The healing powers of 21 Praises of Tara
The dance has 21 gestures as well as chanting.
By LINDA M. LINONIS
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- It's a coincidence on the calendar but one that may help people observe and reflect on the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the United States.
The last summer session of "Sacred Dance: Meditation in Movement" will be from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday at the Fellows Riverside Gardens gazebo at Mill Creek MetroParks. It's not so much a presentation but a participation event.
Anyone and everyone can be involved, no matter what their age, dance talent, gender or religious background, said Dr. Julie E. Thomas, coordinator. The program, The Dance of the 21 Praises of Tara, is based in Buddhism, but following that belief is not required.
Thomas said she became acquainted with the dance about 31/2 years ago when she attended a presentation in Cleveland. "It was serene, peaceful and beautiful," she said of the experience. So after a year of study, she said, she felt prepared to share.
"I wanted to bring this to Youngstown so others would have the opportunity to participate," she said. Teaching is a way of life for Thomas, who is an associate professor of psychology at Youngstown State University.
Gentle and soothing
Comparing the simple, smooth and repetitive movements to those of tai chi, Thomas said the short version of the dance, about 30 minutes, is set to gentle, pleasant music played on Indian instruments such as the harmonium, bells and cymbals.
The class she leads at First Unitarian Church may draw from eight to 15 participants, mostly women, and they dance to "Mandala Dance of the 21 Praises of Tara."
There are 21 gestures, or certain dance movements, and chanting also is part of it. "But you don't have to be a dancer or have experience in dance to participate," Thomas emphasized. And she suggests wearing comfortable clothing.
Tara, a Buddhist goddess, is the feminine embodiment of wisdom, compassion and power. "We have to practice to access these qualities and heal ourselves and others," Thomas said.
The dance is a method to achieve those qualities, Thomas said, and overcome the negative ones of greed, envy and hate. "Too often we are obsessed by the negative," Thomas said.
Visualizing Tara is the first task Thomas gives participants, and then they are asked to make an offering to Tara as a way to be generous. "The giving of ourselves" is the lesson, Thomas said. To become more like Tara, we must overcome the negative elements.
Finding inner peace
The dance, the last summer one taking place on an important anniversary, has "relevance not only for Sept. 11," said Thomas. "We have to acknowledge the reality of our world," she said, "and the hatred, obsession and ignorance." But succumbing to those emotions won't lead us to inner peace, she continued. "Finding a way to heal ourselves and others is the answer."
Thomas shared a quote by Mahatma Gandhi, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
"Recognizing that truth and seeing the possibility of what can be achieved," Thomas said, is important for women and their sense of empowerment.
Celeste Hazlett of Boardman has participated in the Tara dance for about a year.
In an e-mail, she shared, "It is a spiritual meditation in movement that always serves to uplift and soothe me. While watching the horrors occurring in New Orleans, I could not help but think that all of those frightened, devastated people would be better able to cope if they had a strong faith and practice in Tara.
"Tara embraces all faiths and peoples in her warm embrace. Participating in the Tara dance this Sept. 11 will serve to be a wonderful way for us to remember and honor those lost on that terrible day."