What is it?

Maybe you 've ever seen them at work on a Turkish folklore evening: human spinning tops, who - dressed in long robes - quickly and if necessary hours swirling around their own axis.

Rest assured, on a course it involves less violent. You will be inaugurated with beginner moves, combined with Persian poetry and religious texts. Sometimes there is brought live music, or a shiatsu master offers his services: who can help you to flow energy freely through your body and - yes, here we go again - to activate the blocked chakras. The central idea is that you come off your limitations by turning, and become one with yourself, the earth and God, a "force" that lives in everything and everyone. In the showbiz version dervishes are almost always men, but in practice the dance is equally practiced by women.

Where do they get it?

DerwisjdansenYou may call yourself a 'dervish' when you are initiated into Sufism, a mystical movement that arose from Islam. It is not a church or sect, there is not really a hierarchy of priests and bishops, though it did work with students and masters. The word could refer to the Arabic for "wool" (the woolen robes of the earliest Sufis) or the word for "threshold" because you’re in Sufism on the border between the earthly and the divine. When dancing you can see how the dervishes reach one hand to heaven, and the other points to the earth. That dance (also called "sema") was developed by Mevlana Rumi, a poet who died in 1273 in Konya, Turkey, that is still the center of the Sufi dance. Whirling is one of many ways to become one with God, just as poetry or music can be.

A key figure of modern Sufi is the Indian Hazrat Inayat Khan, who in 1910 founded his Sufi movement in the U.S.. He traveled extensively throughout the West, where he preached his message, which still sounds remarkably modern. He invites people to drop their limitations on one's own body, their own culture and their own family; to respect all religions and release personal problems . A beautiful Sufi wisdom compares people with the back of a carpet: everyone 's in his own stud, but when you flip that carpet, you see only the beautiful whole.

Special detail

There's remarkably much danced in a circle, and it even seems sometimes as if we do a Sirtaki in oriental style. No coincidence, as we learn, everything comes together in a circle, and you can easily transmit energy. Moreover, it actually matters which way you turn: it must be done from right to left, toward the eternal, where we come from and want to go back.

Who can teach it?

Dervish dancing is usually organized within a Sufi order, but that is not a requirement: those who feel called to, can teach. We were hosted by the Dutch Maryam Linders. As a child she grew up in a cold family, she says, and that lack of warmth she then already spontaneously compensated by turning. Some 27 years ago, when they were in crisis after a divorce, she saw the dervish dancing happen on television. She was looking for a teacher, she read, she traveled to Turkey. She was ordained dervish dancing master and is henceforth the love for dancing.

What is promised?

Everything and nothing. Dervish dancing can release energy, it can be healing, it can even clean the soul, as it is called. Just like a centrifuge swings off water, your body swing of impurities and negative emotions outwards, so you can wear better pain. Sometimes. Maybe. Maryam Linders refrain wisely of big promises, but it is still possible to hear heavy words, such as searching for "the healing surface under all pains', or 'move around our blocks’. You cannot escape the impression that something like that again gives (too) high expectations for some students. "People tend to fixate on one side, for example, the idea that their husband has them left " says Maryam. "By turning you learn to see things from a different angle, literally and figuratively, as you discover new opportunities. You go looking for something 'complete' in men, what is not hurt, from there to strengthen the soul, but you cannot make any promises. There is a good Sufi image of a tree dropping its apples without asking or they will rot now, be eaten or spread their seeds.

When not to dance?

There are no contraindications. Everyone may dance, but not everyone can do it: "There are people who are so sick that they might not have the talent, but have than other talents, such as cooking, writing or singing."

The guinea pig

"In alternative courses more often you get the feeling that you are stepping into another world, but here's the jump total. Behind a rainy street in Schoten is the colorful Tibetan Institute and there, in the little garden, Maryam Linders is running photogenic circles. So from far it looks very simply: arms spread, eyes closed and swirl it! During the afternoon session in the dance hall, I soon discover that it still has some more feet into the earth. When we slowly build the official dervish step (right foot over the left, then left pull close), learn how to greet each other (with arms crossed, make eye contact, head slightly bent), or with eyes closed in a circle and listening to Sufi music, Maryam runs between us, and corrects us here and there. At my first dance steps she comes in front of me, and I recognize that look: it's the same with all the others who have ever tried to teach me waltzing or flamenco dancing. But Maryam speaks liberating words: "It is not the technology, but the experience that counts. Even if you supposedly dances error, it does have an effect on you."

When we finally get really swirling, it appears not even to be the most difficult: coming to a halt is the real challenge for the beginner! The ground is treacherous close, seems to subside away under our feet. One by one the 'dropouts' go down to the ground, while the Sufi music endlessly and beautiful swirls on. Pure enjoyment is then when we sit in a circle on pads. Maryams’ supervisor Shervin Nekuee read to us from texts in Farsi (Persian), which he then translates into Dutch. Poetry - in which the delirium of becoming one is central - reminiscent of the lyrics of the Song of Solomon, and is soothing, almost imploring. Incidentally, the dancing itself, is nothing but one piece of a larger whole: music is also heard, we walk, breathe, say or sing ritual texts as: Alla hu (God, inner sound), La ilaha il Allah (There is no god but only God), Bismillah ir Rachman ir Rahim (in the name of God the compassionate, the merciful). That 's the most surprising of the afternoon: that you can hear at a time when the churches are emptying people excited call their faith in an unknown God. There is even a ritual hand washing to pass, with scented water from Konya, central Turkey dervish dance while we repeat: " This is not my body, this body is the temple of God. "

At the end Maryam comes to everyone for a greet with a goodbye kiss. She wanted to give us a bit of silence, she says, a little peace in the ups and downs of life: "As the garment of the dancer is waving down, so goes life, with mountain and valley, the dervish would - despite the many moving - especially bring inner peace, as it can be silent deep in the infinite ocean.”

That inner silence appears to everyone different. Afterwards photographer Annick feel chills, and my body storms, even 24 hours later, I 'm not some giddy, but really seasick. No dervish legs, I think. Or I have not tried hard enough? "If you want, you will eventually overcome the sickness," it sounds. "But you have to really want it." Oh, I must have other talents."


A beautiful experience, with surprising moments. Especially the chanted prayers and ritual salutations gave me some discomfort, but for other participants showed that precisely the beauty of the course. That seems perfectly to meet our Western need for meaning response: the very modern question of what we can do for others and how we can fill our lives.

By Kaat Schaubroeck (Good Feeling, January 2004) (Hln 01/01/2008