Dance is one of the most ancient and widespread human behaviors, but no physical artifacts of this art exist. What little we can ascertain of ancient dances comes from scant descriptions and those few practiced to this day. For millennia, dances have been used as a form of social cohesion, religious devotion, and even healing. Many have origins shrouded in mystery, and most are near extinction.
10. Whirling Dervishes
The dervishes of the Mevlevi Order achieve union with the divine through dance. Founded in 1273 by the poet and mystic Rumi, this order derives from Konya in modern-day Turkey. Rumi was born in Afghanistan but migrated westward with this family following the Mongol onslaught. Rumi was introduced to the mystic tradition of dancing through his friend, Shams-e Tabrizi. Following Rumi’s death at the hands of his own son, Sultan Veled, his grandson, and a disciple founded the Mevlevi Order.
The Mevlevi are a highly respected school within Sufism, Islam’s esoteric component. Attributed to Rumi, the whirling dervish dance known as Semawas formalized in the 15th century. Each element is symbolic. The white skirt signifies the ego’s shroud. The camel-hair hat is the tombstone of the ego. The removal of the semazen’s (dancer’s) black cloak symbolizes spiritual rebirth. Crossed arms signify the number one and divine unity.