Posts Tagged ‘sacred dance’

Photo: AP.
A Buddhist community anchored by a temple in Hampton, Minnesota, is drawing dancers of all ages.

It’s interesting to see what draws people to a faith community — besides faith. When we moved to a town where we didn’t know anyone, I visited several churches and chose the friendliest one. As we got involved, we got acclimated. The children made friends, and I got to know parents who filled me in on the best public school teachers.

Other people may join for other reasons. Consider the dance opportunity in today’s story.

Giovanna Dell ‘Orto reports at the Associated Press (AP), “The Buddhist community anchored by an ornate temple complex here in the Minnesota farmland is trying a new way to ensure its faith and ancestral culture stay vibrant for future generations — an open call for the sacred dance troupe.

“Founded by refugees fleeing the Khmer Rouge regime, which sought to eradicate most religious institutions, Watt Munisotaram and its troupe hope that teaching young children sacred dance will strengthen their ties to both Buddhism and Cambodian traditions.

“ ‘The connection is stronger when I dance,’ said Sabrina Sok, 22, a Wattanak Dance Troupe leader. ‘The thing that stays in my head is this dance form almost disappeared with the Khmer Rouge.’

“During their 1975-79 regime, the Khmer Rouge caused the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million in Cambodia. Hundreds of thousands fled, first to neighboring Thailand and later the United States, where Southeast Asians are one of the largest refugee communities.

“They carried this sacred dance tradition with them. On a frigid early February evening, Sok rehearsed for the upcoming Cambodian New Year holiday with fellow troupe leader Garrett Sour and his sister Gabriella, whose parents were among those refugees. …

“While recruitment was by word of mouth, this winter’s enrollment — open to anybody eager to learn the dance form — brought in the highest number ever after being posted on the temple’s Facebook page.

“Clothed in traditional thick silk shirts and pants from Cambodia, the three dancers sinuously stretched and bent every part of their bodies, from joint-defying toe curls on up. …

“ ‘We’re never ourselves, we’re just physical embodiments of higher spirits,’ said Garrett Sour, 20, as he meticulously coached the poses, urging a smaller step here, a deeper calf tilt there. ‘Dance was seen not as entertainment but a medium between heaven and earth.’

“The marketing student at a Twin Cities university started dancing when he was six and has learned Khmer to better delve into the sacred storytelling. He will be one of the teachers for the incoming dancers – about 20, which nearly doubles the troupe, and most of them younger than teens. …

“In the temple’s ornate higher room, where the ten monks in residence chant and meditate daily surrounded by sacred books and large Cambodian-made paintings of Buddha’s life, the Venerable Vicheth Chum also highlighted the importance of what he called ‘blessed dance.’

” ‘Very important to have, and to keep our ancestral tradition even when moved to (Minnesota),’ said Chum, who came to the United States more than 20 years ago from Cambodia. ‘Buddhist teaching is practice for peace and happiness, no matter the nation.’

“Monks at Watt Munisotaram – which roughly means the place to enjoy learning from wise men – practice Theravada, one of the oldest forms of Buddhism rooted in Southeast Asian cultures. …

“Dozens of faithful in equally bright white outfits [met] to celebrate Magha Puja, a holiday marking the gathering of 1,250 of Buddha’s first disciples and the establishment of his rules for the new community.

“Chum and seven other monks in elaborately folded, bright orange robes led a candlelit procession multiple times past an altar with several golden Buddha statues, glittery decorations and a profusion of flowers including lotus blossoms – most artificial, though in more clement weather some are grown locally or shipped from Florida.

“Several children marched along, carrying the U.S. flag and Cambodia’s state and Buddhist flags, before everyone sat in neat rows on the carpeted floor for two hours of chanting in Khmer.

“Chum said the monks worry about young people’s growing disenchantment with religion but believe that life’s inevitable struggles will eventually bring most back to the temple for guidance from Buddha’s teachings. …

“ ‘The world is using them to educate the other communities, I keep on reminding them,’ Sophia Sour said. She hopes to take Garrett and Gabriella to Cambodia to learn even more about the roots of their spirituality, whose fundamental values she listed as respect for the elders and good deeds.

“ ‘If you do good, good will come to you,’ she said. ‘I’m not sure if that’s religion, or just life.’ ”

More at AP, here.

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