When I began taking belly dance lessons, I had no idea what sort of journey that first class would inspire. It has taken me around the country, across the globe, and most importantly on a journey into my inner world. There is something primal about the whole experience.
At first, the gift of dance is a freeing of the body. The pelvic movements release all this energy that western cultures denies, reserved only for private places. It liberates the feminine and celebrates its existence. The shaking and shimmying stimulates the body, while the slow sensuous movements massage the body in an invigorating way. Undulations of the arms and torso break us out of the linear, restricting ways we’ve learned of moving.
Without warning, our mind seems to catch up with the new freedom the body has discovered. We want to explore music. We want to explore movement. We combine the two in new and unusual ways. We open ourselves up to artistic expression. We allow ourselves to go through the motions of passion, delight, sadness, gaiety, and so many other humanizing feelings under the guise of practicing or performing. We allow ourselves to feel.
We develop a new relationship with our bodies. We begin to feel the need to expose the torso so we can see the wonderful things happening there. We begin to notice a contentment with our physical form where we only saw flaws before. We walk a little straighter. We feel more confident and less inhibited. Even if we never tell anyone about our secret, the internal knowing makes people wonder what is different about us.
And then we get to our second lesson!
With the development of new skill, many dancers will look beyond the shiny costumes and the mechanical aspects of the dance and follow the path most suited to their current life style.
For some, that path is in the direction of goddess dancing. Goddess dancing is as hard to define as the individual goddess doing the dance, but the common bond is divine inspiration for their dance. They rarely dance for audiences as their purpose is more spiritual in nature. The dance comes from the heart rather than a choreography. It is spontaneous and highly personal. It can include grief, joy, or any emotion, but always celebrates the feminine experience.
The dance may involve snakes, as they were associated with the goddess Astarte in ancient times. It may involve a sisterhood which celebrates the feminine by helping with childbirth. The dancers may help the birth process by undulating their bodies along with the laboring mother. The experience is comforting and bonding for all those who participate. These are truly and exclusively female experiences.
For others, the path is more communal. These dancers may chose to concentrate on tribal style dancing, which highlights the group instead of any individual. There are set steps, patterns, and cues in this style because it is improvisational. The structured repertoire makes it easy for anyone knowing the common language to step in and join the tribe. I have often danced with people I have never met with stunningly beautiful results in tribal style. Tribal language is universal and all inclusive. Thought is taken out of this dance and the rhythm takes over. The bonding that happens over time, or in some cases in just a few minutes, is incomparable. Bodies moving in sync mesmerize the dancers as well as those watching.
The tribe can be a long standing group that has the security of anticipating what movements the “leader” may do. Or it may be a tribe that has existed since that day or that hour. Either way, the definition of “tribe” is never challenged because the synergy and oneness of the group demonstrates its unity.
Some dancers dance for strict enjoyment, having no sacred purpose or need for bonding. Maybe you are a soloist at heart who just yearns to let her hair down and experience the wild abandon of the drum? The music calls you and your hips just can’t stay still. Shimmies, vibrations, and curvy movements create the dance of life denied by the boxed in structures of modern life. And liberation follows.
There are many directions a dancer can go in this dance, but all of them are personal to the dancer. As a teacher, performer, and troupe director, I have witnessed many chrysalis turn into butterflies with the simple permission to liberate themselves through dance. The safe environment of a classroom filled with others like them is a sanctuary for discovery.
It is amazing how many of us are so aware of time tables and deadlines, but are so out of touch with our own selves. What is inside? What grief are we afraid to express? What passion lies untapped? What creativity is stifled because of our work or life demands? The positive benefits for many dance students is that they begin to scratch the surface of these things. The release and discovery that comes from pure dancing from the soul can be so liberating for the dancer and so inspiring for the audience. So, why not give yourself the gift of dance? Experience it with your eyes, your heart, and your soul? Feel what women for thousands of years have known. Maybe you will discover yourself.