After five years of academic study, resulting in a BA and a BEd, Bernice went on to qualify as Master of Pastoral Studies: Certification in Spiritual Care. She went on to study Counseling with the Canadian Association of Spiritual Care (CASC).
Bernice’s professional work included fifteen years of high school teaching, four years as Inner City director of studies for Young Adults volunteering, and Campus Ministry.
In 1995 Bernice attended her first dance workshop—a weekend out of town, facilitated by internationally acclaimed teacher, June Watts.
“The summer morning was brilliant and when music started with drums, June stepped forward with the first steps of a simple greeting dance, ‘Enas Mythos’. As we all followed electricity went through me. I knew I belonged and was where I’d always wanted to be but hadn’t known it.
I only came because a friend I trusted gave me a brochure. Thereafter, we hosted at least three weekend workshops a year, led by teachers from Europe and Britain. Our home leader was Mair Smith who was smitten similarly, and so organized these events to which 30+ participants came consistently. When Mair retired, I became ‘the leader’. Sacred Circle Dance has continued weekly in
Edmonton for 27 years—until Covid 19 of course.
Within a year of learning some dances, I realised that this unifying ritual would be successful at the hospital where I worked as a
spiritual care and counselling provider to those who were there for treatment for severe and persistent mental illness. At the start, some staff had the time to accompany participants; soon I was the only one who would invite patients into the large room that was available. When they arrived, they saw the centerpiece and a candle burning which struck them with awe (nowhere else were candles allowed). When I took off my shoes, and walked into the center, they automatically did the same. As I had my hands out to hold their hands so did they hold hands.
From the start, this weekly event was regarded as an alternative experience—one in which it was simply understood that dancers entered into the tranquility that persisted throughout. I was the only one who spoke and that was to give the story connected to the
dance. My established role as a ‘spiritual authority’ had an influence on the trust level. Most would never have done anything in community before, at the facility or elsewhere.
Staff were confounded. Further, the dances that provided variety, ease and reverence contributed to their success: Enas Mythos (always) at the start; Tread Gently (one of Bethan Freedman’s choreographies), Give Yourself to Love, Nigun Atik (a joyful Israeli dance with finger clicks and clapping), Bells of Norwich and so on—usually about 6 dances for the hour. After my suggestion that it was time to think about who needed light and support, I invited us all to step forward as one to blow out the candle—sending the light forth.
The repertoire grew over the 10 years as did the experience.
I left the hospital eventually, but continued working at the downtown clinic where I was known for years as ‘the dancing lady’. People would recognize me and remind that they had joined in and were always so positive and proud of themselves for dancing in the circle. Most were not religious, yet their feedback suggested that they experienced the atmosphere of the dance circle as deeply spiritual.”
You can download an article from Bernice below.
Many thanks to Sheryl Ackerman for these photos.