Dances of Universal “Peace”

I am gonna warn you, I am gonna offend people with this post. It’s inevitable. But only really my Mother in Law and her “friends”.  But it’s my opinion and every opinion is valid in some way. (Even if the only reason it’s valid is to enlighten us that it’s the wrong opinion.)

This long weekend I was taken to a secluded camp to join Dance Camp. What kind of dance? Well, The Dances of Universal Peace. They mainly consider themselves to be Sufi. I found once I was there that they also reference other religions. Maybe to “unite” them all together in peace and harmony. Which is a noble concept I guess…but in practice is as flighty as it sounds.

A lot of the setup was revealed to me a few days before camp, through lack of communication. I wish I had known more before I agreed. Traveling is not really my thing at this moment, so being in the woods with two toddlers didn’t strike me as the best week ever. My hubby decided to stay home to work, so 8 days without him and 4 of those at a dance camp, made the concept less appealing. My son is a Daddy’s boy and they have such a special bond…I knew Hunter would adapt but it would be hard on him. But I had decided to go and “Gramma’s Girl” , aka Isabella, was already soooo excited. Astronomically excited. I was less excited. I had gone to a “D.O.U.P” (ha-ha, Doup…doop…dooped….) practice session with my M.I.L (Mother in Law) awhile ago and it was not full of joy and love as I expected. Izzy got shushed a lot, it was very controlled and solemn and the way I held my hands got corrected a couple of times, abruptly and rudely.  So basically I was there to give Izzy her chance to have beach time and Gramma time. And maybe to investigate a bit more on what the whole thing was about. Who were these people who were drawn to this? (Yes, my inner journalist had woken up briefly).

Packing was also tricky. Getting to the camp required a boat so I knew I wouldn’t be able to “just pop in to town” by myself. I was also cautioned by my MIL not to bring too much. Very stressed, I edited so many times that I forgot key things (their big water bottles to compliment the sippy cups. Bathing suits….we improvised. The second set of warm clothes). My MIL was still appalled that I wanted to bring a suitcase and two other bags plus sleeping gear. But hey, I edited down to the bare essentials. As it was I brought a few too many things for Izzy and not enough for Hunter. Hubby and I don’t camp so there was also the fact that I was out of my element here.

On the way out there we took the car up to Nelson (30-ish minutes from my MIL’s), then a boat ride across the lake. We arrived at the camp first and got a great cabin. Just off the beach. Well, great in the day. During the night the breeze off the lake made it a bit cooler. It was essentially a wooden tent. It was not air tight, basically just boards and windows. Warm in the afternoon but very cool in the early autumn air of morning and evening. Cold at night. It is the end of August after all. No electricity. The bathrooms weren’t terribly far away. A minute’s walk and had flushing toilets and running water. Mirrors and sinks, the whole bit. Showers around the bend although I never used them.  Even hot water!

View of the cabins

We met some of the fellow campers. I became a shadow to Gramma and the kids while she showed off her grand-kids. I liked the realistic people who showed surprise and said things like, “And you chose a secluded dark camp at the end of summer as the kids first camping experience. Are you sure that’s wise? How brave.” The rest of the people were what I expected. Hippies with flowing mismatched dresses and pants who didn’t use deodorant (apparent at the first stiff breeze) and talked too softly and too close. (I got sick of these people leaning in to talk to me and touching my cheeks and hair).  Very fake calm emanating from them. Maybe I misread the fake but even their calm seemed over-dramatic. There were some Granola Hippies. Matching Lululemon dance clothes and Birkenstock sandals. There were people there that came to connect with others and get their talk on. You know, like the Drama kids or Philosophy students in University that believe that every single freaking conversation has to be some deep debate or it’s useless.  Exhausting.
Then came our first meal. We went to the food cabin. It was an outdoors cafeteria essentially.  Wooden roof and poles. The kitchen was closed in with a serving window. The chef cooked by propane and  – I can’t remember the name- but a headlight lamp headband for light. So we all gather. I usually eat at 5pm my time in Calgary AB, and it was 630pm BC time so that’s 730pm my time. I was famished. We are told to stay standing. When everyone gets there we stand in a circle and hold hands. “Time for the evening meal prayer, ” says the man at the front.

“Well not a prayer!” whispers my MIL, “It’s really just circle time.”

The man at the front continues, ” But first I would like to thank…blablabla-dee-bla. Now who wants to say grace?”

“Circle time thanks.” mutters my MIL under her breath. I know she is super over sensitive that her choice of religion not be connected to her childhood religion of Christianity which she feels was forced on her, but what happened next was totally Grace. We even said Amen.

Then-oh then!- the woman behind me says, “Oh it’s massage time!” I laugh as we all line up to wash our hands and take our food after, buffet style. I try to judge how long it’ll be before the kids and I are eating by looking at the lineup and to my horror; maybe I’m not liberal enough?- the woman wasn’t kidding. People start to massage each other as they wait. Most people are not even stopping at the neck. They get to know each other (people have traveled from as far as Ottawa to be there) while massaging necks, backs, and hips even! I am glad I am holding Hunter and so don’t have my hands free to be forced to massage the stranger in front of me. It seems too intimate to be massaging a person right above their butt as I get to know him or her. Am I too conservative or is that a little weird? That instant intimacy doesn’t sit well with me.

But then we get food and it is GLORIOUS. I must really sing the praises of the chef. She and her sous chef were just incredible!!!! She used locally grown foods whenever possible and spelt grain. It was all fabulously seasoned and pure but tasted decadent. The food was heaven and love.  When I remember her name I will add it. And she was so good and indulgent with my kids as they kept going up and asking for food after it was cleared, or if there was any more fruit. (My kids were the only ones there other than a 8-10 year old girl).

Once we were well fed and verging on bursting it was already dark. I took the kids back to the cabin, put them in their warm clothes by using my reading light to find everything and dropped them in to their beds, exhausted. They slept right away. I put on layers upon layers of warm clothes and took my book outside to read. My MIL went to the evening dances which I had already politely declined going to, even to briefly check out before coming back to make sure the kids were okay. I have told her many times I was just going to support the kids, and not to join as it “isn’t my thing”. She still looked surprised.

I read until my eyes burned they were so tired and went to bed. I fell asleep instantly. Until Hunter woke up and panicked. He came to sleep on the cot and foamies with me. A single bed which was too small to share. His little body insisted on thrashing and stretching out all night so I didn’t sleep very well. Thank goodness for the strong and wonderful coffee the next morning. I talked to a 45-year-old woman (who looked 30) the next morning about how much we love coffee. She was nice to talk to. She had only been coming to dance camp for a few years to bond with her birth mother who she had discovered as a grownup. I think it was her way of becoming closer with her. ( I later heard the birth mother talking to another lady about finding her daughter. How cool it was. How alike they are…how her daughter had a teenage son by the time they met and how spoiled and indulged he was. Tsk-tsk, I thought. How judgmental. ) I also talked to a man the same age as me, 32. A hairdresser in Calgary, he comes once a year because, as he said it to me; he doesn’t have anything to do with organized religion during the year, so he comes once a year for 4 nights to “get his church and spiritualness” on and get it out of his system. It’s cathartic for him and he doesn’t take it too seriously. He comes with his Dad every year and so it’s also a bonding moment for them I am sure. Such as it was for Izzy, who chose to spend the majority of her time with Gramma dancing. She also soaked in the attention. She was getting constant preening and attention and appreciative looks. She could do no wrong; every step was pure cuteness. (Which explains why, after nearly a week of this she came back talking like a baby with a lisp and acting like a feral cat).

Why do the rest come? All of them seem like something is lacking in their regular life. They NEED this. It seems anyway. It fills a hole, coming out to dances and dance camps, dressing up in costumes and using fake names. Yes, they all have Sufi names they’ve picked for themselves. They get to lead dances or lose themselves in a crowd. They get to feel like they are a part of something bigger. It is Christianity meets Dungeons and Dragons. It is World Of Warcraft escapism, the peace version. It is the Island of Misfit Toys, except instead of unwanted or broken toys, it is unwanted or broken people.

Why do I say this so harshly? Well, the dances can be pretty intense and these people seem pretty lost in them. Ever seen people in churches “speak in tongues”? Well, these people don’t speak in tongues but their eyes look wild and wanting when they dance as they get in to it. On Goddess Night they all wore sparkles or bells and their best clothes. Mismatched robes chosen because they were the brightest or most sparkly or most outrageous. So much time put in to making their hair big or feathery, their clothes shiny or loud, their shoes eccentric…and yet they spend no time on themselves. No deodorant, no shaving for many of them, and a lot of their hair looked unkempt. It made me sad kind of. The smell of their body odour once they danced was too overwhelming for Hunter and I and we had to leave…

Dancers at “Goddess Night”

Eyes are “Spiritual Portals” or something like that, so let’s stare in to each others for 2 whole minutes….

They are convinced they dance for love but they don’t live it the rest of the time. And they are unbelievably arrogant that their religion is the only one worth following. Which makes them the same as any other religion when you think about it. A conversation I heard,

1-“you brought your mother to the other weekend of dances, didn’t you?”

2-“oh yes. but the first dance was about ancient gods and goddesses and too intense for her. turned her off of it”

1-“yes, some of the dances can be a bit much to take”

2-“and of course she is a Christian, so there’s that. She is so convinced that God is male and that’s the only way of looking at it…”

1-“so narrow minded”

2″…but we all know God is a woman and she is a Goddess.”

Hunter and I walked around a lot to kill time. The beach sand was too pebbly and hard on Hunter’s feet, so we walked around the woods and cabins mostly.  Since he’s just over a year and a half, there were a lot of times he would randomly stop and look at a pebble or leaf for a couple of minutes, so I found myself accidentally eavesdropping and I overheard some of the most appalling gossip breeding from jealousy, anger and hate. No one took any notice of Hunter as he is not talking yet, or of the “baby’s caretaker”. Conversation rarely was interrupted when we stood a few feet away. I heard a bunch of gossip. All of the drama behind the scenes made my jaw drop. “Well, that awful woman never had any sense. Did you see the look she gave him during the dances…”. Etc. It was like being in the movie Mean Girls. So much behind the scenes backstabbing and people talking each other down. But all fake loving in the dances. All calmness and light and truthiness here folks….to your face. As soon as you leave ‘so and so is a bitch’ and ‘she/he has a big mouth and has a fat ass’. I felt like I was in high school again.

So Universal Peace? Well, to your face and for a limited 4 days only. Maybe my MIL avoids the gossip or doesn’t hear it. Maybe she is lonely cuz she has never found (or not yet) the love of her life. All I know is it seemed too religious and too much an escape from reality rather than a way to self discovery.

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