About the Dancer
[Ed. note, Jan. 2017: This site is no longer being maintained. I’ve left it online for archival purposes. My current online devotional page for Skaði is here, and the page for my Shrine of Skaði dance project is here. My updated dark ambient playlist for Her is here.]
I’m Danica, also known by my pen name, D. JoAnne Swanson. I serve as the resident hermit and temple keeper for The Black Stone Hermitage, a private dark Pagan sanctuary and incubation space in the Cascadia bioregion (Portland, OR, USA) that uses dark ambient and industrial music to facilitate the esoteric arts.
Shrine of Skaði is a devotional dark fusion dance project inspired by a vision that took place in 2006. The project was created specifically for solo ritual dance in quiet, contemplative, resonant subterranean or cave-like enclosed settings.
Since entertainment is not the focus of this project, and since the public’s view of belly dance “has not kept pace with the feminist bent of dancers’ images of their art,” as Andrea Deagon puts it, I have chosen not to perform in public at bars, restaurants, Pagan festivals, social gatherings, etc. (I’m flattered by the invitations, though – thank you!)
I do have an aspiration to dance to live dark ambient music for ritual purposes eventually. For now, however, I am focusing on making videos of my choreography. I have several video projects in various stages of completion; these will be linked here when they are ready.
I can’t embed videos with this WordPress account, but you can see a glimpse of some (unedited, unpolished) practice videos of my improv dance to dark ambient music via Facebook:
Inget Ljus Av Hopp (No Light of Hope)
…and if you want to go WAY back into my history as a dancer – to 1990, when I was studying jazz, ballet, hula, and modern dance, just before I discovered the gothic/industrial scene – you can check out a choreography video from my youth that I posted to my Facebook page…complete with blonde hair, Flashdance-style leg warmers, and New Age music. (Note: I no longer perform dance like this, just in case anyone was wondering.)
You can also find Shrine of Skaði linked at The Gothic Bellydance Resource.
These days I am a hermit, polytheist, bioregional animist, proud feminist, and introvert who works almost entirely in solitude, and is very attached to the hermitage where I live and work. At events I usually identify myself as “a solitary dark Pagan mystic with monastic inclinations.” In other words, I’m a Pagan nun, and an anchoress-in-training.
One of the reasons I rarely perform in public is that my artistry is “rooted” to the space in which I dance; it’s not easily transferable to different environments. My work is inspired by and connected to my surroundings as much as it is by the music, and by the gods and spirits for Whom I dance. Shrine of Skaði is a seasonal project, for starters; it’s only active in the darkening days of autumn and winter. The land, the home and hearth, the decor, the aesthetic and acoustic properties of the built environment, the spatial relationships among elements of my surroundings, the emotional atmosphere, my close relationships, and the overall “vibe” – all of these also influence my dance at every level, and shape my choreography. As Vanda Scaravelli puts it in her amazing book Awakening the Spine (a book I highly recommend), “The function of the body is to collect energy from the ground.” That is how I approach my dance, and my life in general. The source of the energy that infuses it is the deep Earth.**
Accordingly, I am particularly interested in performing ritual dances in subterranean spaces – basements, caves, and other cave-like spaces, especially ones with resonant or reverberant acoustics.
My specialty is ritual dance to “music you can’t dance to” – dark ambient. Dark ambient music is a sonic facilitator of alchemy for me – a catalyst for inner journeys deep into the dark waters of the shadow self and the void. My dance style is introspective and sombre, and much of my work is focused on expression of Earth grief, lamentation, and other “dark” emotional states. My dance is primarily about atmosphere. Achieving the right mood, and the right atmosphere of service to the deities, the spirits, and the land, will always take precedence over entertainment.
“Theatrical dance emphasizes entertainment while ritual dance attempts to effect change in the participants and audience. However, dance as ritual has entertainment value and dance as theatre is efficacious. They differ only to the degree that creating efficacy or entertainment is emphasized.”
~ Paul and Joséphine Zmolek, “Dance as Ecstatic Ritual/Theatre”
A few of the dancers who inspire me: Ma’isah of Elysium, Paige Lawrence, Ego Umbra, Bridie Przibram of Black Veil Tribal, Aepril Schaile, Shakra Dance Company, Asharah, Raqs Fusion Factory, Baraka, Morganas Döttrar, and Desert Sin Dance Company.
In addition to my dance project, I am also a freelance writer working on a book manuscript called Endarkenment: The Esoteric in Dark Ambient Music and Culture. A sample of my writing (from 2013) about underrated dark ambient albums is available on the outstanding and highly respected music blog I Die: You Die. Thanks to strong reader demand, my second article on hidden gems of dark ambient was published there in September 2015, and I am working on a third article for this series to be published in 2016.
If you’re as passionate about dark ambient music as I am, you may also be interested in a series of posts I made – “Dark Ambient Ritual Music: A Primer for the Dark Pagan” (Volumes 1, 2, and 3) that have been well received by my readers. Or you can just search my Black Stone Hermitage blog for all entries using the “dark ambient music” tag.
I have become the “go-to” person in my local Pagan community for dark ambient music recommendations, especially for meditation and ritual purposes, and I’m happy to consult with interested folks about this magnificent music that inspires so much of my work.
I’m a former academic as well; I hold an Associate of Arts degree in dance, and baccalaureate-level credentials in psychology, philosophy, and accounting. I support work in the arts – my own, and others’ – with my business: I am self-employed as a green/eco-friendly house cleaner and home organiser working for the arts and esoteric communities of Portland. Since I enjoy being car-free, I am glad I live in a city with a public transit system that permits me to run this business without having to own or drive a car.
I have done community service work in the recycling and hardware build programs for Free Geek community technology center, and my future plans for community service include working with grief processes in a Pagan context.
My other projects include Rethinking the Job Culture, a continuation of what I started with Creating Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery (CLAWS) at whywork.org, a group I founded and website I designed in 1998.
I have a book manuscript for that project as well; it’s called “On The Leisure Track: Radical Alternatives to Conventional Employment,” and about half of it is completed. (You can read the first chapter online.) That project has been put on the back burner to simmer for a couple of years, but I plan to take up work on the manuscript again after I finish the dark ambient book. In the meantime, I maintain a Facebook page for Rethinking the Job Culture, which is updated more frequently than the blog.
Contact me via e-mail at shrine.of.skadi AT gmail DOT com.
** Here’s a bit more on Vanda Scaravelli’s approach for those who are interested (source):
“Vanda Scaravelli’s truly revolutionary yoga demands a much more intelligent and subtle way of working with the body, a way that does not involve pain, punishment, aggression or a determined will; a way of working that does not cause stress and damage to the body, but that nevertheless requires a deep way of working that has the potential to satisfy both body and mind.
“In one sense, at least, you don’t do anything; rather you cultivate an ability to observe the body; you wait, you don’t hold, you wait, you release tension; you wait, you soften, you wait, you resist the temptation to brace the body and then see what happens. You must learn to be patient – very patient, you must learn to be quiet – very quiet, so that you can listen to what is within you – whatever that might be. You have to allow things to happen and to learn how to stop preventing things from happening. For example, you don’t do anything special to feel gravity: you let gravity affect you. And if you don’t have a clue what that means, then you become curious about what it might mean and look forward to a time when the words might resonate with you. To do that you need to have faith in the process in which you are engaged, for this way of working demands something different from, and of, you. You need also to become more imaginative, experimental and creative; approach your yoga practise as an artist or a musician might approach their art; in the knowledge that it is both basic and complex, profound and yet simple. […]
“…human beings have lost much of the contact with the earth that they used to have: – we sit for long hours in chairs hunched in front of a screen, we wear uncomfortable and constricting shoes and clothes, we don’t move around as much as we should and our breathing is often shallow and therefore does not benefit us as it might. As a result we have become used to holding our bodies in tension and with tension. It’s become so normal to us that we’re no longer aware of it; we’re not even aware that we are ‘doing’ it. So the task is to first become aware of what we’re doing with and to our bodies and then begin the long process of letting go of the tension and stop holding ourselves in ways that prevent a deeply satisfying contact with the earth.”