The Mountain, The Murders, and The Little Dance that Could

May 17, 2017  by Dr. Suki Munsell

Anna and Larry Halprin began the dance on Mt. Tamalpais in response to the murders of four women in 1979. Trails were closed, on our once safe haven, through verdant forests, lush valleys and sunny slopes overlooking the vast panorama of the Pacific Ocean. Frustration and rage grew in our surrounding communities. Our beloved Mt.Tam was held hostage. We felt powerless to set her free until the day Anna and Larry invited us to mobilize our feelings and help heal the mountain, and ourselves. I was among that first group that danced and offered tributes at the murder sites along the trails. Several days later, the killer was caught. Advised by a Huichol shaman to continue for five years, we’ve now danced this ritual for thirty-six years.

“When we started the Planetary Dances on our own Mt. Tam,” Anna said, “I never imagined that our dance would be performed in over thirty countries and that we’d be invited to open the Venice Biennale last week.  Reporters from Italy and France called to interview me. We danced onto the world stage. I wish I could have gone to Venice,” she said. I watched her eyes darken with disappointment.

At age ninety-six, Anna Halprin’s touring days are over. “But Jahan and Dohee did a good job,” she adds, brightening. “We trained together to prepare them.” Jahan Khaligi, Anna’s grandson, is a poet activist following in his grandmother and mother Daria’s footsteps, using art for social engagement, a current focus of the art world. Dohee Lee, an award winning dancer and choreographer, brings her talents as a Korean Shaman and Taiko drummer to her ritual leadership.

Join me on Sunday, June 4

The 37th Planetary Dance on Mt Tamalpais is the mother site from which our dance circled the earth. We are blessed to still have Anna leading us: running or walking, pulsing in unison to the singular heart beat of the mother drum.  Our footfalls are prayers for those people and places we want to Connect and Protect.  “In this urgent time,”  writes Anna in her forthcoming book, Making Dances that Matter: Resources for Community Creativity, “it is more important than ever that we use all the resources we have—whether they are artistic, political, service-oriented, or educational—to heal our families, our communities, our land,  and ourselves.”  

We should dance

As if we were kids again

Souls too big to fit

into our small bodies

Leaping into unknown space

Unaware of what would come next


As if inscribed inside the folds of our flesh

Were scriptures of ancient text

And it was only through dancing

that this hidden wisdom could be expressed.

~Jahan Khaligi