Circles of Empowerment and Long Dance
The Circles of Empowerment is a non-denominational and nonprofit organization based out of Central, CA. It is led by clan leader, Hua Anwa, who is backed by board members and a council of Elders. Circles of Empowerment's mission is to educate about and advocate for traditional Native American healing ways. Not only does Circles of Empowerment offers teachings about indigenous ceremonies, but the organization also hosts them. Among the ceremonies include Full Moon Circles, Pipe Ceremonies, Sweat Lodges, Vision Quests, and Long Dances.
Long Dance is held annually in September on or around the time of the Autumn Equinox. Circles of Empowerment held the first Long Dance in 1990, so this year made it the 28th anniversary. Furthermore, 2018 marked my first year at Long Dance. It was an immersive weekend experience that I got to share with 5 of my amazing soul sisters: Yellow Wolf, White Raven, Monica, Kamiko and Annie Colina.
Each year Long Dance is based off one of the cardinal directions. This year we danced with the energy of the West, so there were significant symbols and motifs throughout the weekend related to it. The animal totems of the West include bear, raven, and dolphin. Bear represents strength (both inside and out), raven represents magic, and dolphin represents new realities. Water, which is the element of the West, is a symbol of life, healing, and our emotions. The West is the place of the woman - the divine feminine. Black is the color of the West, which is the color we wore during the Long Dance Ceremony.
Sounds intense though. Why do it?
Kind of like Taylor Swift's song, "Shake It Off," my intention for participating in Long Dance was to shake off everything that no longer served me. This meant letting go of fear, doubts, worries, past grudges, old patterns, stagnant energy, karmic ties, and other negativities. I even realized that there were people whom I was ready to let go. Consequently all the releasing allowed me to make room for better things to come, and I got a sense of clarity of what exactly I wanted to manifest and call into my life.
As my teacher, Yellow Wolf, puts it, "You suffer in that arena so that you don't suffer outside in the world." Being in sacred ceremony is powerful and transformative. Show up for yourself and put in the work to heal your wounds whether they are your personal traumas from this lifetime or historical traumas carried through generations. You're there to change something in your life for your highest good and the highest good of all.
Movement is healing. There are no limitations during the dance, so give yourself the freedom to express yourself authentically. You'll find how liberating it is dancing however you want. Because Long Dance is free from recreational drugs and alcohol, you're truly present in your body. Feel your feet in motion with the drum as it beats along to your heart. Feel how your body reacts as it goes through waves of different emotions during the dance. Feel the weight lift off your body when you're shaking it off. Feel how your perspective changes when you shift directions in the ceremonial circle from counter-clockwise (releasing energy) to clockwise (creating energy) and vice versa.
Long Dance was a women only ceremony. Women came near and far to be there. Ages ranged from teens to senior citizens. We all had different ethnicities, backgrounds, upbringings, and walks of life... and yet, we all were there together for the same reasons: to heal ourselves, heal Mother Earth, and raise the vibration of the human consciousness. Women showcased their gifts and talents at the trade circle. Throughout the weekend women were generously providing complimentary services, such as acupuncture, energy work, and massage therapy. We celebrated each other's achievements. We ate together and prayed together. We held space for each other to allow whatever healing that needed to take place.
Sacred Pipe Ceremony
The Long Dance Ceremony wasn't the only ceremony of the weekend. In fact the weekend was pretty eventful with workshops, teachings, guest speakers, and other ceremonies and rituals. On the first day we arrived, I attended the pipe ceremony. I knew that the pipe was a sacred object in Native American tradition, but it was during the pipe ceremony I learned what it really represented. The pipe is the balance between the masculine (stem) and feminine (bowl). We use the pipe to link us in the physical world (earth) to the spirit realms (sky).
There were a few official pipe carriers leading the ceremony. Two of them, which included one of the Elders, held the community pipes and went around the circle assisting those who wanted to smoke them. When you're given the pipe, you think intently about what you're praying for and then the tobacco smoke sends those prayers out into the universe. You're not required to smoke the pipe if you don't want to. You can hold the sacred pipe, pray with it, and then pass it on to the next sister who will smoke the pipe and send your prayers out for you. What was special about this particular pipe ceremony was that we got to watch one the brothers make a ceremonial commitment as a pipe carrier and leader of the Thunder Lodge.
As the name implies, I literally participated in a long dance that went from sunset to sunrise. While the women at the drum lodge sang songs and kept a steady drum beat, we danced in the ceremonial circle around the fire. The dance wasn't easy. It tested me on all levels of my physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental being, but I would absolutely do it again!
One of my challenges was being exposed to all the elements. Thankfully the skies were clear and showed no signs of rain or fog, but I felt very cold. Not to self: definitely bring more layers next year.
Another challenge for me was going straight 12+ hours during a period of time that my body was used to sleeping. With that said, I wasn't able to stay awake the entire time. I really gave it my valiant effort though. I was good from 8pm until approximately 3am before succumbing to a nap. When I closed my eyes the sky was still dark, starry, and moonlit. I woke up to the sun starting to illuminate the sky. Admittedly I was bummed that I didn't get to see the sky change from dark to light, which was what I was looking forward to. Precautions I would take to stay awake longer next year include having a better night's rest the night before, napping sometime during the day of the ceremony prior to commencement, and snacking/drinking tea throughout the night to keep my energy up. Many women did stay awake the entire duration of the Long Dance Ceremony, and I was in awe of their endurance.
Despite the challenges, doing the long dance was worth it... so worth it. I can't tell you enough how incredibly invigorating of an experience it was simply waiting on the last few minutes for the sun to finally peak over the mountains. Any ounce of tiredness in my body disappeared. I felt a surge of energy from everyone around me. It was like we were all running high off adrenaline. The drumming and singing became more intense, and it was during these final minutes that we danced the most freely and wildly. Then when the sun shone in our eyes from the East, the place of new beginnings, it was the most rewarding thing to me... to the point by which I became super emotional. Tears fell from my eyes as I hugged my sisters and cheered along with them.
There were different lodges set up around the perimeter of the ceremonial circle. They were open to everyone during the Long Dance Ceremony and were there to support your needs especially when you needed a break from dancing.
The drum lodge was home to the heartbeat of the dance. It had 3 or 4 large drums, and women rotated in and out to keep the beat going. I participated in the drum circle several times throughout the night, which was fun!
The wellness lodge was a great place to be nurtured in holistic ways. You could find teas, kombucha, supplements, and essential oils. You could also get energy work or body work done. I personally received a back massage, reflexology, and acupuncture session.
The moon lodge supported women who were on their moon cycle. This lodge had a fire, so it was nice warming up there when I needed respite from the cold outside. I listened to some interesting teachings when I was in the moon lodge. I learned, for example, the different parts of a tipi and what they represented.
The mother lodge acknowledged Mother Earth and the mothers in the Long Dance community. This lodge supported the mother/daughter relationship and reminded me to dance for my maternal lineage. By the way, I found it cool that there were some mothers and daughters who attended Long Dance together. There was even a family of 3 generations.
The grandmother lodge honored the Elders at Long Dance. I didn't spend too much time in this lodge, but I saw it held a comfortable space for them.
I've been wanting to do a sweat for a very long time, so I was excited to have the opportunity to participate in the sweat lodge. The sweat was essentially a ceremony within a ceremony as it was Native American purification ritual held during the Long Dance. Typically a sweat is done in 4 rounds, but we only went through 2. The first round, which was a prayer round, was bearable. In fact I was barely sweating and felt little frustration. I thought to myself, "OK, I can literally and figuratively 'take the heat.'" It was after the singing round that the struggle got real. When the firekeepers brought in the second set of hot stones, my breathing got heavy and I started sweating profusely. So there I was... naked and in complete darkness with other women who were going through the same discomfort as me. This second round seemed like an eternity too, but I cleared my mind and breathed through it. I remember the relief I felt when the firekeepers opened the door and pulled out the stones, but I totally felt renewed and fully capability of overcoming any adversity. When I exited the sweat lodge and dried myself off, I went right back into the dance.
Special Surprise by the Brothers
There were some men who were present during the Long Dance weekend. Whether they were the fathers, biological brothers, or significant others of the women participating in the Long Dance, they were all referred to as our brothers. They helped plan, setup, and take down. They were made part of the larger Long Dance community as they joined us during meals and certain gatherings, such as the Sacred Pipe Ceremony. They obviously did not join us in the all-women Long Dance, but they stood century for us somewhere on the grounds to ensure that we were protected and safe while we were in ceremony.
After the sun rose the brothers greeted us from a distance and sang a Native American chant to us. Since I had never been to Long Dance, I did not expect that to happen. When it did, queue the waterworks. I was deeply moved by the brothers' gesture of love. Through the energy of their song, I could feel how proud they were of our bravery, resilience, and perseverance. I felt that the brothers were singing on the behalf of all the men who were loving and supporting from afar the women they knew at Long Dance. The brothers reminded me that there are wonderful men in this world who respect and treat women as equals. It especially pulled on my heart strings recognizing I do have that wonderful man in my life (my boyfriend) who loves me unconditionally, supports my healing work, compliments my authentic self, and walks with me on my wellness journey.
Interested in Long Dance and want to know more? Click here to visit the Circles of Empowerment website.
Find more pictures by Lori Sortino of past and present Long Dances at Essence Captured.
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