I first got to know about the Dances of Universal Peace, or DUP, when I had the opportunity to help organize an event by Muchimore. At that time, I participated because it was an activity involving singing and dancing, although I didn’t know much about it.
I remember feeling really good during the activity, and when I heard about a camp event, I found it interesting as it turned out to also be a closing activity for Friends & Forest. I knew I needed to take myself there.
The Dances of Universal Peace is a spiritual practice involving circle dancing and chanting songs related to “sacred phrases” in various religions. It aims to promote peace amidst religious and belief differences.
DUP was first organized in 1968, about 55 years ago, and has since grown into a network spanning over 28 countries. In Thailand, there is a community called DUP Thailand that organizes DUP activities regularly and on special occasions. For this event, our Thai organizing team didn’t just bring in casual participants. Instead, we had a “mentor” from Colombia, Malika Salazar, who has organized activities globally. Malika led the process intensively. This time, it wasn’t just “singing and dancing” like before; it was an opportunity to feel more acquainted and connected with DUP, gaining a deeper understanding.
Singing, dancing, and connecting
These are the main activities of the Dances of Universal Peace (DUP). The central focus of DUP is learning songs related to “sacred phrases” from various cultures and beliefs. Each song reflects the connection between words, cultures, and intentions. Before delving into the “dance movements,” I realized that it’s not just about “choreography” as I initially understood. It involves an attempt to connect with different worldviews and various practices.
The lyrics are diverse, featuring English, Hebrew, Hindi, and words from major religions or indigenous traditions. It’s also fun to learn about the origins of songs, including stories from the past and legends related to the songs.
After learning the origins and lyrics, we enter the phase of “singing and dancing” to the song. The majority of the time involves dancing in a circle together, pairing up, rotating partners, and the most intense cultural shock for me initially was the practice of “touching.” It goes beyond hand-holding or putting your arms around the others’ shoulders; it feels like letting my heart connect with the others while dancing.
The first time I participated, I felt quite insecure in this aspect. I have always felt that my energy was not the kind that I should share with others, not something I should pass on to anyone. The activity even involved moments of making eye contact to exchange energy which was too much for me. There were times when I tried to make eye contact with the others and they avoided it, my mind just kept asking “What’s happening, what’s happening”
If asked whether I believe in the exchange of any form of energy, it would still be hard to answer personally. However, what I observed since the first time I participated in the circle were tears. People were “genuinely” hugging each other while I was still struggling to find the reason why one would hug that way. Why would someone just come out of nowhere and give me such a genuine hug? It was an entirely new experience and I didn’t know how I should feel about it.
But it was fortunate that I had joined the circle before, so I roughly knew the atmosphere of the event before coming to the camp. This time, I tried to be open, and calm, and try to observe the people in front of me with a relaxed mind. I experienced the phenomenon of the “warm feeling” that permeates the dancing circle. One aspect I really liked about events that lean towards awareness and spirituality, is that everyone comes not to conflict, not to compete so the atmosphere is filled with friendly people. When we held hands, and looked into each other’s eyes, at the very least, I didn’t feel that the other party harbored any ill intentions towards me. It felt warm somehow.
And this time, I feel that I did much better than before.
Words of Power
Why use “sacred phrases” from religions? It’s because these words have been carrying the “power” to communicate with deities or gods. They have been a part of chants or prayers to communicate intimately with the divine since ancient times so these words kind of have the power that listeners can receive in a similar way.
Malika explained in the voice workshop session about the “power of voice,” which was fascinating. She discussed “voice” as a power that has been with us since birth. However, when we were growing up, we often got “blocked” from using the “voice” due to societal conditioning that discourages the expression of emotions, feelings, or needs. This blocking is akin to blocking our power and our self-awareness of our power.
I personally had the opportunity to take singing courses, but there was never a time when I felt so connected. Vocalization should be both fun and naturally understood. When discussing the correct use of voice, there should not be any specific part of the body intentionally tense. The body should support and promote itself without us having to try. The example about blowing up balloons was impressive for me because as a child, I was always curious why some friends couldn’t blow up balloons at all. I also don’t know why I was able to do it.
One interpretation is that if we can use our voice well, and use the force within us flowingly, it means our body is working in the most natural way possible. Hearing this made me appreciate singing much more, and it felt like the lid on my past singing experiences had been lifted.
And “words” do have real “power” because every time we enter the singing and dancing phase, many people feel overwhelmed, and some even come out with faces soaked with tears almost entirely. Especially when within a community where judgment or criticism is set aside, it becomes an opportunity for everyone to express their feelings fully. This is considered one of the most beautiful aspects of this event.
Many may be familiar with hugging at the end of an activity which is somewhat common. Still, it must be admitted that there has never been a time when hugging someone gave this feeling before. In that moment, it felt like our hearts were truly connected.
Pleng, who is the host of the DUP Thailand community, shared that participating in DUP feels like doing an enjoyable form of meditation. When I was in the circle, I personally felt in a similar way.
Anyone who knows me would probably agree that I am not inclined towards spirituality (if anything, quite the opposite). However, the most impressive aspect is that every time we start singing and dancing, my mind feels remarkably clear. I usually have many thoughts going on in my head, but during the activity itself, I feel calmer and more meditative than ever. In a way, I saw something within myself that I’d never seen in any other activity.
Furthermore, the atmosphere during the dance, with mistakes in the movement or the singing part, provides a constant sense of “authenticity.” We feel the essence of “being alive” through recognizing mistakes. Singing a verse wrong this time, we try again. Dancing wrong the next, we try again. Everyone embraces the mistakes with laughter that is more than just covering them up. When we collectively laugh at our mistakes, it feels like a grape stomping ritual, realizing the pure and beautiful joy.
For those interested, you can join the DUP Thailand community to participate in weekly activities or occasional events. Seriously, even if you think you won’t like it, it’s an experience worth trying at least once anyway.
One of the things that has been a great inspiration for me from participating in DUP activities is realizing the importance of the heart and soul. Observing and connecting with others with the heart is the initial awareness towards recognizing people as “human”.
This should be one of the first things we discuss when we work related to various aspects of humanity.
This article is written by Plaster for Muse. See the original article in Thai here.
Translated by: Note & Pleng