nowruz- an invitation to dance!
By: Dr. Laurel V. Gray
We are a world out of balance. The pandemic has driven us into isolation where we depend increasingly on our screens – our computers, our phones – for more and more aspects of our lives.
But while these tech tools have allowed us to continue to work and communicate, they have also led to an unhealthy addiction that has negative physical, emotional, and psychological impacts. Nowruz can restore physical and psychological health by reminding us of “the need in man to return and rediscover nature.” 1 And when we rediscover Nature, we can also rediscover the wisdom of our ancestors in the primal urge to dance.
Nowruz celebrations take us out-of-doors, urging us to move, breathe, and dance – to witness the earth’s return to life. Dance was humanity’s original activity that built a sense of community and shared purpose necessary to survival.
Nowruz is the commemoration of a great reminiscence: that of man’s kinship with nature. Every year this absentminded child who, busy with his own artificial works and creations, is reminded by the seducing recollections of Nowruz to return to his mother’s lap and to celebrate this return, this renewed meeting with her.
This deeply rooted need to connect with Nature and each other exists in many Silk Road cultures. For the Kurds, the seemingly endless lines of dancers, dressed in colorful holiday finery, stretch across the countryside. People connect in the most literal sense of the word, holding hands and dancing shoulder-to-shoulder.
In the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan – all sharing deep historic and cultural connections with past Persian empires – this ancient Spring holiday was not supported in the USSR. But after independence, these nations have revitalized Navruz/Nevruz with huge public celebrations featuring music and dance. In Uzbekistan, before Navruz arrives, women stay up all night, singing and dancing outside around a huge cauldron while they prepare sumalak, the wheat pudding similar to Persian samanu. In Azerbaijan, on Chaharshanbeh, people, gather outside to leap over small bonfires, surrounded by onlookers who break into the ancient Yally line dance.
And here is a critical component in traditional Nowruz celebrations everyone dances! While amateur and professional ensembles may take center stage, all ages can join in the communal, danced expression of joy. This is another gift of Nowruz. Dance has benefits for mature adults. “Cross-sectional studies have shown that older adults who dance on a regular basis have greater flexibility, postural stability, balance, physical reaction time, and cognitive performance than older adults who do not dance on a regular basis. 3 Even more dramatic is the “growing evidence that stimulating one’s mind by dancing can ward off Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia, much as physical exercise can keep the body fit. Dancing also increases cognitive acuity at all ages.” 4 A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine analyzed various leisure activities in senior citizens and concluded that “dancing was the only physical activity associated with a lower risk of dementia.”
And finally, as we all deal with the painful, global loss of life due to COVID-19, we should remember that “healing through movement has proven to be a powerful salve for pain, trauma and even disease.”6 Traditional societies use dance in healing rituals and in ancient expressions of mourning and loss, allowing a physicality that releases deep emotions.
Perhaps Jalaleddin Rumi offered the best advice about the restorative power of dance, even beyond the celebration of Nowruz.
Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you’re perfectly free.