After the choir at St Pauls’ Beaconsfield sings the postlude at our Sunday service, those who wish to join in “The Elm Dance”. They gather in the circle dance area outside the church before going up to coffee in the hall.

Around the planet, as people gather to work together for the healing of our world, a simple, beautiful practice is spreading. To celebrate their commitment to life and solidarity with activists the world over, they join hands in a circle dance.

Set to the haunting strains of a Latvian song by Ieva Akuratere, and choreographed by Anastasia Geng, the Elm Dance took form in Germany in the 1980s. In 1992, having learned it from my friend Hannelore, I took the Elm Dance with me to workshops I was leading with a Russian-speaking team in areas poisoned by the Chernobyl disaster. There, and especially in Novozybkov, the most contaminated of inhabited cities, the dance became an expression of their will to live. It was here the dance evolved a distinctive form with the raising and swaying of arms, evoking their connection with the trees they so loved.

A Dance of Inspiration and Solidarity Joanna Macy

Remembering….

The Chernobyl disaster (also referred to as simply Chernobyl) was a catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the town of Pripyat, in Ukraine (then officially the Ukrainian SSR), which was under the direct jurisdiction of the central authorities of the Soviet Union.

An explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which spread over much of the western USSR and Europe.

The Chernobyl disaster was the worst nuclear power plant accident in history in terms of cost and casualties. It is one of only two classified as a level 7 event (the maximum classification) on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the other being the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011. The battle to contain the contamination and avert a greater catastrophe ultimately involved over 500,000 workers and cost an estimated 18 billion rubles. During the accident itself, 31 people died, and long-term effects such as cancers are still being investigated.

After the service, each Sunday, some join hands and for a circle for “The Elm Dance”. They gather in the circle dance area outside the church before going up to coffee in the hall; and all are invited to share in this simple movement.

A dance of remembrance and a dance for the blessing of peace.

St Pauls' Elm Dance

We at St Pauls join in a circle dance, to pray the prayers of our hearts but especially for peace.

I thought what a great metaphor for our Christian community the Elm Dance is.

Firstly the dance, the slow measured step where we dance together to the same tune, guided by those who know it better, helped by those who know the steps and the sequence, and supporting each other when feet stumble out of step, or wander in a different direction.

Around us is God's beautiful sky and warming light, the fragrance of rosemary, the delighted joyful music of the birds mingling with loving music composed by His children.

Wonderful too is the ever-widening circle as more and more join, effortlessly welcomed into the dance. Existing members are strong enough in loving support to let go and welcome in; new ones are brave enough to step forward and take the offered hands.

For those on the outside looking in, there is delight in watching the pattern and wholeness of the dance.

Our prayers seek to bless those from Novozybkov, that most contaminated of cities after Chernobyl and the spoken and unspoken prayers: the homeless down the street, the patient people of Zimbabwe and those with broken relationships around us; and the dance helps us bring the answers into being.

As we are swaying – Let's Give Peace a Dance

Rosemary

The Elm Dance Latvian words translated into English: Elm Dance Introduction Joanna Macy

Download the music Elm Dance mp3

THE ELM DANCE

Ko man dosi mamulite, par muzigu dzivošanu 
What will you give to me mother dear, for eternal life 
Ko man dosi mamulite, par muzigu dzivošanu 
What will you give to me mother dear, for eternal life 
Izplaukst zelta abelite un ka rita migla skan 
The little golden apple tree blooms, and rings out like morning mist 
Izplaukst zelta abelite un ka rita migla skan 
The little golden apple tree blooms, and rings out like morning mist 
Ko tas dos tev mamulite, ka tavs delinš nenomirst 
What does it give to you mother dear, that your little son doesn’t die 
Ko tas dos tev mamulite, ka tavs delinš nenomirst 
What does it give to you mother dear, that your little son doesn’t die 
Atbildes nav 
There is no reply 

Tikai veja notric ozolišu birzs 
Only the grove of oak trees trembles in the wind 
Veja notric ozolišu birze 
The grove of oak trees trembles in the wind 
Tikai koki savikšas uz rudeni 
Only the trees put on their autumn leaves 
Koki savikšas uz rudeni 
The trees put on their autumn leaves 
Atbildes nav 
There is no reply 

Izškid visi mani joki, Visi joki gludeni 
All my humour dissolves, All jokes fall flat 
Izškid visi mani joki, Visi joki gludeni 
All my humour dissolves, All jokes fall flat 
Atbildes nav 
There is no reply 

Tikai kajas drošak savu zemi min 
Only our feet all the more surely trample our earth 
Kajas drošak savu zemi min 
Our feet all the more surely trample our earth 
Tapec draugi ka man klajas 
Therefore, friends, how I am feeling 
Itneviens lai neuzzin 
let no-one know 
Tapec draugi ka man klajas 
Therefore, friends, how I am feeling 
Itneviens lai neuzzin 
let no-one know

Notes on Interpretation

Latvian is a language that was only written down when German missionaries spread the Christian faith in the 1700’s, being the last place in North Western Europe to maintain a pagan animistic worship of the land, the seasons and forces of nature. Hence many words in the song multiple meanings and connotations. This trend towards double meaning was accentuated during the years of Stalinist Soviet rule, where to be too explicit about things could land you in trouble. People became very good at saying one thing and meaning another.

The song uses double lines. This is because in the oral tradition, the singer would sing the first line, and the audience sings the second, as there was no way of writing down songs until comparatively recently. Latvia’s rich oral culture was kept alive in this fashion for centuries if not millennia. There are many examples of double meaning in the song.

* “mamulite” - means “Mother Dear”, but has other meanings also. It here seems to be referring to Mother Nature, or Mother Earth - to Gaia herself.

* “muzigu dzivošanu” - means “eternal life” or “to live forever”. It could be referring to either the Earth as a whole or to Humanity on the Earth, as there is no differentiation between subject and object within the lyrics, making the meaning even more cryptic.

* “zelta abelite” - means “golden little apple tree”. The apple-tree was considered to be the tree of life, in the Garden of Eden. Pagan Latvians also had a belief in the sacred tree of life. Using this image of the tree of life in this context may lead one to think that this is the answer to the question of Mother Earth about eternal life.

* “migla skan” - is a strange image. It means literally “how mist sounds” or rings out like the sound of a bell, ringing out over a valley shrouded in mist. It is as if the essence of the Tree of Life has become hidden in the sound of the morning mist. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls” - the mist has its own sound as the season shifts towards autumn and the mist enshrouds the Earth.

* “delinš” - means “little son”. In this conext the “ltittle son” of “Mother Earth” is humanity itself. The question thus seems to indicate “What does it give to the earth that humanity persists”.

* “Atbildes nav” - means literally, “there is no return image”, but in this context it can be that there is no reply or answer to the question the singer is asking of Mother Earth. The Earth is remaining silent about whether or not humanity will persist. Rather than answering the answer, the trees tremble in the wind (with the way nature becomes aprehensive) and moving towards the autumn can mean approaching an “end” of the year in the season of winter. In the conext of the song, this may be the response that “Mother Earth” is giving to the singer’s questions.

* “Izškid” - means to “dissolve”, in the Latvian dictionary, like “salt in water”

* “joki” - literally means “joke”, but in this sense it means a “sense of humour, of fun and joy”. It is as if the persons joy in life is dissolving as a result of the shift towards autumn and the end of the year.

* “gludeni” - means smooth or flat, like a road or a flat surface. The jokes falling flat means that the “punch line” is not working. It is like a joke that no-one laughs at, a joke for which there is no reply.

* “Kajas drošak savu zemi min” - our feet more surely trample our earth is a result of the persistence of humanity, earth’s young child, becoming ever more numerous.

* “ka man klajas” - means “how does your life go for you”, implying health as well as general wellbeing. In the sense of the song it seems to be asking how the singer feels about this strange enigmatic silence of the earth and the answers she is giving the singer. The implication is that as the answers of the earth are enigmatic, the humanity listening to the song cannot know exactly what the earth moving towards autumn and trees trembling in the wind really means.

* “Itneviens lai neuzzin” - means no one can discover, or the idea of permission - letting no one discover what the Earth and the singer really feels. There is no difference here between subject and object so it is not clear whether the Earth, the little son, or the singer herself is being referred to here.