The Story

Origins of Planetary Dance

From 1979 to 1981 six women were murdered on Mt. Tamalpais, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. The trails were closed and the community lived in helplessness and rage. At the time, Anna and Lawrence Halprin were leading a community workshop called “A Search for Living Myths and Rituals.” The participants decided to enact a positive myth in dance: the reclaiming of the mountain. That ritual, called In and On the Mountain, was performed over several days and included a walk along the very trails where the killings occurred. A few days after the ritual, the killer was caught and peace returned to the mountain.

Don Jose Mitsuwa, a Huichol shaman then 109 years old, visited Anna Halprin and heard this story. He said, “This mountain is one of the most sacred places on Earth. I believe in what your people did but to be successful in purifying this mountain, you must return to it and dance for five years.”

And so the living myth grew. Inspired by the “coincidental” capture of the killer and mindful of the shaman’s counsel, the dance continued for five years every spring, each time deepening participants’ understanding and expanding their vision. In 1985 the dance was renamed Circle the Earth. Where participants had once danced to reclaim a small measure of peace on the mountain, they now danced to restore health and peace to the planet. People in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Africa came to participate, helping the dance live its name, circling the Earth.

People around the world wanted to share in Circle the Earth, and so the Planetary Dance was created, using one of the dances from Circle the Earth, the Earth Run, as the common element. People were invited to choose their own theme and add their own preparation and their own reflection, but everyone shared the Earth Run. The Planetary Dance engaged people strongly enough that it has been performed in dozens of countries for more than two decades.

More About Circle the Earth

The following text is excerpted from Circle the Earth Manual: A Guide for Dancing Peace with the Planet, by Anna Halprin with Allan Stinson and peacemakers around the world, Copyright 1987 by Anna S. Halprin.

CIRCLE THE EARTH is a Dance Ritual. It has a purpose: to make Peace. It calls upon a Higher Power; it is a series of moving ceremonies and prayers. It draws the strength it needs to call upon that Higher Power from the collective spirit and vision ofยท the People who create it. Most importantly, it is witnessed by People who understand and support its purpose: People committed to the creation of Peace on the Planet.


As a performer, you come to CIRCLE THE EARTH with your own expectations and intentions, and these are valuable both to the process of creating the ritual and to your own growth. However, it is important that you always keep the larger purpose of CIRCLE THE EARTH clear in your awareness, that you place your own individual experience within that context. We are here to create peace. Focusing upon that single purpose, like a lens that focuses the rays of the sun, is the first step in empowering the ritual.


What you call this Higher Power is not important, be it God, Buddha, Allah, Spirit, Group Mind, Nature, Universal Principle, Source, Goddess, Father, Energy, Nothing, One, All, I Am, the Self, or yourself. What is important is that you are willing to call upon this Higher Power, as you imagine or know It to be. It does not matter where you place it: in the Sky, in the Earth, in the sea, in the Wind, in your Mind, in your Soul, in your Belly, Everywhere at once or Nowhere at all. The important thing is that you turn there and call upon It.

We are many different people on the Planet. Our beliefs are just as many. We do not have to agree on the name, shape, number, size, sex, policies or even the existence of a Higher Power to create Peace. What you must do while creating CIRCLE THE EARTH is remain true to what you trust and respect the truth and trust of others.


Making a peace dance, like making peace, is not a small task. It takes the harmony of many to stop a war that only a few might begin. So CIRCLE THE EARTH needs the wining commitment and contribution of a large and varied group of people to create a circle strong enough for clear images of peace to come through. Although it has been performed by smaller groups, CIRCLE THE EARTH works best with at least 100 performers, 200 feet, to dance upon the Planet for its life and healing- – to find a dance that inspires us to keep the Earth alive.


They are family and friends, neighbors and colleagues. Unlike most audiences, they do not come to be entertained, but to support, encourage and participate. There is a sense of purpose in their presence.

As a performer, you will come to more fully understand your role in the ritual as you go through the workshops prior to performance. You must also understand what it means for you to be witnessed, what role the people who come to CIRCLE THE EARTH will take.

A few years ago Anna had the privilege of attending a Native American Sun Dance. The Sun Dance requires a deep commitment on the part of the performers. They must spend a year preparing to do it. This requires that they live according to a strict traditional Indian way of life. Ten days beforehand they fast and take sweats. The performer begins the dance with prayers and blessings and then submits to having the leader take sharp bear claws and penetrate his chest. The bear claws are attached to thongs which stretch out like a maypole to a young green tree planted in the center of the dance space. They dance in rhythm around the pole until it is time to be released. Then they pull away with the weight of their bodies until the bear claws tear open the flesh. At this particular performance one male dancer was unable to release the claws and we saw his excruciating and painful struggle. Anna turned away. Next to her an old Indian woman sitting on tile ground suddenly and fiercely snatched a twig and walloped Anna on the shins with such force that she doubled over. Anna learned in that one split second that as a witness her role was to support the performer. She was not there to be a judge, to be entertained, to see a spectacle-she was there to pray, to encourage, to make sure the performers achieve their task and to be totally and irrevocably present. She was there to witness.

CIRCLE THE EARTH is a peace dance. Not a dance about peace. Not a dance for peace. But a peace dance: a dance in the spirit of peace. It is a dance that embodies our fears of death and destruction, a dance that becomes a bridge and then crosses over into the dynamic state of being called peace. CIRCLE THE EARTH is a dance of peacemakers. A dance that makes peace with itself, makes peace between the performers, makes peace with the Spirit, and ultimately makes peace with the Earth on which it moves. In a world where war has become a national science, peacemaking must become a community and planetary art in the deepest sense of the word: an exemplification of our ability to cooperate in creation, an expression of our best collective aspirations and a powerful act of magic.

In large group dances an exceptional phenomenon occurs time and time again. When enough people move together in a common pulse with a common purpose, an amazing force, an ecstatic rhythm eventually takes over. People stop moving as individuals and begin to move as if they were parts of a single body, not in, uniform motion, but in deeply interrelated ways. In these archetypal movements they seem to be tracing out the forms and patterns of a larger organism, communicating with and being moved by a group spirit.

This is an ancient phenomenon in dance. Cultures everywhere in the world have channeled the power of such a group spirit to help them bring rain, hunt, raise crops, and initiate the young. It is a power that can renew, inspire, teach, create and heal. In Circle The Earth, this power is used towards peace.

Living Myths, like all things born from the seed of the heart, either grow and change with time or die. Fed by experience and nurtured by continuous renewal, a Living Myth can remain vital in a community for centuries. The mythology of peace embodied in Circle The Earth is a living myth; it is constantly informed and reshaped by the lives it touches. It is a young Myth and an open-ended one.

Photo by John Kokoska

Photo by Marie Larsen