The Dances of Universal Peace (DUP) are sometimes meditative, "spiritual folk dances" employing inspirational language and even public mantras of diverse world religions. Their intention is to promote peace between diverse religions according to one stated goal. The DUP dances, are of North American Sufic origin. They combine chants from many world faiths with dancing, whirling, and a variety of movement with singing.
Five to 500 dancers stand in a circle often around a leader and musicians, with acoustic instruments, in the center. All dances are participatory and spectatorship is somewhat discouraged because joy is the goal, not technical performance of specified dance steps or forms.
Dances are facilitated by a dance leader often playing a drum, guitar, flute or other stringed instrument. For lyrics, dances borrow inspirational poetry, quotes and chants which are sung as the dance is performed.
Chants are often sacred phrases put to traditional, contemporary or occasionally improvised melodies. A wide range of languages are deliberately employed including Arabic, Aramaic, English, Hawaiian, Hebrew, Persian, and Sanskrit.
Dance promoters use diverse religious practices, chants and languages to demonstrate how joy lives at the heart of each and all religions.
Dance leaders tend to believe peace can be promoted through experiencing the same One Joy through diverse dance steps, chants, and languages.
The DUP emphasis is on participation regardless of ability; DUP dances are almost never performed before an audience. Dancers of all levels; including children able to follow along, dance together. Each dance is taught afresh at each gathering. Dances and dancing of this kind is seen as opportunity to develop participants' spiritual awareness, hand-eye-body coordination, and competency in harmonizing with others through dance. Many dances are choreographed with movements, steps, and gestures encouraging dancers to explore the deeper mystical meanings of the dance.
The Dances of Universal Peace were first formulated in the late 1960s by Samuel L. Lewis (SAM = Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisti, 1896-1971) and were then conducted in California. The original dances were strongly influenced by Samuel Lewis' spiritual relationships with Ruth St. Denis, a modern dance pioneer, and Hazrat Inayat Khan, a Sufi master. The influence on the dances of Sufi practices such as Sema and The Whirling Dervishes are apparent, although Samuel Lewis was also a Rinzai Zen master and drew on the teachings of the major religious and spiritual traditions, including native.
Dances were originally performed at camps and meetings with a distinctly new age and alternative feel but have increasingly come to be offered in diverse places of worship, schools, colleges, prisons, hospices, residential homes for those with special needs, and holistic health centers.
The Dances have since developed into a global movement. The Network for the Dances of Universal Peace has members in 28 countries.
The Catholic Church has criticized its priests for doctrinal diversity, including participating in and promoting the Dances of Universal Peace. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later: Pope Benedict XVI) dismissed Matthew Fox from the Dominican Order for his activities which include promotion of the Dances of Universal Peace. Since that time Fox went on to become a vocal critic of Ratzinger and his policies.
Segner, Dance for Peace at the UUCC, eNews Park Forest, 9 September 2008.
Unitarian Universalist Association, Religious Education Curricula, The Cultural Connection.
Cornell, Vincent J. (2007). Omid Safi, ed. Voices of Islam: Voices of change. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 181. ISBN 0-275-98737-X.
Westerlund, David (2004). Sufism in Europe and North America. Routledge. p. 50. ISBN 0-415-32591-9.
Stoehr, How to reclaim the historic role of art in expressing spirituality, Charleston City Paper, August 13, 2008.
Potter, Richard N. (2004). "11". Authentic Spirituality: The Direct Path to Consciousness. Llewellyn Worldwide. p. 158. ISBN 0-7387-0442-3.
Mijares, Sharon G. (2002). Modern Psychology and Ancient Wisdom: Psychological Healing Practices. Routledge. p. 163. ISBN 0-7890-1752-0.
The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) uses the DUP songbook, Important Resources, in its religious curricula.
Dances of Universal Peace International
Jane Gross, Discipline and Silence for a 'New Age' Priest, The New York Times, Friday, October 21, 1988. Retrieved 21 September 2009.
National Catholic Reporter: Former Dominican takes on the 'inquisitor'. January 11, 2012.