by Titanya Monique Dahlin
Article Published in Zaghareet Magazine, 1995.
Picture hypnotizing exotic images of the Middle East. Imagine a bejeweled and glittering costumed dancer showing nothing but her eyes, in a myriad of colored veils as she slithers out of a Bedouin tent. Her movements conjure up an ancient time of ritualistic poses and early hip undulations. This is the Middle Eastern dance or commonly called, Belly Dance.Today, the ancient art of Belly dancing has hit a new trend in the modern world of fitness. It is the latest craze amongst stars such as Minnie Driver, Salma Hayek, and Rebecca Romajn-Stamos and of course with the Latin musician, Shakira.Daytime talk shows are always featuring this new health craze. Go to your local Moroccan or Middle Eastern restaurant and you can be sure, they’ll have belly dancing. I am one of those Belly dancers you’ll see at Boulder Colorado’s Mataam Fez. I want to make some things clear. We are not exotic or erotic dancers; we are not strippers. We are not dancing to titillate men away from their wives.
is a culturally rich dance originally performed by women for women. There is no
size, age or gender criteria required. Yes, even men belly dance, too, and
usually they find their inner feminine balance to their masculinity. Every
woman brings a bit of herself to the dance, so that every woman will dance in a
different way celebrating her own gifts, whether she is thin and petite or big
and strong like Mother Earth herself. It is beautiful to watch the different archetypes
of woman express herself through this ancient dance. It is a statement of
passion and pride in the fullness of form. Belly Dancing is a celebration of
our natural feminine. It is about dancing for yourself and expressing who you
are as a powerful woman and finding a strength within yourself that makes you
feel as if you can conquer anything.
I believe every woman can learn to Belly Dance. It is within our cells, our bodies. We are women, we have curves, and we know the mysteries of the cycles of the moon, within us. Our bodies will know what to do naturally when the time is right for having children. I believe and know that this is all connected to the belly dance.
Through history, we have been taught to constrict our sexuality, our independence, and our power. Through social norms, our beliefs and upbringing, women have blocked these natural fluid movements for centuries. We have become hardened, so that we might need a drink to get loose, in order to dance. We are women with curves. We are not meant to be angular or stiff in our bodies…we are meant to flow with the curvature of how our bodies are made. WE are not meant to even have sexual or reproduction problems and yet, this is a huge challenge for most women today. We find our way back to that free child within us who didn’t know that expressing our sensual side was wrong. These concepts are what each woman goes through when she learns to Belly Dance.
of the Belly Dance
The Belly dance has a mysterious and hidden history. The women of the Middle East have always known the health benefits and have been dancing, sometimes even in secret, for centuries. The passing of time makes it difficult to uncover its true past. It is said to have been an ancient birth ritual more than a millennia ago. First done by pregnant women to massage the baby inside their womb with soft, rolling movements and also kept her strong and supple for the birthing experience. Later, when one woman of the village was pregnant, the other women would dance around her bedside, performing these belly movements and breathing patterns, she wouldn’t succumb to the pangs of the labor pain, but became a female connection with the women of the tribe. I like to think of it as an ancient Lamaze technique.
centuries, archeological digs have uncovered, small and very round female
figures leading to the reverence and worship of the Great Cosmic Mother. The dance
was used as spiritual discipline as well as a honoring celebration of the
curvaceous female body, that was ripe for fertility.
The dance continued with women and men dancing upon the barren fields in celebration to and for the cycles of the seasons, as the crops would grow in abundance. Their dance also ensued that the continuation of fertility stayed within the tribe. It was more like dance magic. Today, in the Arabic culture, you will sometimes see a belly dancer entertaining at a wedding and the couple will take a photo with their hands resting on her stomach to ensure fertility for the couple.
When the Catholic Church brought their laws and dogmatic thinking, the people were forced to undergo a cleansing. The body, which was once to be thought of as holy, now was considered unclean. Women were believed to be the cause of evil thought and temptation. In order for the soul to be saved, the patriarchy imposed a separation of body, mind and spirit. Dancing was prohibited and women had to cover themselves up from head to toe, because religious leaders and men felt they would be tempted by women’s bodies. Even their own mothers and sisters had to be covered in their presence. The body then was seen as a hindrance, a taboo.
Belly Dance in the New Millennium
Now, once more, thousands of years later, women are finding a new connection to their bodies and souls through the ancient art of Belly dancing. Made popular in the 60s, the Belly dance is again making a comeback, this time through the modern art of fitness and divine feminine empowerment.
Along with aerobics, Tae-bo, Kick-Boxing and weight training, you will also find classes in Belly Dancing in some of the more elite health clubs all over the world. Belly Dancing is a great form of low-impact exercise without putting heavy stress on the joints. It tones every major muscle group from the feet up to the neck. It improves coordination, flexibility and posture and more importantly, confidence.
forms of exercise move in a linear way both in body and mind. In the past, when
I’d do aerobics, my mind was numb, constantly thinking about the muscles I was
toning, as well as the guilt I carried for the cheeseburger I ate at lunch. Here
I celebrate my curves and as I always tell my own bellydance students, “The
more curves you have, the better you move!”
Western exercise and dance stress contraction of the tummy and tensing of the muscles. Belly Dancing is a release of these muscles so that your energy can flow to the restricted pathways that we have become tensed through stressful situations in our lives. It comes from an inward response, opening up our spontaneity to creativity. In Belly Dancing, we move in a circular and fluid way, so the range of motion in all areas of the body are increased.
The Belly Dance as a Healing Art Form
The Belly Dance is a healing art form. The ancients knew that this dance was a reflection of how people were feeling, their hopes, their heartaches, and their stories. People used their bodies as tools to reach a higher spiritual connection. They danced out their illnesses, until they were well. You can say that the Belly Dance was a dancing prayer.
The fluid movements balance meridians and strengthen organs throughout the body. In the Belly Dance, we move our hips in a figure eight motion, which engage the kidneys, liver and small intestines, spleen and sacrum. Figure eight movements are great for energetically linking up the right and left hemispheres of the brain as well as the masculine and feminine aspects of your being. Being a certified Waldorf teacher, I have studied that in education the research shows that Figure eight movements stimulate learning and concentration and balance. Rhythmic figure eights help you when you are too over worked or stressed out and simply cannot think. They bring back balance to your body, mind and spirit.
The Belly dance movements concentrate the energy into the abdominal and pelvic area, the area of creation, menstrual flow, sexual and creative energy. The Movements are an excellent form of therapy for tension and depression in women and men. The Belly dance energizes the internal organs within the whole body, especially in the pelvis, increasing circulation, blood flow and balancing hormones.
serpentine movement of snake arms is good for the small intestine meridian,
which runs in between shoulder blades. Many meridians (energetic pathways) go
down the arms. One of them being the heart meridian. I feel that the arm gestures
come from the heart, expressing our emotions through dance. Another meridian is
the Triple Warmer, which governs the fight, flight and freeze meridian. When
activated in a beautiful dancing gesture, your nervous system relaxes.
My mother is Holistic Health Practitioner, Donna Eden. She wrote the book Energy Medicine and says, “Traditional Middle Eastern dancing powerfully affects and engages the electromagnetic fields of energy in and around our bodies. This form of dance helps weave energy systems together, so that the body can perform its natural healing abilities.”
Our body can be our greatest teacher. They hold the key to understanding who we are, and where we are going, whether it is to stand in a more powerful space within your strengths as a woman or to experience a devastating illness. The body holds onto past traumas. In no greater arena can we come face to face with our lessons, when we truly listen to the messages that an illness can give us. In the Belly dance, like a natural medicine can help us to hear the messages of the body clearer in order to heal.
The Goddess in All of Us
Through more than 30 years of teaching women this powerful art form, I’ve found that they tend to find a new harmony in their bodies when they enter into my belly dance classes. In fact, larger sized women seem to do better in a belly dance class because the more you got, the better you’re gonna shake and move! I remember as a chubby little child feeling like a clod-hopper in Ballet class next to all these svelte little girls, all trying to do the same graceful movements. To me, the movements were rigid and didn’t feel right in my body.
In contrast, when I found Belly Dance at the age of 15 years old, the dance encouraged my individuality and confidence to come out. I found that my body with its natural curves, did the natural movements so much easier. I thought to myself, yes, this is it! This is my dance! I began to love my body at that point. When I teach, this is the great response that happens to women in my classes, too.
Society and the Belly Dance
There is little in our culture that
teaches women and our budding daughters to feel good and healthy about the
sexuality of our own bodies. Instead, we don excessive make-up, hairstyles and
clothing. But do any of these rituals express who a woman is on the inside, who
she is as an individual? We wait for the male approval to make us feel sexy.
The Belly Dance is about remembering that sensual powerful woman inside us,
remembering the ancient dancer of long ago who knew that she was sacred and
connected to all things, even our natural sexuality. With this dance, we don’t
have to wait for a man’s approval to make us feel sexy. We can validate this