The Yaqui Deer Dancer: The Art of Becoming What You Are Doing

The Yaqui Deer Dancer: The Art of Becoming What You Are Doing
Photo credit: USDA photo by Scott Bauer. Wikimedia.

To perform, whether surgery or dance, we must practice. We practice doing what we cannot do. By giving ourselves wholly to practicing we may transcend practicing, and find ourselves playing, with mind, body, heart and soul fully surrendered to our primary impulse to offer ourselves -- how we are, and what we do -- to the well-being of others.

Of the many beautiful dance performances I have seen, one stands out, lifted to an unmatched level by a dancer who offered a lesson which I have spent a lifetime learning.

While living in New York City, I went to a performance of the Mexican Ballet Folklorico. The hall was filled to capacity, and the many children attending lent an air of informality, enjoyment and eager anticipation of the event. I had come through my interest in folk dancing and because the group was reputed to offer a varied, colorful and exuberant performance.

I sat back in my balcony seat, and enjoyed a series of acts, well-performed and well-accompanied by that bright, busy, blood-running Mexican music.

Then came time for the "Yaqui Indian Deer Dance." The stage emptied, the lighting dwindled to a solitary wide white spot, and a single man walked on stage. Medium height, shoulder length black hair, barefoot, and wearing only a loincloth, he seemed quietly illumined from within.

He stood completely still for a moment, and in that stillness the children stopped rustling and the hall became silent. Then, with no musical accompaniment, he began to dance.

As he danced, I found myself leaning forward in my seat, irresistibly attracted toward him by the sight and feeling of what was happening.

First the Yaqui assumed the role of a hunter, so perfectly mimed and moved I began to feel I had been transported to a Mexican forest.

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Then he took the part of the deer being hunted..... and I witnessed a most astounding transformation: I watched a man become a deer on the stage of a hall in New York City!

Something twisted in my mind, which kept trying to reconcile two contradictory messages: 1) There was a man on stage. 2) There was a deer on stage. What was two-legged was now four-legged. What had moved like a lithe hunter, skillfully stalking, now moved and browsed, then became still in the listening stance of a deer.

The deer reverted, perfectly, to the hunter one more time, who fitted an arrow to his bow, and prepared to shoot the deer.

Again the conversion was complete.

The deer re-appeared, running through the forest, tried to evade the arrow but instead there was a vast, charged silence in the hall.

Then the deer dissolved and became a Yaqui Indian dancer, and the clapping began.

For the first of a few rare times in my life, I was in the presence of a person who had transcended both practice and performance in the process of becoming what he was doing.

It was -- it is -- a marvel, a wonder, a lesson, a gift, and sometimes, when practice seems particularly difficult, I am eased by remembering the dancer who became a deer.

Recommended book:

The Power of Miracles: Stories of God in the Everyday
by Joan Wester Anderson

The Power of Miracles by Joan Wester AndersonDozens of wonderful, true stories of God's presence in our lives light up these pages, shedding blessings of comfort and renewed faith on everyone who reads them.

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About The Author

Eric Leber

Eric Leber has "been" an office gofer, airlines reservation agent, assistant music therapist, groundskeeper, education director, reservations agent, laundry truck driver, elementary school music teacher, chief executive officer, masseur, rebirther, workshop facilitator, T'ai Chi Ch'uan instructor, and retreat manager for a spiritual community. Presently he offers classes in T'ai Chi Ch'uan, guidance, shops, cooks, cleans up, makes music, meditates, and writes.

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