Contemplative Dance practitioners invite islanders to multi-day celebration

Contemplative Dance practitioners gather in the Hanna Barn studio. (Courtesy Photo)

Contemplative Dance practitioners gather in the Hanna Barn studio. (Courtesy Photo)

When Joan Hanna opens the doors to her spacious, light-filled island studio — Hanna Barn — next week, it will be to welcome all islanders to a multi-day international event celebrating the 80th birthday of Barbara Dilley, the founder of Contemplative Dance Practice.

A contemporary dancer who toured with the early Merce Cunningham Company, among other influential choreographers, Dilley developed her unique practice while attending Naropa University in Boulder Colorado in the 1970s. She also pioneered the dance program at the university and eventually became president of the school.

As a student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, author and founder of the university, Dilley hoped to encourage dancers to meditate. Her Contemplative Dance Practice (CDP) is about “embodied awareness,” a pedagogy that brings together the discipline of sitting meditation with free movement studies and the practice of improvisation.

It is also a way to connect community, said Hanna, who studied the form at Naropa in the 80s and then offered the practice on Vashon for about 25 years. Now practiced globally, CDP sessions open with sitting meditation followed first by a personal awareness practice and then a group practice called “Open Space.” It concludes with discussion and observations.

Though CDP unites “dance, somatic practice and meditation as a gateway for creative expression,” to call it dance is a bit of a misnomer, Hanna said.

“Most people think of dance as a specific form. This is not that,” she said. “Barbara called it ‘fearless dancing.’ So for me, I get off my (meditation) cushion and go out into the (group) space. I can sing, I can dance, I can not-move, but the minute I feel inauthentic, I sit down to be in meditation or to enhance the witness.”

And the witness, Hanna said, is the most important element.

“Witness without judgment,” she said. “That unites the group. It is a whole experience — the sitting, the moving alone or in a group — of awareness practice. It has influenced me greatly. In the 80s, I was just the mover, I couldn’t sit still, but I loved the practice immediately. Over the years, it has changed. The practice has given me a tremendous foundation. It is all about space.”

It is also an opportunity to integrate outer and inner worlds, alone and together, added Karen Nelson, CDP practitioner, islander and co-organizer of the event. In a recent email, she concurred with Hanna that CDP welcomes all media of expression.

“Barbara made the form open enough to include the whole Naropa arts community — many people work with their favorite media — movement, drawing, writing, poetics, music,” she said. “Our Vashon community includes dancers, writers, sketchers, singers, etc.”

Hanna, 78, looks forward to the celebration and laughed when she said she “still has a little juice left for another teaching.” She’s lived on Vashon for over 40 years and has taught yoga, tai chi, CDP and contact dance improvisation. She said she’s thrilled to offer the event to islanders.

“We have the most gorgeous community on Vashon,” she said. “Community is an endangered species these days. We are all fractured, and we have a safe place here to keep practicing fearlessly.”

The multi-day event, hosted by Hanna and the Vashon CDP community and co-organized by Nelson, is open to all, and participants can attend as often as desired. The events are offered by “free will donation,” and newcomers will be given guidance. A registration form can be found at or at

Sessions are as follows:

Opening Ceremony and first session will run from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 13. The next sessions will be 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday March 15; 10 a.m. to noon and 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, March 16; 10 a.m. to noon, 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday March 17; and 10 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 18.

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