Workshop on Gurdjieff sacred dances for awareness: Here and now, conducted by Jivan Sunder


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The quests to enrich, to upgrade and use dance and its purely physical expression as a therapeutic method eventually end up in the rhythm-plastic practices of one spiritual school or another. In spiritual schools man has ever since olden days searched to find human’s divine nature in an attempt to harmonise the psychophysical processes and achieve a more conscious presence in the physical world. Jivan Sunder, a follower of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866–1949), who teaches Gurdjieff sacred dances, held his thirteenth workshop in Sofia focusing on Gurdjieff dances for awareness: Here and now

Certain groups or schools were formed across the world over the years; still the legacy of Armenian- Gurdjieff (1866–1949), a mystic of Greek extraction, was disseminated as an established practice in the last decade and a half (J.Sunder). Gurdjieff has toured Asia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt and countries in Western and Eastern Europe for 20 years in a quest for traditional and esoteric knowledge, movement techniques of various ancient schools such as Sarmoung Brotherhood, Imastun Brotherhood (Crete), etc. Gurdjieff called his teaching The Fourth Way (Ouspensky) and created 250 short dance fragments meant for ensemble dance compositions. Using them and their variations, complete choreographic works may be built (e.g. Gurdjieff’s ballet The Struggle of the Magicians in 5 acts, premiered in St. Petersburg, in 1914.

Seeking to create his own ‘objective art’, Gurdjieff combined fragments of ceremonies and rituals, dance movements and postures, where primarily distinguished are the dervish dances (mainly of the Order of the Mevlevi, Whirling Dervishes by Jalāl ad-Din Muhammad Rūmi (13th c.) and eastern dances. It was probably Gurdjieff’s acquaintance with Emile-Jacques Dalcroze (1865–1950) that helped him to shape his main method of work, the rhythmic organisation of the movement.[1] The dance fragments are strictly defined and with divertissement structure. Any improvisation is allowed and mo particular dance style can be distinguished. They are an ingenious synthesis of sacred ritual movements, postures, rhythmic plasticity and breathing techniques. The emphasis is put on the necessity of consciousness and precise positioning of each part of the body according to the respective tilt, amplitude of movement, position and direction. It might seem on the face of it easy to be performed, but Gurdjieff always keeps an element of surprise for his disciples and takes them out of their comfort zone putting them in different patterns and situations[2]. This approach of including ‘illogical’ elements finds its application in the dance fragments as well.

Jivan Sunder teaches Gurdjieff dances and his teachers have been basically from the Bennett (who was a direct disciple of Gurdjieff ) lineage. He has been practicing the Movements for over 25 years now, conducting workshops and training courses across the world (Taiwan, Israel, China, etc.). ‘What they are for me – and why they are such a powerful practice – are, quite simply, truth embodied in movement: Truth…. dancing: they are the work of an enlightened man, Gurdjieff’.[3]


In every shorter workshop, Jivan Sunder emphasises the mastering of just a few dance-rhythmical fragments. Respectively, these are not arranged in a particular system that can eventually prepare the participants for stage performance, but rather they are independent dance sequences. The lessons of J. Sunder in Gurdjieff movements are in their essence a full-day lesson ending with a one-hour meditation with all the participants. Some of the movements are smooth and ‘meditative’, others are more dynamic and sharp, but they are absolutely deprived of external or internal emotional expression. Perhaps this is the reason that gives the feeling of military rigor and hypnotic environment of the performance though the sequences seem so slender and harmonious in the stupendous synchronicity of the participants. Jivan Sunder doesn’t give the names of the dance sequences from the beginning, but rather arranges them simply by numbers: first exercise, second exercise, etc. After the dance is over, the sequences receive names that may bring up associations with thematic lines as in November Dervish dance fragment. Here, however, contrary to the associations with the dervish dance sema[4], the lines of the hands are sharp and rapid, the legs are executing at times dance element like closing ‘scissors’ and quick steps (in place or crossing to the left or right side), but without any whirls.

A principal approach of Gurdjieff’s methodology is to accentuate the constant following of the rhythm and the conscious positioning of the performers in space, for instance: the elbow should form 90 degrees, the hand to be placed at 45 degrees in front of the chest, precisely fixed diagonal positions are abided by, etc. (Precisely the same positioning of the body and the limbs may be found and traced in the ancient techniques of Mesopotamia and Ancient India (Natyashastra and Bharata natyam), the Hermetic principles, the Pythagorean School’s exercises, Rudolf Steiner’s therapeutic eurythmy and Peter Deunov’s Paneurhythmy).


Contrary to the suggestopedia practices, based on suggestion, Jivan Sunder requires each performer to use their own energy and mental resources absolutely consciously, by gaining command of their thoughts, emotions and actions, consciously excluding the subconsciousness. Music and melody, of course, affect the emotions and the unconscious processes so they can easily distract the performer. Therefore, Gurdjieff involves in the musical accompaniment to the exercises a distinct rhythm, which, according to him, is the best organizer of the mind, emotions and body. ‘That is why I say that I am not teaching you to dance. Because when we hear “dance” the mind and the thought goes in the emotion instead simply to follow and count logically the numbers: 1, 2, 3…’, Sunder said.

Still, preliminary physical preparation of the body––warming up the muscle groups, joints and tendons––is what performers miss. Everyone gives the necessary time to do this in their own way before the lesson, but if they do not have enough physical culture and approach this can lead to incorrect loading and unpleasant consequences. That is the reason why his lessons cannot be defined as a form of dance exercise. The preparation of the participants is geared towards their consciousness and awareness. Before doing each of the dance sequences the performers sit on the ground focused on the sounding musical introduction This engages the mind and prepares for proper organisation and synchronicity of the actions during the performance. Sunder carefully and logically distributes the complexity of executing the movements, with each lesson increasing consecutively their complicity. Gradually, the dance fragments are enriched with a variety of footwork, including spins, changes of direction, giving names to the dance fragments, focusing the attention of the performers. In some exercises, specific words are added to certain movements such as ‘Christ’, ‘Buddha’, ‘Mohammed’, ‘Lama’ in the Four Religions dance fragment. The purpose of each exercise is to teach participants’ minds and bodies to follow the beat and the sequence of movements outlined by the music.

Jivan Sunder reminds the participants that they are not attending a dance workshop, neither is he a dance teacher: ‘This is not a dance lesson. This is a workshop for awareness of the moment––here and now––through dance-rhythmic sequences and structures by Gurdjieff’.


Gurdjieff sacred dances/movements develop person’s ability to find, control and transform poorly functioning psycho-physiological models lying unconscious in one’s mind and body. ‘I cannot call them healing or therapeutic movements, but they give you tools for life. How you will benefit from them depends on the person…. The effect is like therapy, because seeing, experiencing and realising… you see your habits, your personality, your life strategies that have reflected in the way you move through life’, Sunder said.

Accuracy requires noting that the so-called sacred dances of Gurdjieff are actually his personal selection and synthesis of dance, music and rhythmic breathing techniques. Gurdjieff has made an impressive logically held fusion of ancient dance movements, practices and rituals. Principally, every movement and musical tone/phrase taken out of the context of a ritual or practice do not carry, of course, the same power and sacred act as if they were performed successively in their sense and meaning in the ritual. Thus fragmented and extracted from the sacred practices, they lose the meaning they have had in certain ancient rituals and are put into service to the new originator’s purposes.

Gurdjieff sought practical and applicable aspects in the particular movements, when structured in dance-rhythmic fragments, i.e. how these would help to reach the centre of one’s being and grasp the ‘true reality’. Gurdjieff (and hence Sunder) transform them into a successful practice of self-awareness here and now with a strong impact on the modern Gurdjieff movements schools. Here lies one of the major contributions of Gurdjieff dance/movement practices leading to mastered self-awareness, while ancient occult techniques are used as a basis for practical developments designed to lead to self-knowledge rather than having a therapeutic effect.

I believe that in view of my own dance-therapeutic work, Gurdjieff’s legacy is indispensable in terms of the material gathered by him. His methods and approaches though lack specifics when it comes to the very movements, their meanings and the vibes flowing from them and if incorrectly interpreted and mastered, these may have a detrimental effect on the performer. This particular workshop conducted by Sunder is yet another proof of his exceptional psychological approach to and professionalism in his long-standing work with Gurdjieff movements. Consequently, each participant should know better than to rediscover his or her true self and become self-aware in this particular way. This, of course, is true of any contemporary practice, dance-therapeutic including, meant to achieve self-awareness, inner balance, etc. It should be noted that historically, there have been other spiritual schools and/or teachers that have mastered and used sacred movements and music without even moving physically, but rather through the strength of mind, augmented cognition and concentration.

[1] Further information in: Driver, Ethel (1951). A pathway to Dalcroze eurhythmics. London: Thomas Nelson & Sons.; Vanderspar, Elizabeth. A Dalcroze handbook : principles and guidelines for teaching eurhythmics. London: Roehampton Institute, 1984.

[2]  Even risky such as crossing a border where there is a war.

[3] From the front-page from J. Sunder’s website:

[4] Almost motionless hands placed in one surface and gradually hurried on circular movements of the performers around their centre.

Workshop on Gurdjieff sacred dances for awareness: Here and now, conducted by Jivan Sunder

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