Documentaries

These are documentaries about dance as medicine that we recommend:

Dances of Ecstasy by Michelle Mahrer and Nicole Ma (2003)
Dances of Ecstasy explores how different people around the world connect with the transcendental forces through rhythm and dance. A sensory journey through rhythm, dance and music. Viewers visit Namibia, Korea, Nigeria, New York, Brazil, Turkey, Morocco, USA and Australia on a trance journey. The DVD also features four illuminating documentaries about various rituals portrayed in the film and a commentary by the producers. There is also a closer look at a whirling dervishes festival. www.dancesofecstasy.com

Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti by Maya Deren (1951)
This documentary was produced by an experimental film maker, anthropologist and voodoo initiate. The film consists of a display of sigils for a particular loa and footage of voodoo initiates in rites appropriate to that loa. Many of the worshippers appear to be possessed and the effect is very moving. Maya Deren, though herself European, was an initiate of Voodoo allowing her unprecedented access to this still poorly understood religion. To my knowledge, no other film presents actual Voodoo rituals in such an open, reverential way. A book of the same title is also available.

Les Maitres Foux (The Mad Masters) by Jean Rouch (1954))
Les Maitres Fous is about the ceremony of a religious sect, the Hauka, which was widespread in West Africa from the 1920s to the 1950s. Hauka participants were usually rural migrants from Niger who came to cities such as Accra in Ghana (then Gold Coast), where they found work as laborers in the city's lumber yards, as stevedores at the docks, or in the mines. There were at least 30,000 practicing Hauka in Accra in 1954 when Jean Rouch was asked by a small group to film their annual ceremony During this ritual, which took place on a farm a few hours from the city, the Hauka entered trance and were possessed by various spirits associated with the Western colonial powers: the governorgeneral, the engineer, the doctor's wife, the wicked major, the corporal of the guard.

Floating in the Air, Followed by the Wind by Ronald Simons (1973)
This film documents a Hindu religious festival called Thaipusam, which is celebrated each year near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It notes that, weeks before, devotees gather to prepare themselves spiritually and to construct the Kavadis, or highly decorated shoulder poles, which they will carry at the festival to fulfill their vows. The film also shows groups of worshippers who offer the sacrifice of piercing their bodies with long needles and hooks and are led by a guru skilled in inducing trance states brought on by rhythmic music, dance and expectation which prevent worshippers from feeling pain. It describes the trance as a state of grace, very pleasurable, "like floating in the air, followed by the wind."

Salve a Umbanda by José W. Araújo (1988)
A documentary about Umbanda, Brazil's fastest-growing religion. Centers on the cult's pageantry and public festivals as well as its more esoteric, exotic, and rarely-seen ceremonies. Shot on location in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Brasilia, and Fortazela, this film includes commentary by numerous authorities and practitioners, and it places Umbanda in the context of Brazil's turbulent history and its cultural and racial melting pot.

LEMPAD OF BALI by Lorne Blair and John Darling (1980)
In April 1978, in a village situated in the fertile central hills of Bali, the island's greatest living artist died at the age of 116. Lempad's longevity was cause enough for wonder, but the magnificent body of art and architecture that he left behind is a greater tribute to an unusual man. He lived his creative life through the most traumatic century of Balinese history. The movie follows villagers as they prepare the elaborate funeral ceremony for this man revered as a god.

Herdsmen of the Sun by Werner Herzog (1989)
German director Werner Herzog is known for setting his feature films such as "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" and "Fitzcarraldo" in remote places inhabited by primitive people, so it is not all that surprising that this documentary studies the Wodaabe, a tribe of Saharan nomads whose life has not progressed much beyond the Stone Age. Herzog, an interesting anthropologist to be sure, is captivated by the mating rituals of the tribe, in which the men make themselves beautiful so that the women can select their husbands.

Oss! Oss! Wee Oss! - Mayday in Padstow by Alan Lomax (1951)
May Eve and May Day in Cornwall. One of the most remarkable ritual community ceremonies, recorded here on film. Oss! Oss! Wee Oss! Has won much acclaim, and was frequently included in courses taught by anthropologist Margaret Mead, who was particularly interested in the pre-ritual warm-up sessions performed by the “Hobby-Horse” and “Teaser” dancers during the hours before midnight on May Eve. The coastal village of Padstow is completely given over to the “Old Oss” and his followers on these two days.

The Gods of Bali by Robert Snyder, assisted by Allegra Fuller Snyder (1952)
A black and white feast of Balinese trance dance and ritual produced in the 1930s by Nederland Film. Snyder, who edited the found footage fifteen years later, was a documentarian who, with Robert Flaherty, made "The Titan: Story of Michelangelo," for which he won an Academy Award in 1951. He specialized in films about artistic legends of the past century, including Pablo Casals, Henry Miller and Willem de Kooning. Allegra Fuller Snyder, the daughter of Buckminster Fuller, is a professor Emeritus of Dance and Dance Ethnology at University of California and has been a pioneer in the conservation and dissemination of the history of dance.

Trance and Dance in Bali by Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead (1952)
The film shows possession trance within the context of the Barong play. The Barong play is performed to bring the presence of the gods to the village. Often their presence remains for months afterward. . In the Barong play we see a very powerful representation of trance in the performance of self-stabbing with kris (a short, wavy-bladed sword . This self-stabbing ritual is called ngurek and is performed only while in trance.