Rev. Judith Elia in dialogue with DiAnahita Kanoy
In the late 1960’s an American mystic by the name of Samuel Lewis was given a divine inspiration. He had travelled the world studying with religious and spiritual teachers and had begun, through spiritual guidance, to create circle dances with simple movements to music that embodied the highest teachings of the World’s Religions.
He began to realize that if he could teach other people to enjoy the sacred music and dances of many diverse spiritual traditions they would learn to appreciate and respect other cultures and their religious teachings. He would be creating Peace within, between and among all people on earth one step, one dance at a time.
Samuel Lewis was an American Sufi, initiated by Hazrat Inayat Khan, who brought the music and philosophy of the Unity of Religious ideals and the practices of this unique interpretation of Sufism to the West. He originated the Dances of Universal Peace and dedicated them to the United Nations Temple of Understanding, which like his Sufi Master Hazrat Inayat Khan, is committed to providing a house of prayer for all peoples.
Samuel Lewis’s ‘house of prayer’ at first was his own garage in San Francisco and later as he became known as the ‘Spiritual Leader of the Hippies’, and the Dance community grew larger, the Dances were held in Golden Gate Park.
Samuel Lewis was not a trained dancer and credited his success in leading and creating Dances to his ‘fairy godmother’ Ruth St Denis, founder of the first Collegiate Dance program in the U.S. at Adelphi University. He believed that Ruth St. Denis blessed him with his ability to draw Dance forms out of the cosmos and teach them easily. Ruth St. Denis choreographed many dances to the Psalms and other scriptures and taught her students to literally dance their prayers way back in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s!
The Dances of Universal Peace are now practiced by millions of people around the world. They are held locally at Discovery Yoga in St Augustine on the Third Friday of the month at 7:00pm. In the Ocala Forest, DiAnahita Kanoy has a beautiful retreat center called Dancing Peacock Paradise that hosts monthly dances and many weekend retreats.
One retreat that is a personal favorite of mine is the Fall Retreat that DiAnahita recently hosted with Sufi Teachers and Dance Leaders Allaudin Ottinger and Lila Flood with the theme, ‘Freely Give, Freely Receive’. I have attended this retreat almost every year for twelve years. Every year it is the best ever. I recently interviewed DiAnahita about how these retreats and her center came to be.
In 1995 DiAnahita travelled to the Lama Foundation in New Mexico to attend a Sufi retreat led by Allaudin Ottinger. She recalls, “his open friendliness to all, and authentic, unassuming living of the Path of the Heart inspired me to invite him to Florida in 1999”.
Allaudin is a ‘family man’ who has lived and practiced in the Kansas City area, led weekly dances, run a successful business, played in numerous bands and raised his children, all in the American Heartland. As a professional musician he has performed in diverse settings internationally from schools to synagogues, from the Ozarks to Istanbul to help discover, uncover, and manifest the sacredness of sound.
Allaudin is a senior teacher in the Sufi Ruhaniat International and a mentor in the Dances of Universal Peace Network. For more than three decades he has been facilitating intergenerational camps, seminars and retreat around the world. Allaudin leads the Shining Heart Community, an active, vibrant Sufi Community serving Kansas City, Missouri and the Ozark Mountain Region. Allaudin’s relaxed style and sense of humor puts everyone at ease. His exceptional musicianship, creativity and spontaneity are the seeds of ecstatic experiences of the transformational, healing power of the sacred arts.
A year after meeting Allaudin, DiAnahita met Lila Flood in Hawaii. “When I went to Hawaii in 2000, just after my husband had died, my dear friend Karen Leialoha, told me about her wonderful dance leader. We met at her studio for a day of singing and dancing. She invited us back on Christmas Day, the only day she had free! So that first Christmas of the decade, which could have been bleak and lonely, was filled with loving, uplifting energy.”
DiAnahita was moved by Lila’s authentic presence to spontaneously invite her to Florida. “Lila’s presence was so bright, her voice so engaging, and her dances so remarkable, that, without ever having been to one of her dance meetings, I invited her to Florida to lead a retreat at Dancing Peacock Paradise. Although people had never heard of her, since she doesn’t like to travel, they were immediately captivated by her clear teaching style, her professional musicianship, and her humble demeanor”.
Lila Flood has been a facilitator of the Dances of Universal Peace for over thirty years. A music teacher by profession, she brings ease, clarity, and musical excellence to the dance circle, along with a deep and joyous devotion. She has composed a number of original songs for the DUP, including ‘Water of Life’, with movements that honor the elements, and ‘Ana Elna’, a Jewish chant in remembrance of the words of Prophet Moses when he called to God for the healing of his sister, the beloved Miriam.
Lila is a resident of the Big Island of Hawaii and also brings with her the Spirit and the songs of the Hawaiian people. Her inner peace and passionate presence bless us with Aloha consciousness and help us to relax, breathe and enjoy the moment.
A high point of the retreat is always the presentation of songs by a Choir of retreat participants. No experience is necessary to join the choir. Lila is able to bring out the inner voice of even the most reluctant singer. She is a truly gifted vocal coach and composer.
One special moment this year was when Lila and Allaudin performed together for the first time a poem by the poet Jalalaudin Rumi set to music by the late great Barry Bernstein, Allaudin’s best friend. It was magical to hear them bring that song alive in tribute to Sarmad, aka ‘Bongo’ Barry, whose voice now lives on in all our hearts.
It was back in 2005, when DiAnahita had the brilliant idea of inviting Allaudin and Lila to lead a retreat together in Florida, because of their complementary qualities and musical abilities. They were a huge success together from everyone’s point of view. These two together are pure genius.
The energy they bring is electric. So then it became a tradition! In 2006, 2007, and 2009 they came with new dances and deeper practices to teach us. And this year 2011, Allaudin and Lila took us still deeper place of peace than ever before.
We are fortunate to have this unique dance tradition in Florida thanks to the leadership of DiAnahita Kanoy and her sustained vision for our growing Dances of Universal Peace community. DiAnahita moved to the Ocala area with her husband Allan in 1988. She was so grateful for the beautiful land they built their home on.
DiAnahita used to sit on the dock and imagine, and actually draw plans for a retreat center where people could come from the cities and be blessed by nature. “That was before I had started attending Dances of Universal Peace. I could see that the place was a ‘natural’, and being a speech professor, I had the training to do presentations. So I asked God to give me the content. Then Karen took me to the Dances!” and the rest is her Story.
“My purpose is to spread the Message of Love, Harmony, and Beauty through the Dances of Universal Peace, by hosting monthly dances and weekend retreats, offering people a warm and friendly sacred place to gather amidst the beauties of nature where we can be uplifted and embody divine qualities.”—DiAnahita Kanoy
“I am committed to preserving the woods as habitat for animals and plants, to keeping the land and water natural and pure, and to living a sustainable lifestyle”, explains DiAnahita.
“Come, Come whoever you are”, Rumi is calls out to us, to Dance our Peace together until all hearts beat as One. Everyone is always welcome. Join us at Dancing Peacock Paradise for the Dances of Universal Peace, Thanksgiving leftovers potluck dinner and Sunday, Nov 27 for Dancing in the Woods.