Too Much Thinking Life into Teet’ring –
How Owls Can Teach us while Dancing
In this earlier time there was a knowing that has now become deeply hidden – a knowing of the sacred purpose of creation, of its beauty and wonder. And this knowing was continuously coming alive, speaking to human beings in all the myriad voices of the world around, in the streams and storms, in the cries of birds and the animals, in the first language of life.
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Handbook for Survivalists p. 6
Since I have been working less, a new aspect has entered my dance work. This is what I want to share here. Animals or other living beings have always been an important source of inspiration and an approach to being alive in my way of teaching dance. It is not for nothing that my work is called “The Dancing Wild Sow”. Sounds and animal cries have also long been part of the repertoire of expressive means, alongside movements, with which we open our inner and outer space when dancing and strike a joyful note of expansion.
Now I added something new: listening to real animal cries. To deepen the theme, I played the animal sounds at the beginning of our dance day (and also later in between) and the dancers had time to listen while standing still. I walked quietly with the player through the dancers who were scattered in the room. People reported a deepening of perception through listening to the sounds; the body space opened up more easily. This also made feelings accessible that are hidden in everyday life under the lid of wanting to function.
The owls thus came out of the mental space of inspiration into the sensually perceptible dance space where they became audible. Thus a different relationship between the dancers and the owls could emerge.
The owl dances were the second seminar in this new series. Owls are mostly nocturnal creatures. Silent flight, wild cries, unusual appearance. They see in the dark and can turn their heads all the way back, looking behind them. Owls hunt from their rest. Waiting on a branch, they can swoop down silently onto a prey animal.
Owls are associated with female wisdom in the realm of the symbolic. Their ability to see in the dark indicates a deep sense of foreboding. This access to the invisible world makes them not always sympathetic to us, sometimes uncanny.
In the time before the dance seminar in September 2022, I was intensively occupied with owls. I wanted to write a rhymed poem to capture the character of the owl in a rhythm. It didn’t want to work out. But then, just before the seminar began, the rhymes bubbled onto the paper.
My owl is a club
with soft feathers
Comes from up
there, from the hidden
yet with lots of storming.
Catch the prey
now and today;
my owl is a pillar
between down and above
hunting, she is joy.
it sounds odd,
and has might:
sounds of laughter
and of waking in the night.
Out of rest she goes hunting
and without further asking
she swoops down.
Her wisdom out of darkness
a lot of listening
with humor in her beauty.
I read the poem several times at the beginning of the dance seminar as a kind of “invocation”.
The night before the seminar I had a dream. I met a woman I knew through a friend from afar. As I pondered the meaning, the only idea that came to my mind was that I find this woman condescending. She is someone I don’t like, even dislike. A figure from my shadow.
In my morning attunement with dance and meditation at home, it became clear that I would have to give space to the theme of the shadow, which I had not planned to do.
Intuition called for it.
We started the workshop as usual with shaking to become aware of our body and breath and to become more awake. Then we listened to a tawny owl and a female eagle owl, as described above. In between we were silent again and again. Some felt the cries as irritating, others as a support to feel the body in its deeper layers more clearly. The following statements are experiences of female dancers.
“So far I had external images of owls, but no inner images of them.
The call of the tawny owl and the female eagle owl reached me – the tawny owl more up, chest/head area, the female eagle owl deep in the belly and pelvis.”
“I had a sensation of a golden glow in the neck and chest area with the calls of the female eagle owl, it felt warm. With the calls of the tawny owl I saw sharp metallic giant needles or something like that, they bored into my waist, slightly slanted towards the ground or vulva. It didn’t hurt, but it felt good because it woke me up.”
We danced a circle dance with many repetitions. Then the task was to feel and express the stillness of the owl on a branch with the music by Arvo Pärt, Spiegel im Spiegel.
“In the free dance that followed, I experienced how the impulse for the next movement emerges from the non- doing, the non-wanting, as if by itself – powerfully and with clear alignment. It felt surprisingly new every time and without effort.”
After another structured dance with repetitions we danced in pairs in witness work. In this setting one person dances while the other watches, feels their resonance with the dance happening and holds the space for the dancer. Afterwards there is an exchange and then the roles are changed.
The theme was to dance the owl and keep turning our heads back to look at our shadow, what is behind us that we as humans cannot see. This was accompanied by lively drum music by Guem Sauvage.
“In the witness-dance I felt an invigoration of my dancing and stomping energy forward while I kept turning my head and my gaze far back, to either side.
Corresponding to the wide radius of the owl, the image of a circle arose in me – that ‘front’ and ‘back’, ‘light’ and ‘dark’ feelings, that active power and beholding belong together, form a whole, fertilize each other.”
“The other important moment for me was when I was unexpectedly very frightened when I turned back – suddenly an unknown fear was sitting in my neck that really made me shiver and made me cry. It helped me at that moment to focus on what was in front of me: to dance. But the shadow of fear remained – in retrospect I am grateful because looking back confronted me with something in me that I can’t place yet, but seems to be important. It comes from the unconscious, after all.”
“I felt that the shadow behind me is my fear of my power. I felt this dance was special to me. In Estonian we say into the 10, to the point. I feel in my everyday life that I always keep it in view, then gather myself together and move on.”
Another woman described in the feedback session her dislike of this dance and in her life at the moment, the senselessness. In the first run through of the music, she had simply made listless movements. When the music was repeated, curiosity surprisingly emerged when she turned around. She found this very remarkable. When she talked about it, her face changed completely. It was filled with a soft smile, as if lit from within. A happy moment which showed that in the shadow there can also be beautiful qualities that we dare not identify with.
Integrating the shadow has to do with becoming whole. When we take the unconscious part to ourselves, it is no longer in the dark. The energy trapped in it flows to us and we can take responsibility for it. This means perceiving its appearance in life situations and affirming it as belonging to us.
After the witness dance we continued with a meditative dance based on Estonian music: Wanderer’s Evening Song and Kung Fu for the Goddess where we were able to show ourselves with our aggressive parts and enter into an encounter with other dancers. Here, the owl’s purposefulness and direct hunting could be an inspiration. We ended with a circle-oriented dance with powerful stomping, connecting heaven and earth.
The owl, its cries and movement patterns and its nature allowed us to find a particularly colored sensual access to ourselves in the moment of dancing. Animals are whole in a different way that we cannot yet fully understand.
Wholeness in them is more obviously embodied in aliveness. They are real and not attached to thinking in human form. By coming into contact with the owl’s idiosyncrasies, its sensual way of being – albeit mediated – we were given new access to being alive.
Dancing allows us to experience our animal-ness and builds a bridge to other living beings, which is needed to appreciate our commonality here on earth and to open the gates to new ways of seeing. These are not exclusively in- the-mind, as we are in our culture. So the owls were able to speak to us and with us in a dancing way. A communication with the other-than-human creation.
I myself experienced in a similar context how the dance engagement with a fairy tale about trees changed my approach to a tree species. The story was about the desire of a willow. When I see willows in nature now, they are “known” to me in an inner way and I often greet them silently or touch them. The relationship with them has changed, more closeness and also communication has developed. By this I do not mean humanisation, but a meeting on an equally legitimate level, without words in the strict sense and without blurring the difference.
© Cornelia Freise