Belly Dance and Spiritual Seekings…

I have been a belly dancer for about five years now, trained in Turkish/Egyptian style.  I find that it is more challenging than anything I have ever done.  It also taps into great issues of femininity and sexuality.

Over the years I have changed in my approach to dancing, and have grown in small ways.  This is not a discipline that you get fast results, well you do, but women start to dance in Middle Eastern countries and Africa at 3 years old.  Young girls watch village women dance at festivals and train all their lives.

Belly dance was not the dance of enticement that we Westerners supposed.  It came from birth movements, or exercise to strengthen the body, the pelvis to allow easier birth.  These things are important when there is no hospital around but ‘just’ the village midwife and women to attend birthing.

However, dance has always been a religious or spiritual expression in many countries.  Hindu temple dancers, the Bali dancers, the Zars in Egypt and other countries, the guerdra forms express the application to movement to spiritual practice.

Delilah is a Seattle bellydancer I have talked to for a while.  She is well trained and quite the professional.  She also preaches dance as a spiritual connection.  Connection with spirituality isn’t something you try on like a new costume. It’s a transcendental everyday practice for her.

As she says: “It opens the heart.”

Earlier this summer I attended a synagogue.  There were young girls in a front corner of the synagogue dancing all through the service.  It was fitting and lovely.  It amazed me how natural these dances were in this setting and how much it gave a sense of joy and purpose to the morning.
The Lutheran and Episcopalian denominations of Christianity have been progressive in introducing liturgical dance to the altar at their church services. Although most of their dance workshops are focused on modern and ballet, some Middle Eastern dance artists have successfully introduced this art form to their congregations as liturgical dance.  The costuming is not the usual nightclub garb, but more modest clothing.  They are able to create a mood of worship.

The Unitarian church has long supported the use of dance at the altar.

These are just Christian and Jewish models.

I have thought very recently of my own practices.  I have, as I grew older, looked for spiritual paths.  As a former Quaker, these were not movement based, but as a belly dancer, the world opens up for me in this.

I have attended one Zar-like event, where a woman danced out her possession.  The ‘spirit’ was ‘caught’ by a women who was a Sheikah.

Why not?  This was a deeply believed experience, and the woman who was formerly possessed by what her culture said was a demonic spirit was ‘healed’.  These Zars have come under attack all over the Middle East, but not for good reasons.  They are some of the only alternative spiritual events that Muslim women have besides the mosque.  They are born of centuries of tradition and go back to Egyptian and African practices.  They are very much spiritual in nature.

I think of my own practice, and I know that dancing transforms my thinking, my moods and in some very fundamental way, grounds me.  It also transforms me, my body over a period of time, but my head. too. I think my head even more fundamentally.

I think my dancing, that strength that comes from doing something you love and seeing the remarkable abilities and potential of your body to move in ways you never thought possible translates to something akin to spiritual.

It also translates into self-esteem and an internal core of strength to face others who will challenge you. I had a pretty good sense of self before, but dancing has come through at a time I thought I was losing it.  It is very much a part of my personality now and it has the greatest potential for further spiritual development.

I think of how dancing transforms me.  In public, people tell me that my facial expression is very different from my ‘normal’ day ‘look’ and I have to laugh.  I am sometimes in a trance when I dance, or when I drum.  This is nothing unusual, because particular beats, rhythms, in particular the ayyoub beat or rhythm throws a dancer into a very different state of mind.  Sometimes this is helpful to get through a five minute performance. You conserve energy by ‘going places’. But mostly, it is the ‘connection’ you are making with the music internally, and it is the essence of dance to me.

Consciously applied, it has great spiritual possibilities I believe. I know it, as other dancers have either told me their spiritual path through their dancing or I have read of it.

I am about to do something very radical and risky for Teela (my dance name) I am about to chuck most of what I have learned over the past five years and endeavour to learn something very new and exciting.  I think it is part of this spiritual quest.

In late January, I will be in Montreal, Canada to attend a workshop/conference and a Dance event.  This is a Tribal Fusion Dance event taught by Audra Simmons, a TF dancer based in Toronto.  This will be a radical rupture for me because much of what I have learned will not apply.

Tribal Fusion is very different from classical belly dance.  The arms are very different, the body is held differently, there is a great freedom of flow in the core that I don’t see in  Turkish technique.  The makeup is extreme, the tattoos are prominant (I wonder if you can get stick on temporary tattoos???) the costuming is wild, the snake movement of the belly (“Snakes in the Belly”) is extreme, everything about tribal is different and extreme.

And exciting!

Go to Youtube and watch anything by Rachel Brice.

This is good for starters…

I am embarking on strange territory, and all my expensive cabaret costumes will be ditched…or thrown in the back of the closet.

It’s time for  a radical change that will bring me closer to my core and outward towards the Spirit and back again.

Teela and Lady in the same woman.

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5 Responses to “Belly Dance and Spiritual Seekings…”

  1. shia1 Says:

    I enjoyed this entry very much. Belly dancing is good for your body and soul. Just the music lulls you into a trance. I did watch the video and found it interesting and hard to do I am sure.

    You will do fine in Montreal!

    I am going to learn to belly dance too, I need some recommendations of good music, maybe others do too!



  2. Jane Says:

    Hi shia!

    thank you…writing at 3am is an iffy business…LOL!

    Montreal…why did Audra Simmons pick this date??? why not spring..Montreal must be better then…hopefully.

    Yes, I can recommend some music…

    “Battle” the first song on Tribal Derivations is great….good for Tribal Fusion dancing…a la Rachel Brice.

    Best of Bellydance,…Hossam Ramzy…one of the musicians is world famous…great stuff.

    I was at a wedding in Montgomery, Alabama a couple of weeks ago..and I was bellydancing, the bride fell on the Hora, and dislocated her knee…so I was entertaining the young girls and someone there actually had a recording with Hossam Ramzy! That was neat!

    Bellydance…Superstars Vol II…is good. Rachel Brice is on this….as is
    Delilah…a dancer I have spoken to before….in Seattle.

    Don’t get too many cds….really concentrate on only a few..and do isolations….first.

    Concentrate on breast lifts (lots of fun…hard in the beginning!) and hip drops….spend a 1/2 hour doing patterning…lifts and drops and figure eights with the hips…shimmies with the knees and try to throw in some alternating hip drops with the shimmmies…go on line and look for videos (on line) of teachers…..Rachel Brice gives good…belly.

    she has a series of belly movements…they are hard at first… won’t get the flutter for the first year! But the rest is possible.


    Jane….isolation also comes from sitting in a chair, in front of the computer and doing arms….now turkish is very different from Tribal, but rotate the shoulders….and pick up some tips from the videos…move the breasts with definition…Do the breast lifts in a square and then figure eights..

    Just don’ let anyone in an office environment see…


  3. Jane Says:

    Oh…and wear a bra….easier that way to get control…and tighten the straps…



  4. Sirena Says:

    Good luck with your new discovery! I also belly dance although I don’t have your depth of experience. I love watching Tribal but found it strange to dance – oddly boring because the movements are more repetitive, even though they were technically challenging.

    Love your comments about the spirituality of the dance, very insightful.


  5. ladynyo Says:

    Welcome! It’s lovely to talk to another dancer..

    Yes! LOL! I know what you mean…..I think I like to watch tribal better than dance to it.

    Did your arms hurt?? Mine do!

    and so does my stomach! Those ‘snakes’….LOL!

    Yes, I tried today…really tried…but broke out in the Turkish mode….lol!

    Are you trained in Turkish/Egyptian??? I think that is probably the best of all worlds.

    There is something so feminine, graceful, sexy in a different way from Tribal…

    I’m not sure that I will be able to do Tribal….and yes, I think it is technically challenging, but doesn’t have the lyricism and beauty of classical Turkish, etc.

    My feet are all wrong, too! I keep throwing out my left foot….as lead into movements above….and it will not be tolerated in TF….

    There is so much of a difference….and not just in the wild costuming or makeup!

    I think you are very right about the repetitive movements…and the bore factor….Perhaps because the positioning of the body is so extreme???

    Those extensions Brice does on the hips…Jesus God!

    But the stomach rolls are good to learn…

    Have you seen Sadie Belly dancer…You tube??? That isolation is amazing.

    Brice has it down too, but those hands palm down, they are so different and signify something so alien to dance….the positioning of the arms really bothers me too…gets me in the joints.

    I guess it’s just the ‘shock of the new’….WEll, I’m locked into the workshop in Montreal so I will have to make the best of it…

    I’m not performing as you guessed….LOL!

    But I still think that Turkish/Egyptian, etc…is hands down ‘real’ belly dancing…

    I am such a stick in the mud!

    I’ll email you so we can talk more…

    Glad to meet a fellow dancer…but hardly a fellow, neh??

    Teela (performing name)


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