V — THE DANCE
It may be wondered how this subject comes under our general title, but we do not propose to limit ourselves to squares and triangles or symbols with a geometrical shape, but to use the word 'symbol' in a wider sense. So the word 'dance' can be used as a symbol, and those who want a classical name can use that of the Muse of Choric Song and Dance — Terpsichore. We shall doubtless say things which are being widely said, thought, and acted on today; but the Theosophical key will be found a great aid in interpreting and justifying the inspirations and intuitions of people who might feel the need of definiteness and co-ordination in their aspirations.
The course of evolution runs in curves which bring racial cultures down into materialism and then up again towards a renewed knowledge of the essential values of life. So we may expect to find a reappearance of ancient institutions which have been lost or degraded. The language of symbolism, allegory, and mythology is a means of embalming these institutions, so that their seeds may remain encysted, as it were (it is often convenient to mix metaphors), thus remaining free from harm until they can be safely revivified.
All antiquity shows the importance attached to the dance; it still prevails, but in what guise? Apart from the noble efforts of the few alluded to above, it has become at best an amusement, too often with an intrusive element of sex-appeal, more or less innocent; and as part of a dramatic scene, the ballet has more often made its appeal to our coarser than to our more refined tastes. We have to be careful not to transfer our own conceptions to the ancients and accuse them of mixing worship with frivolity because the dance with us has descended to frivolity from worship. One is all the more gratified to find that in some quarters at least a nobler conception of the dance is gaining ground; and it is to a wish to second those efforts that the choice of this particular subject for an article is mainly due.
Downward curves in evolution are marked by the misuse of man's divine powers, whereby is created sin, from which he strives to escape by holiness. He may become so depraved that asceticism seems his only salvation. A snuffling Puritanism feared even the dance on the village green, because for that it would no longer have been innocent. In the classical age not only the dance but every kind of athletic exercise was an essential part of religious celebration; they were performed in honor of the gods. Simple peoples of today have the same in their tribal dances. It was a practical enactment of the universal principle of rhythm and harmony, the lacking keynote in modern life, whose watchword seems to be excess in all things. Who that has fine appreciations can deny that the lack of rhythm and proportion has vitiated our manners, tastes, and institutions? We are becoming aware of it and of the need for amending. For awhile, no doubt, we shall carry even into our amendings the spirit of excess, of self-consciousness, of striving, of artificiality. Spontaneity cannot be won by chasing her with a net; she is coy and must be wooed. We can but make ourself worthy, and then we may be honored with a visit.
It would be wantonly unjust in this article to omit reference to the work of Katherine Tingley, whose mission was to strike anew so many lost keynotes. The importance of the dance, its real significance, were well known to her, and she introduced its practical enactment among the members of her company of students at Point Loma; chiefly among the children, whose unspoilt minds rendered them better material; but notably among people of all ages as part of her wonderful dramatic presentations in the Greek Theater. The influence thus started has spread widely, and few know to how great an extent the world is indebted to her for this. For not only has the influence spread by direct imitation, but also through the unseen communications which bind together the minds of men irrespective of distance; and whatever was done at that center and by that Teacher was broadcast with a hundredfold force.
All concerted movements, whether of the dance, the song, the orchestra, or even military drill, express the harmonious co-operation of many individuals in one whole; and all those in whom the spirit of life is not dormant or dead experience an indefinable joy therein. For once they have laid aside personality and are acting as part of a greater self. They have experienced the joys of a life larger than that of the self.
The word 'symbolical' has come with some people to mean unreal, and it is with this feeling that they speak of ancient ritual dances as being symbolical of something or other. Others think that the participants in these rites were actually accomplishing a creative function; and I am sure this is what Katherine Tingley felt — or rather knew. And may it not be our inner awareness of this fact that gave us that mysterious sense of joy? To Theosophists, man is not a poor hapless sinner dumped down in a cruel world by an absurd deity for the purpose of preparing himself by self-mortification for a better world somewhere else; nor is man a mere chance-happening or byproduct of some incredible cosmic process. He is a part of the universe, a part of nature, a part of God. His smallest acts count. It may be hard to define his goal; it may not be best to try to define it. Let us call it self-realization. And if this is not to mean that each petty personality will make the vain attempt to realize a little life of his own apart from others, then it must mean that we must seek to realize that greater life wherein we all share as equal components.
Let us get beyond the distinction of sanctimonious and sinful, sacred and secular; let us get back to the unity of life. The simplest natural functions have been and can be considered sacred, pure, joyous. The body (as H. P. Blavatsky points out) is the temple of the Holy Ghost, but that fane has been desecrated, so that we have turned from it with disgust and regard the body and its functions as something profane.
Those gods of the old Pantheons stand for departed glories of the human race; some went back to Olympus, and some with loving sacrifice departed not from man but suffered degradation with him that they might one day raise him again to the heights. No doubt Terpsichore, the Muse of Choric Song and Dance, has never been away from us.
There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
There are some who have had glimpses — enough to make them homesick. But harmony cannot be achieved by perfecting oneself in the use of one's own solitary instrument.