Centering Prayer and Sacred Circle Dance


by Suzi Kindervatter

Centering Prayer has been my core spiritual practice for a more than twenty years.  But over the past decade or so, I’ve also been drawn a practice of embodied prayer called Sacred Circle Dance.  For me, this practice is like Centering Prayer with music and motion.

Sacred Circle Dance grew out of the folk-dance traditions of Greece and the Baltics.  Many of the dances were developed in Findhorn, a spiritual community in Scotland from the 1960s to the present.  Today, there are groups around world, from Korea to South Africa to Brazil, and across the US meeting in person or on Zoom and welcoming all to participate.  It’s a loosely organized network, with groups sharing music and dances across boundaries.

The dance steps are easy to learn and repetitious, creating a meditative flow.  The music spans genres including Taize chants, sacred and folk music of Eastern Europe and Greece, Native American flute, even some songs of Leonard Cohen.

My first experience with prayerful dance was a workshop with modified Sufi dances.  As we danced, I felt the Spirit moving powerfully within myself and around the circle.  I wanted to go deeper.  About a week later, I found a small announcement in a local community newspaper for a Sacred Circle Dance group meeting on Tuesday mornings at a Jewish temple only two miles from my house.  A perfect example of “spiritual synchronicity”! I went to the group the following Tuesday and have been there most Tuesday mornings since.

Cynthia Bourgeault, in The Wisdom Way of Knowing, talks about “tools for wisdom.”   A “wisdom tool,” she emphasizes, fundamentally must be a “surrender practice.”  As she wrote: “Any brace position throws you immediately into your small self with its incessant wanting, needing, and insistence, and this immediately clouds the heart …. Going with softness, the ‘yes,’ always connects you immediately with your heart, and then the divine intelligence can begin to operate.”  Sacred Circle Dance facilitates this “softness,” this “yes” for me.

Each week, our group begins by gathering in a circle with hands joined.  We ground ourselves with focused breathing and offer our intentions for the dance that day: peace, equanimity, healing, hope …. And then, as we dance, these intentions are echoed in our hearts and expressed by our bodies.

At the end of each two-hour gathering, I feel renewed, uplifted, and deeply bonded with others in the circle.  At least half of the dancers identify as Jewish, others as Christian, a few as Buddhist, and some unspecified.  Sacred Circle Dance seems to transcend religion and promote a sense of oneness.  While we may not know the details of one another’s lives, we feel connected.  Unconditional love and acceptance flow around the circle.  I was the first of our local Contemplative Outreach community to join the dance and have been joined by several others.  Some other dancers have told us that we radiate a spiritual grounding that enhances the dance circle.  The dance, in turn, has enhanced our own prayer practices.

In the June 2019 Contemplative Outreach newsletter, Jim Reale wrote about “Vestibules to Centering Prayer,” practices which can proceed Centering Prayer to integrate five dimensions: body, breath, mind, intellect and emotion. Jim maintains that these practices, “can initiate a process of purification and may well reduce, remove or replace the obstacle with an unimpeded opening to the practice and benefits of Centering Prayer. These vestibules accelerate what Fr. Thomas calls, “Divine Therapy” and can assist us in moving closer to our true self and finally, to “presume we are in divine union.”

Sacred Circle Dance can be a practice we do before Centering Prayer, as a vestibule, or as a practice complementary to Centering.  If you can’t dance with a group, you can create movements on your own, and also adapt them for any mobility and space limitations.

Centering Prayer and Sacred Circle Dance are both practices of letting go into God’s love.  During dance, the combination of music, movement and community, for me, facilitates and deepens that “letting go.”  I’ve never felt like a graceful dancer, but I’m able to flow when my body moves to the steps and music.  A guideline of Sacred Circle Dance is “no mistakes, just variations.”  The idea isn’t to do the steps “right,” but to enter into the divine stream of movement and music.

Our local chapter of Contemplative Outreach, Contemplative Outreach of Maryland and Washington, DC, offered Sacred Circle Dance as part of the recent United in Prayer Day 2024. We danced to a chant called “One Breath,” with words we feel capture the essence of Fr. Thomas’ teachings.

The music is by One Sky Music, from their album Songs of Awakenings. (

Here are the words:

One Breath, breath of eternity

    One Song, becomes a symphony

    Of hearts, meeting in harmony

    With you, blessed one 

    One breath…

You can access a video explaining the dance here as well as this video here where several of us are dancing together to the chant.  Our circle is intentionally left open inviting you to join us as we move together as One Breath.


Suzi Kindervatter is a spiritual group and retreat leader based on Washington, DC.  She has been a member of the same Centering Prayer group since 2001 and serves on the Coordinating Committee for Contemplative Outreach of Maryland and Washington, DC.  She is a commissioned Centering Prayer presenter, graduate of the Shalem Institute Leading Spiritual Groups and Retreats Program, a Veriditas-certified Labyrinth Facilitator, and an evolving Sacred Circle Dance teacher.