Picture hypnotizing exotic images of the Middle East. Picture perhaps a bejeweled and glittering dancer showing nothing but her eyes in a myriad of colored veils slithering 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 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. Every day, daytime talk shows such as The View, Donny and Marie show, Regis and others feature 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’s Mataam Fez, and 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. This is a culturally rich dance originally performed by women for women.
There is no size, age or sex criteria required. Yes, even men belly dance, and usually find the 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’s beautiful to watch different women express themselves through this dance. It is a statement of passion and pride in the fullness of form. Belly Dancing is a celebration of our natural femaleness. It is about dancing for yourself and expressing who you are as a powerful woman.
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 when the time is right for having children. I believe this is all connected to the dance. Society and our upbringing, has sheltered these natural fluid movements within us. Through history, we have been taught to constrict our sexuality, our independence, and our power. We have become hardened, so that we might need a drink to get loose, in order to dance. We are not meant to be angular or stiff or even have sexual problems. We are women with curves. Finding our way back to that free child within us who didn’t know right from wrong. This is part of the real process of Belly Dance.
Her-Story of the Belly Dance
The women of the Middle East have always known its health benefits and have been dancing it for centuries. The Belly dance has a mysterious and hidden history. 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 millennial ago. First done by pregnant women to massage the baby inside them with the soft, rolling movements, it also kept her strong and supple for the birthing. Later, when one woman of the village was pregnant, the other women would dance around her bedside, performing these belly movements and breathing patterns, so that she wouldn’t succumb to the pangs of the labor pain. I like to think of it as an ancient Lamaze technique.
The dance continued with women and men dancing upon the barren fields in celebration to and for the cycles of the seasons as well as for the growing of crops and fertility within the tribe. (Today, in Egypt, 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.) The dance was used as spiritual discipline and a celebration of the body. For centuries, archeological digs have uncovered, small and very round female figures leading to the reverence and worship of the Great Cosmic Mother.
When the Catholic Church brought their laws and dogma, 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 and mind. Dancing was prohibited and women had to cover themselves because religious leaders and men felt they would be tempted by women’s bodies; even their own mothers and sisters too. The body 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. Popular in the 60s, the Belly dance is again making a comeback, this time through the modern art of fitness.
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 in Los Angeles and New York City. 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.
Traditional forms of exercise move in a linear way both in body and mind. In the past, when Id 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.
In Belly Dancing, we move in a circular and fluid way, so range of motion in all areas of the body are increased. 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, which opens up our spontaneity to creativity.
The ancients knew this dance to be 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. The Belly Dance was their prayer.
The Belly Dance as a Healing Art Form
The Belly Dance is a healing art form. The fluid movements balance meridians and strengthen organs throughout the body. In the Belly Dance, we move our hips in a figure eight, which engages 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 to stimulate learning and concentration and balance. Rhythmic figure eights help you when you are too over worked or stressed out and simply cannot think.
The Belly dance concentrates the energy into the abdominal and pelvic area; the area of creation and menstrual flow, sexual and creative energy. The Movements we do can be an excellent form of therapy for tension ad depression in women. The Belly dance energizes the internal organs within the whole body, especially in the pelvis, increasing circulation, blood flow and balancing hormones.
The serpentine movement of snake arms is good for the small intestine meridian, which runs in between shoulder blades.
Donna Eden, Holistic Health Practitioner, who wrote Energy Medicine, 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.”
The Goddess in All of Us
Time and time again, I’ve found that women 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 but rigid movements. In contrast, Belly Dance encouraged individuality, and my body with its natural curves did the movements so easily. I thought to myself, yes, this is it! This is my dance! I began to love my body. This, too, is the great response that happens to the women in my classes.
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.
Our bodies 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. Our body is our greatest teacher. In no greater arena can we come face to face with our lessons when we truly listen to them.