Skin of Glass: Finding Spirit in the Flesh – Book

Skin of Glass: Finding Spirit in the Flesh – Book

“Profound ideas, expressed in startlingly evocative language.”

Dunya’s intense passion for dance took her from a small seaside New England town in 1972 to the Juilliard School in the heart of NYC’s vibrant, edgy art scene. A decade later, healing from a serious injury, she turned away from a successful performing career and retreated to a monastic mountaintop community directed by a charismatic Iraqi Sufi Master––a sojourn that opened a mysterious, beautiful inner world, and an understanding of dance as moving prayer. Her path became Dancemeditation.

Part dance memoir, part erotic memoir, and part guidebook, this rich account of life in the body takes dance beyond performance into a transformative realm where the physical, emotional and spiritual powerfully entwine.

"A mystical page-turner."

“A mystical page-turner! I read ‘Skin of Glass’ in two days all the way through, wishing, as I read, that there was a way I could inhale this book instead, draw this feast of story into me sooner, faster, more vividly… Its intimate poetic prose paints brilliant color and life; I feel it filling in the mesh of who I am, like water clinging to the holes in a sieve.”
– Jenna Woods, author  of  The Dancing Cymbalist

“Dunya, I’ve almost finished reading your book ‘Skin of Glass’. It is maybe the most extraordinary work I’ve ever read. Its exploration of every fiber of your spirit and your body and your universe is honest, ecstatic, loving and intelligent. Your mastery of so many rhythms of words has me wanting to dance. Thank you.” 
— Robert Manz, Fine Art Photographer 

Author’s statement

   “Skin of Glass is a travelogue inside the body, both subtle and solid. At times a memoir, the piece often functions as a journey into the sensation of living in motion and provokes an oneiric sense of narrative. Does the body have meaning? Or is it simply a place where the mind hangs its hat of notions before the next wave of experience knocks us into the wind of unknown once more? As a life-long dancer and meditator my intention is to chronicle and honor this vagary.  That said, the body practice that I pursued for two years it took me complete this manuscript organically unearthed a traditional narrative. I didn’t have to struggle to carry the reader forward.”

Editorial Reviews

“Dreamy, deeply searching, and so smart kinesthetically, this book beautifully punctuates poetic narrative with startling reality checks––school, food, father, shrink, guru, and other juicy reveals. As the memoir becomes more intensely ‘Sufi’, she journeys through organs, bones, muscles, delving into an ‘other’ realm of thinking. A wondrous and thought-provoking excursion.”
— Janet Mansfield Soares, Professor of Dance Emerita, Barnard College, Columbia University

“Memoir, prose poem, erotic journey, mystical discourse and cultural commentary—Dunya’s brave book also launches a new genre of writing from the body. It is a book sorely needed by a culture disembodied by fascination with electronic devices. Dunya’s sensuous writing will draw you in from page one. You will travel inside her body, within her shadows and glory, as she recounts her spiritual quest. The urge to devour this book for its content is almost irresistible. But you’ll receive more from Skin of Glass, if you read slowly enough to let the author’s rich language fire your neurons and seep into your flesh and blood.”
— Mary Bond, MA, author of Your Body MandalaBalancing Your Body, & The New Rules of Posture

“If you have ever longed to dance, if you have danced, if you are a seeker, this book will touch you and open your awareness to the majestic inner landscape of our being.”
— Laurienne Singer, MA. Faculty, Los Angeles City College dance department

“Skin of Glass integrates narrative memoir with an almost microscopic focus on individual parts of the body (eyes, legs and crotch, spine, ovaries) in a way that does justice to the particularity of each subject area while also deriving rich and resonant literary metaphors for each of these “bodily stations.” In fact, one has to return to Elizabethan conceptions of the “body politic” to find such ambitious use of the body-as-literary metaphor. Dunya’s writing moves effortlessly from the particularities of subjective sensation to a more objective and generalized meditation on the significance of those somatic experiences. These are profound ideas, expressed in startlingly evocative language.”
— Roger Copeland, author of  Merce Cunningham: The Modernizing of Modern Dance

“Dunya eloquently expresses how exploration of body awareness opens doors to understanding, not just of movement and skill, but also about the essence of being. Hers is a searing story about negotiating between life in an exotic enclave of rarified mystical practices and life in the “real” world, where the search for love and healing is no less mysterious. Her tale offers insights and inspiration on every page.”
— Christopher Pilafian, Lecturer, Department of Theater & Dance, University of California, Santa Barbara

Amazon Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars
5 star 100%

Life changing.
by Laura
This book is just beautiful. It changed the way I see my life, the way I dance and the way I meditate, it deserves 6 stars. And Dunya is an amazing human being and the kind of person that makes a difference to other people.

by Jennifer L.
I bought this book 2 years after beginning a regular 5 Rhythms practice and seeking more books about conscious movement and somatics. I devoured this in days, mesmerized by McPherson’s way of turning movement into prose. As both a writer and a dancer, I am envious of her talent in describing even the most subtle movements with such commanding language. The way she writes about the human body is utterly fascinating and captivating, and it is hard not to roll my spine and rock my pelvis along to her words. They are the words of someone so at home with her body, so familiar with every tendon, vein, and cell within; some chapters have such a deep and sensual feel that they read more like erotic literature, a kind of “kinesthetic pornography,” perhaps.
Comment: 2 people found this helpful.

The ecstacy of nothing
by Joyce
Dunya is disarmingly honest and so intimate with her own body that she wakes you to your own, raising the question: how can we live as such strangers to our bodies? A professional dancer who became a Sufi, Dunya found a dearth of writings on dance as a spiritual path. Deciding to fill that void, she expected to write a collection of essays on that topic, but her body, she says, wanted to tell a story — things that hadn’t been spoken of, things that had been forgotten. This story begins with a little girl in New England who was a natural dancer. She began dance training at ten, was admitted to an art conservatory at fifteen, and to Juillard School in New York City at eighteen. For the next ten years she danced, taught, and choreographed in New York and Australia. The world of professional dance, although it pays attention to training the body, often bypasses its basic needs by stringently avoiding weight gain and ignoring pain and injury. Dunya finally had an injury serious enough to require a break from her successful performance career. During that period she encountered a charismatic Iraqi Sufi Master who became her mentor for seventeen years, gave her the name Dunya, and introduced her to a different kind of dancing, dancing with the Divine, dance as prayer. This experience gave Dunya her vocation. She has since created DanceMeditation and has taught its methods to many others. The gift, however, was buried in a complicated system of male dominance and sexual manipulation which Dunya had to sort out to create a female version of the Sufi tradition. She has now been a Sufi teacher for twenty years. She describes her teaching thus: “I close my eyes, always looking at emptiness, and students follow me as I move and breathe, drawing us into the simplicity of moving and breathing. . . I respect them by trying not to believe what they imagine me to be, a difficult task since I was once mostly a reflection of others. . . Perhaps my students, wanting something for their money, aren’t so sure why they pay me for providing an expensive Nothing. I haven’t much to say in defense of this exchange except that Nothing is hard to come by.” Having attended some of Dunya’s retreats I can personally attest to her genius at leading one into the ecstasy of Nothing.
1 comment: I found this commentary most “on the mark” of what I know of Dianne; Dunya. I was fortunate to be invited to an event with Dunya and teacher, Master, Adnan Sarhan. This was numerous years ago – but remembered as no longer than yesterday. I was fortunate to train with Dianne in college as one of her students. Dunya is and has always been inside of me…. I look forward to working with her again after returning from sabbatical – Dunya is a wonderous (re)treat and movement forward.

Skin of Glass
by William E. Elder III
An amazing true story of a woman becoming a star ballet dancer and then changing to trans-dancing as part of her health and spiritual (Sufi) journey.
Comment: 2 people found this helpful.

Gripping, beautifully written stories
by Ramona
‘Skin of Glass’ is a collection of gripping autobiographical stories. This book is well-written, with lots of vivid details that help the reader feel as though she’s sharing Dunya’s experiences. There were times when her writing made me laugh, and times when it was serious. Those from a ballet background can relate to her vivid descriptions of dance classes. Dunya is candid, and has shared so much of herself in this book–what a lovely gift. She shares details about her career and her intimate personal experiences. Parts of this book serve as a jarring reminder that we can be victimized by authority figures. Much of this book is about meditation’s relationship with healing, and the relationship of love and healing. Readers with a strong interest in meditation and archetypes will find this book thought-provoking. Also, those who are open to experiencing Dunya’s unique writing style, which includes lots of kinesthetic descriptions, will enjoy this book. Dunya’s students will find Skin of Glass helpful in their practice. For college-age and mature readers.
Comment: 2 people found this helpful.

Great read!
by Tod
An intriguing look at a spiritual path based on movement and dance. Dunya’s prose when describing her meditations is both beautiful and inspiring. A book full of truth, mystery, motion, and love.

Deep within the Skin of Glass
by C. Jorgensenon
Dunya Dianne McPherson’s book, Skin of Glass, is an eloquent and perceptive tribute to the life and body that “partnered one another…teaching me how to control less and accept more.” Dunya’s journey reads and feels like a very sensual and visceral dance initiation spiraling down to the cellular level of a life in memory within the body. An inspiring and osmotic ride with a fabulous dancer.

A Woman’s Search for a Unified Self
by Kathleen A. Graham
Dunya’s ‘Skin of Glass: Finding Spirit in the Flesh’, is an edgy and exquisite, evanescent and eternal, account of a woman’s search for a unified self where body and mind, spirit and soul coalesce in Divine Communion. I wanted to stretch it out and savor every morsel but couldn’t resist devouring the whole delicious book in just a few days.
–Le’ema Kathleen Graham, Snake Priestess, Visionary Sacred Dancer, Yogini, Teacher and Author
Comment2 people found this helpful.

Spiritual Study Companion
by Ann Galkowski
As a student of dancemeditation and embodying spirit for many years, I have been at a loss as to how expression of my journey and experiences can take shape. Dunya is able to effectively and beautifully capture hers in this book. In so doing she encourages my process of spiritual embodiment, which is my path. As a student I find it supportive as it describes and transmits to me aspects of both individual and group process. As a bodyworker and having practiced various forms of meditation, I am delighted as to how her desriptions cross over into describing my experiences of spirit in other forms. Deep and mystical, it will be a study companion for me for some time to come.
Comment: 4 people found this helpful.

Beautiful and compelling
by Marjie
Dunya does a beautiful job of translating the language of the body into a written form. This is a moving book to read, and one that may likely make you want to move. Honest, brave, insightful and very smart on many levels, this book communicates both literal thoughts and a compelling energy. Many spiritual quests overlook the body. This one goes right into the depths. Well worth taking your time to savor the language.
Comment: 6 people found this helpful.


Kate Russel by Paul B. Goode

Table of Contents

Part One: Formation

1. Blue Eyes
2. Sufi Eyes

Part Two: Sensation

3. Legs & Crotch
4. Spine
5. Ovary
6. Skin

Part Three: Circulation

7. Blood


Reading List

Take a Look Inside

Blue water. Blue skies. Blue eyes. When you are a small child you don’t yet know that other people look at your eyes and see their blueness. You know only that you see the world through eyes; there is no blue cast to the view, no sensation of blue.

Blue Eyes
I have blue eyes. My father has blue eyes. I remember, as a child, visiting him at his laboratory where he studied the distribution of phytoplankton across various bodies of ocean water. I’d peer into his microscope. There, between two slices of glass in a slender density of seawater, single-celled diatoms, dinoflagelates and coccolithaphores careened lazily, their translucent, lacey structures resembling fantastical legs and carapaces, spines and antennae crossing, fusing then separating in an elaborate but accidental choreography. How could a single cell be so intricate? How could a drop of water hold so many creatures? In evenings at home I glimpsed him in wavering candlelight at the dining room table surrounded by fanned out papers. Four brass candlesticks, dim with drools of hardened wax, stood sentry over his bent head as he wrote up his research, scribbling intently with a pencil which made a dry sound like the scurry of mice. Every so often, the flame spit and jumped.

Recently, I asked him what caused the shifting color of the sea, thinking that a seasonal growth fluctuation of plankton would account for the cool grays of winter tides against the turquoise spring waters and ochre toned summer swells. But no, the plankton count is quite stable, he said. The variable shades of Cape Cod’s Vineyard Sound, the body of water that watched over my childhood, came from a complex equation of reflected atmospheric light and coastal turbulence stirring up bottom sediment.

Blue water. Blue skies. Blue eyes. When you are a small child you don’t yet know that other people look at your eyes and see their blueness. You know only that you see the world through eyes; there is no blue cast to the view, no sensation of blue. Blue eyes are genetically recessive, like a scarce chip of sea glass made from bottles smashed and rolled in the waves then cast on the beach, the edges rounded to harmlessness. I looked in the mirror. As complex as their fitful Atlantic counterpart, my eyes were the color of a December sea flecked with splinters of gray into which spilled light refracted by an outer world of landscape, buildings, people. My irises glistened with tears when bottom sediment churned to the surface.


A few days after my swaying legs’ recollection and digestion of the 9/11 memory, crossing Houston on Elizabeth street, I felt my walking legs become vivid. The pavement’s rigid cold shot through my boots into my feet, whispering up my legs to tap my thoughts; a catalogue of impediments (from the Latin impedire, literally ‘to entangle the feet’) displayed: foot binding, tight shoes, high-heeled shoes, toe shoes. The ballet dancer’s pink satin pointe shoe aims ‘just so’ at the center of the planet expressing, in all its accuracy, snobbery and arrogant accomplishment. A friend once told me the story of a Royal Ballet ballerina who informed her diplomat husband that, as she was slated to dance Swan Lake three nights hence, she could not stand in spike heels at his embassy dinner that evening; her feet must be respected. I certainly empathized with her plight. Many times before ballet class I looked down at my toes. They were long, as if they could wind around a branch or press hollow stripes into sand. I wrapped them in a beard of lamb’s wool and tucked them into a tapering pink ‘box’, the name given to the tip of the toe shoe, or pointe shoe. The box was made of satin hardened with layers of shellac; breaking in a new shoe meant smacking it repeatedly against the floor. Once in this pretty pink casing, my toes crushed together for an hour and a half of unnatural labor until finally, unsheathing them at the end of class, I peeled wool off the bloody blistered skin. My toes cowered, shocked. A day-mare.

Toes had their nightmares as well. Often in summer, wading in Vineyard Sound, harmless bitty fish would nip my heels, but one time, in shallow water at low tide, the tickle at my Achilles tendon proved to be a foot-sized rock crab huddling alongside my pallid flesh, its pinchers scissoring like a knife and fork in the menacing rhythm of gluttony. That night, a surprise of razors peppered my buoyant, silky sleep, and my feet, perambulating their own nightmares, paced under the covers, wringing their toes in fear of being excised at the ankles to roam lost and alone in wavering watery murk.

As for more commonplace yet surprisingly sadistic shoes, my elegant blue leather party pumps came to mind. I bought them at a thrift store to which they’d been consigned because of a tiny spot marring the left bunion. After gluing four glittering turquoise rhinestones over the blemish, I had absolutely fabulous shoes: asymmetrical, subtle, sexy. In the course of an evening, however, they’d blister my toes, screw my calves tight and inflame the fascia in my metatarsals. Once home, before putting down my bag or removing my coat, I’d kick them off, irritated with being snagged on a fantasy of what looking sexy would bring me, then weighing the reality of what it had brought. I’d placed the pumps side-by-side, mulling over the well-worn wish that beauty could feel as good as it looks.

During practice, remembering my feet in their blue loveliness, I realized that I’d worn those shoes not to be attractive to others, men in particular, nor for any current romantic interest, but for my father, the man in the kitchen forty years ago. I reframed my dream: let pleasurable feeling be beauty. What a sweet sudden spark of clarity! I’d never before imagined that my comfort or pleasure could be perceived as beautiful.


I lay on a body worker’s table many years after having had the disc between two neck vertebrae crushed nearly to nothing, paralyzing muscles that lift my arm. The body worker’s hands performed angelic voodoo, unearthing a deep sigh from my tissues; I’d been fretting without realizing it. Though I had recovered from my paralysis as much as possible, I would never be able to lift my arm properly and continually sought to understand the significance of my injury. A succession of chiropractors and physical therapists over time had assured me the injury was too severe to self-inflict, even through the abuse of professional dancing. I must have had an early childhood trauma. Had I been dropped on my head? Been in a car accident getting whiplash? Could it be forceps delivery? My mother has said none of these happened in my childhood.

I floated in ease as the body worker worked; the room felt distant, my body gargantuan. My skull fell open and little thoughts skittered into corners like ants from an overturned anthill. Half dreaming, the veils between worlds momentarily parted and I saw a shape in my neck. It hovered like a filament of smoke. It was an energetic insignia, a physical karma, curving delicately. I knew, was certain, that I’d been born with this shape in my neck. As I lay dreamily there, I perceived the invisible shapes that structured and moved my life on subtle strata.

For many years, this shape in my neck had been a spiritual choke chain collar. When I was too rambunctious or misguided, the Shape, understanding what I could not, twined inside my vertebrae, torqued them off their axis and snapped me back at the head stem. Eugene O’Neill said, “Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.”

I was apparently born in one piece, toes, fingers, and heads all accounted for, the potential of my life ready, imprinted in my core. All I had to do was listen and obey a flawless pre-destined flow, but I couldn’t resist fighting my destiny and so got injured. If O’Neill was right, however, my destiny was to resist destiny. My injury was designed, inevitable, the outer edge of subtle calligraphy drawn inside my body’s energy by a Mystical Hand containing both my breaking and my mending.

I’ve experienced my twisted neck as bait in a love story, a beacon whispering beautiful code. It has hushed me down, sinking me beneath surface senses to a luscious lair. My Love waits there for our tryst in the abandoned cloister with walls falling and Bittersweet vines overtaking.

The body worker had long since left the room. I’d been sleeping, without shape. My eyes drifted open, sifting a ceiling out of shadows. An edge of blanket grazed my bare throat, lifting then touching as I breathed, the way the cat’s tongue licks her kitten clean.

And I whirl, my feet sliding against a wood floor, at the edge of my view, my left thumb tip intruding its stillness into the room’s blur as my feet pulse in a pivot, stepping into the stirrup of beats, seeming to know how to place themselves onto the trail to turning center. The singer’s voice rises in a long plume so that my heart, thick as an udder of milk, weeps whirling rain. A sugar syrup explodes through a small oval in my chest, and now Divinity pries my heart walls wider until I cry, as I always cry, coming home to this feeling I can’t remember with my mind, never understanding how it works.