Tag: healing

Dance to Dance: Finding Art to Mend the Wounds

“This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”                Pete Seeger, written on the drum head of his banjo

Our spirits felt wretched from a weekend that saw American violence and the sour rhetoric that sometimes feels to be our new national pastime. We were in search of an antidote and we found it on a Tuesday, with a day that began with dance and song and ended with dance and song, book ends with art in the middle.

The calendar in our small rented Santa Fe house read the 15th of August. In the Catholic tradition, it is the feast of the Assumption of Mary, Mother of Jesus. For the people of the Zia Pueblo, it is a day of homecoming and festival, one that blends Native and Catholic cosmologies, expressed most profoundly in the Corn Dance. In a spirit of hospitality, the public is welcome to attend as honored witnesses.

So we found ourselves on a beautiful Tuesday in New Mexico, driving down into the desert, to a place where the cerulean blue sky holds the sun, and touches the earth, ochre, sage green, sienna, both sparse and alive. Even before we open our car doors, we hear the beat of the drum, the chant of the singers. Outside the small adobe church, long lines of dancers, outfitted in traditional regalia, youths of the community, stomp, shuffle, step, in a grouping that forms and re-forms, a call and response to the drum and chanters. It is hot and truly, blindingly bright. Some viewers carry parasols; most wear wide brim hats. We lean into what little shade we can find. Later I will discover that I am powdered with dust. But for now, we stand on Holy Ground.

It is almost noon, and the ritual begun hours ago will continue until sunset. Time is altered under the hot sun; we begin to sway slightly, intoxicated with heat and sensation. We are made small under the overarching sky; the dance and chant transfigures and begins to heal the sorrow and hurt. Anointed, we carry the blessing back to Santa Fe.

Back home we spend part of the afternoon at an exhibit featuring paintings by Wolf Kahn. Now in his 90th year, the artist is known for landscape painting and pastels, depicted with bands of unlikely color, abstracted, reduced, intuitively applied. Kahn’s childhood could lend itself to a Hollywood story. It was filled with sorrow, tragedy and the drama of living in Germany as Nazism and Hitler come to power, but balanced with opportunities afforded by being surrounded by a family of culture and means. Eventually he would be taken from his beloved great-aunt and her home in Hamburg, and placed on one of the Kindertransport, part of the British program ferrying Jewish children out of Germany into foster care.

For the second time that day, we are transported. Here in the gallery, we are surrounded by landscapes the polar opposite of the one we visited earlier. Rural America is depicted in vivid oranges, purples, greens, and bright yellow. The dance is here as well, the rhythm in the picture of the birches on the canvas, the stretch of color, the forward and backward of lights and darks, the pulse of brush stroke and line. Another small part of what had been lost and broken returns to our souls.

And finally comes the evening and our adopted ritual of walking to the Plaza after dinner. On the bandstand is the Levi Platero Band, a blues rock band. Hailing from the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, the trio is young, energized, and man can they play! Hate and dismay have no place here, it’s been knocked-out by music and dance. In front of the bandstand, couples shimmy and boogie. Those without partners move with a refreshing lack of self-consciousness. An elder is participating in a three way dance: herself, her walker, and her dance partner, a much younger man. Children toddle into the mix, dogs greet one another in their doggy ways. The Plaza becomes a microcosm of America, folks dancing and hooting, encouraging the young man on the stage to play one more riff on the guitar.

The inky indigo of the sky has flowed down softly, the strings of lights strung high between the bandstand and the small obelisk in the Plaza’s center softens faces. There, beneath the dancers’ feet, we read inspirational words some kind stranger has scribed in chalk, Love Exists. Another piece of our soul returns home.

Love Exists