Phyllis Moses witnessed the Tara Dance for the first time in the 80’s. She performed with the Tara Dancers many times on Maui and then moved to Seattle. A few years later she participated in the dance with the Seattle Tara Dancers and felt the depth and beauty of the practice reveal itself at a new level. She has been leading a circle in the Seattle area ever since. With the accomplishment of leading this performance in Tonasket, training the dancers, etc., she has fulfilled the requirements for graduation to Level 3 in Tara Dhatu’s Student Teacher Program, and is now an official ”Presenter of Tara’s Mandala”.
First Annual Tara Dance Festival in Tonasket, WA.
By Phyllis Moses
Our festival was held the weekend before Independence Day, a cherished American holiday celebrating the freedoms Americans enjoy. We, too, were celebrating the freedom to explore other paths and realized not only our independence in this, but our inter-dependence as well.
There are so many facets of inter-dependence connected with this dance. Tibetans use the word ‘tendril’, the subtle and obvious ways we are all connected.
Years ago, Lama Zopa Rinpoche asked Mary, one of the guiding lights of the Tonasket Buddhist Center, to make beaded belts for the Tara Dancing Nuns at Kopan Monastery. Mary and Rinpoche picked out the beads and everyone in the community worked on the project.
With joy, they presented Rinpoche with the belts to bring back to Nepal for the Nuns of his monastery that dance in the Mandala of the 21 Praises of Tara. When giving the belts to Lama Zopa he suggested to his students in Tonasket that they should learn the Tara Dance and have a yearly festival to offer it as a benefit to their community.
I was visiting the Newari Buddhist Temple in Portland, OR. for their first year celebration some years ago. Afterwards, at a small gathering of people in his living room, Prajwal Vajracharya personally introduced me to Lama Zopa Rinpoche as one of the Tara dancers. I felt honored to have such an intimate meeting with such a great teacher. At the time I never dreamed how this casual meeting would connect me to the Tonakset Community.
A couple of years later, Prema Dasara was approached by some Tonakset community members asking if she would help them fulfill Rinpoche’s request, to learn the Tara Dance. Prema asked me to connect with them since I was the closest student teacher available in the area. Tonakset is in north-central WA., about a 5 hour drive from Seattle.
In this remote, high dessert town, in the middle of the Okanagon Valley, I found a dedicated Buddhist community and several other sacred circles. It is a center for Native American traditional ceremonies as well. The Pamtingpa Tonasket Buddhist Center has a large plot of land slightly out of town where they’ve begun building a Stupa, and have plans to build a Gonpa as well.
So much time and effort of so many people came together to make The First Annual Tara Dance Festival in Tonasket a success. Some of the dancers had traveled into Canada to an Indian fabric store to buy the cloth and make the costumes, including one for me!!. Once we were all dressed we could see the cohesiveness of how thoughtfully and skillfully the costumes were assembled.
According to Lama Zopa’s request, we started the day with a two hour Tara sadhana led by Ven. Wangmo. Participating in the sadhana before the dance felt as if we were ‘tilling the soil’, and the Mandala Dance helped us embody the teachings fully.
Although the weather prediction was to be hot and sunny (95 degrees) which could have been a challenge to dance in at mid-day, it all changed rather suddenly. During the puja clouds rolled in and even some rain, so there was a bit of scrambling to make sure the enormous Tara thangkha did not get wet.
The weather cooperated by keeping a cloud cover protecting us. We were all prepared to dance in the rain if it came. It looked like it would rain, with ominous dark clouds behind the mountains in the distance. Instead, the dark rain clouds stayed far away, though the audience could see lightning flashing in the sky behind us as we danced. Yes, Tara, whose look is like a flash of lightening, was with us this day, as well as the all pervasive wind. Slowly the clouds cleared after the dance was complete and the Sun came out in the late afternoon.
We dressed in a makeshift tent. Imagine, ten dancers trying to put on make-up, costumes, and do their hair in a ten by ten camping tent! We felt like we were preparing for a wedding. We focused on the aim of Tantric practice, non-dual union with that which we already are, becoming the deity, Being Tara. We left our personalities aside as we walked out from behind the beautiful Tara thangkha and the dancers became the dance, no separation.
The whole community felt the blessings and were uplifted. Everyone loved it. Dancing on the earth, under the spacious sky, on the land where the Stupa is growing, and where many previous practices and land blessings by various Lamas had taken place, was so expansive. It felt like Tara’s Presence was with us from the beginning.
After the dance we called the audience into a circle to dance our Prayer of Motivation with us. The circle filled the whole space and we dedicated the practice to the community, feeling the waves and ripples of love billowing out.
There were so many loving comments afterwards. Ven.Yarphel loved it, and Ven. Wangmo was pleasantly surprised and felt ecstatic. They saw that the dance really honored the tradition. All the dancers were deeply touched by the dance and the response of the audience. They rejoiced that they could fulfill their teacher’s wish to create this festival and offer the dance to the community, including a gaggle of playful children and babies. The children were amazingly attentive, saving their free and happy play for after the event.
People had tears of joy in their eyes because they thought it was so beautiful. A few wanted to dance with us, and of course we assured them that they could join in next year. Bobbi, Jen’s Mom and traveling seamstress, said she felt open, and welcomed and happy. Another person said that every time she saw a rainbow scarf of a dancer blown by the wind it was like hearing her favorite song, a visceral feeling of familiarity penetrating her heart.
When I looked at the video taken on an iPhone camera handed to Jen’s nine year old daughter I was delighted to hear daughter Abbey singing the mantra along with us.
We were gifted with some local musicians sharing their talents after the dance, and of course, enjoyed excellent food made by the community.
Perhaps because the Tara dance was ‘born’ in the islands, it seemed like there was a touch of mermaid in many of us. The next day we were able to go to Lake Palmer, and cool off in its clean, clear and refreshing water.
And so, the Annual Tara Dance Festival of Tonasket has been inaugurated. Hopefully you can join us next year, if not in the flesh then in the heart
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