiian and yes – Christian sacred dance.
Stella and Emmalyn Moreno guide the group of 20 or so participants with drumming, qigong, dance and prayer, encouraging individual expression and group collaboration. Emmalyn is an incredible artist who writes (and produces) her own music, choreographs, and teaches African drumming. This along with being an assistant pastor at Camp Pendelton. Daphne Trager was a guest instructor teaching a heartfelt “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” Saturday night is always an open forum for us to share our gifts – poetry, dance, stories, paintings, jewelry – to open hearts and quiet minds.
Dancing With Hope
The retreat theme was HOPE – a much needed refuge in these times. But don’t think it was a heavy, Bible-thumping revival – more of a joyous, tearful exuberant gathering of shake your body clear and get down!
From the program notes:
What is the color of HOPE? Is it a rainbow, full and beautiful, that appears after the storm? “God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us – in the dreariest and most dreaded moments – can see a possibility of hope.” ~Maya Angelou
“Come and explore with us through movement, music, reflective meditation and prayer, the promise of the rainbow, which is HOPE. Anne Lamott says, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”
Shared during the retreat weekend by poet Karen diCristofaro Mondragon
Hope … a symphony in prayer
Hope, played from the heart;
A silver thread of unity and grace.
Brave, bold notes penetrating the heavens
Beyond pain and despair.
Hope, the sound of light piercing darkness.
Rythms played on instruments of cultural harmony.
Prayer, bursting walls of insecurity.
Hope, a rainbow curved beneath its mother sun.
Colored ribbons, dancing prayers of light
Laying blankets of golden dreams upon the horizon.
Hope, played softy
A flute, gentle sounds of the heart.
Dew drops kissing velvet petals of a new day.
An orchestra of peace.
Hope, played loudly
Explodes through concrete ruble of a broken city.
Rides churning waters, rivers reclaiming the land.
Screams through battlefield carnage.
A fractured rainbow lying on the lap of despair.
Hope, sings with joy
Songs of love, music of god
It sits among the broken shards of life,
Crystaline tears dry beneath the mother sun,
Healing rainbows, restoring dreams.
Hope a symphony in prayer.
So come… just show up, and see where the rainbow ends—is it in your soul or on the horizon?
“Donde termina el arco iris, en tu alma o en el horizonte?” ~Pablo Neruda