Dancing in Nature
Dancing in Nature
As I have followed the path that bellydance has opened before me, I have come to realize the fundamental connection between this dance and our lives as women; and the connection between our bodies and the Earth, the Mother from which we all spring. I have discovered that performing this dance in a natural environment, unadorned with human development, makes a very deep connection between the dancer, the Earth, and the cosmos. This connection is certainly exciting, and can be ecstatic and healing as well. In this article, I will try to trace a path linking our bodies with the body of the Earth, and linking our dance with our lives, with the lives of all women, and ultimately with the constant creative unfolding that is the dance of the Earth.
The bellydance is older than any culture known today. The steps, the music used, the politics it has been subjected to, the language spoken, the religions of its practitioners; none of these have remained the same over the great span of time during which this dance has been practised. One thing has remained the same, however: the expression, through the dance, of the feminine experience. Throughout time, the common denominator of the bellydance has been women; it is a dance done by, for, and about women all over the world.
One of the greatest bonds of experience among women is the birthing process. The bellydance (aptly named, I believe) centers around the source of physical creation in women. But the creative center of the feminine is not just the physical birthing process, any more than the bellydance is just the physical execution of steps and movement phrases. Both the feminine experience, and this dance, are bound to the inquiry into the mysteries of life and creation. All life comes from the womb of the Great Mother, and returns to Her; life on Earth began in the sea, our primordial mother. This dance is about the Goddess; another name for Her is Nature.
During most of history, mankind has thought of Nature as alive, as the Great Mother. Not so long ago, in the 17th century, Descartes, Locke, Bacon and Newton, among others, brought mechanistic thinking into the scientific and philosophical centers of the so-called civilized world. They spoke of Nature as an inanimate machine created but not creative. All living things, from our physical bodies to the heavenly bodies, were machines awaiting the dictates of the Master inventor — Spirit removed from matter. Mankind was handed a dictate to wield power and control over the natural world with his intellect.
Since that time, the body has been envisioned as a machine with a little workman located in the head, who pulls gears and levers to make the body do this or that. Dance has been approached from this same view, intellectually carving the shapes out of dancers’ bodies, identifying muscle groups and mechanically calling them into action.
But today, scientific hypotheses are returning to the view that the Earth is alive, a liv-ing organism that may be inherently creative. We are realizing once again that our bodies’ intelligence is not solely in the brain, but is func-tioning on other levels as well. And we belly-dancers are remembering that dance is not just a gymnastic exercise, but an expression of know-ledge and experience that is held in our bodies.
Dance is a metaphor for life. As we are born, we are destined to move in life through time and space. As we learn to dance, we are also learning to move through time and space. Thus, the process of learning to dance can also bring us information about living our lives, if we allow it to. We can learn how to move through our lives with fearless autonomy, grace and spirit; how to flow with the melody line, be in the stillness or ride the chaos; how to overcome the fear that puts us on the side lines, afraid to participate because there’s a voice in our heads saying, “I can’t dance.”
When I first began studying bellydance, I was just coming into my own awareness of what it meant to be a woman. This dance touched something deep and innate in me; the growth of that understanding has been a driving force throughout my career. The more I pursued the art from a questioning perspective, the more growth and wisdom came along through the dance. As time went on, the events in the path of my life took on defining rhythm patterns and undeniable synchronicites. No longer could I see myself and those around me as recipients of joys and sorrows dished out randomly by some unconscious mechanism. I began to follow events like movements in an orchestrated score, to anticpate the divine rhythm, harmony and dynamics of the dance that is one’s life! I could see the connectedness in very direct ways between the mundane and the cosmic, and began to dance, as best I could, to the celestial song.
The pull of this understanding has drawn me strongly to the work I’ve been doing with dancing in nature. In 1986, it seemed appropriate to me to film the warm-up section of Delilah’s Bellydance Workshop, Volume I in the desert in California. When working on Volume III in 1988, I chose to film the bellyrolls and undulations section at the ocean, sensing the connection between the sea and the belly, in their motions as well as in their place as creative centers of energy.
Then in 1991 I was impelled to do a chefti-telli into the sea. I went to Maui in January to do this (it being a bit chilly in the Puget Sound for this type of performance). With that experience, the light really went on!
As I found myself in the midst of the dance, surrounded by the tug and pull of the watery elements of the natural world, amazing insight came to me. I realized that this was the perfect venue for the bellydance; that the ancient women’s story being told by the dance was the same as the constantly unfolding story being told by the sea and the sky and the wind and the trees. Creation, being, joy, sorrow, love, birth, death.
I also saw that I had come to think of my club work as dancing in the unnatural world. But as I moved in the moment with the sand and surf, there were many more similarities to the cabaret than I had expected. The skills required were the same: agility, grace, intuition, timing, daring, trusting in myself. I was the same dancer, and yet somehow here in the sea I had expected the dance to be more real.
This was because I had been thinking that I was somehow apart from nature, that when I entered the club, nature stayed outside. But here I was, a part of nature, just as I was when dancing in the club, or walking down the street, or doing the dishes. The energy that pulses through my body as I dance, walk or sit is none other than nature. I am a part of, not apart from, Her. When I dance, all the cells in my body are singing like choirs of angels in praise of the beauty, the awe and the terror that is a part of life! Dancing with nature gave me the awareness that any separation we feel is an illusion.
This one illusion in our thinking may be at the crux of many of our world’s problems. Most of us are not fully in the bodies that nature gave us; we live in our heads most of the time. When we are not fully in our bodies we can’t pick up on the information that’s coming in from all directions, from other sources than our brains; we miss and misinterpret many things.
Later when I went back to my club gig, carrying the experience of the sea dance with me, my cabaret dance took on a deeper dimension.
Another insight was that up until this time I had been using Nature as a backdrop rather than turning my conscious attention toward Her. This was like dancers who dance at the music instead of with the music. As my dance became attuned to the dance of the sea, I began to feel a shared expression, a unity between the music of the planet and the bit of harmony I was adding.
This is the jewel in the center of the experience of dancing in nature. Whether you are dancing in the primordial ocean, in the deep forest, in the vast desert, your environment becomes a giant mirror. So much creative potential is inside of you, pouring out through your dance. And nature’s creations are all around you, your audience, your dance partner, your orchestra; sparkling, vibrating, radiating, flowing, pulsing, singingly alive; so colorful, soft, tender, ominous, ferocious, awesome. There you stand, feet rooted in fertile earth, with all that previously ignored primal vitality spiraling and twining inside your belly for all of time. You suddenly feel so in place, so connected with the world, as you dance in the seat of creation, generating life and seeing life reflected back at you in the mirror of existence.
The ancient meaning of the word “cathedral” is “place where the Goddess sits.” Dancing in nature puts you in the middle of that cathedral, in active communion with that Goddess, Nature, Life.
Woman = body = vessel = world. Within the feminine aspect are profound mysteries of the creative capabilities of the universe. We are all made of stardust; every atom in your dancing body was once part of a star, so scientists now tell us. Within the feminine experience lies a cosmology to ponder and to inspire us. I believe that locked inside the body lies the herstory of the collective unconscious of women. These stories have not been stored in books for they cannot be told in words. It is through direct experience that the bellydance can become a mode for comprehension. The language of the body contains the wisdom of the world, and bellydancing in nature enables us to both speak and at the same time hear these truths. Woman = body = vessel = world.
I think it is a very important exercise that we envision our bodies as Earth, and dancing in nature allows us to do this. It is a way of mending our broken feminine identity with organic alliance. It is no accident that women’s issues and environmental issues are coming to our awareness at the same time. A view that the Earth is alive allows Her to be an equal partner in the dance. Through this magic, the dance can act as a healing salve both for the individual, and for mankind’s wounded relationship with the Earth.
WE ARE ONE WITH MOTHER EARTH. TO HEAL HER, WE MUST FIRST HEAL OURSELVES AND THE PEOPLE WHO DESTROY HER. HEAR MY VOICE SINGING IN ALL THE NAMED AND NAMELESS THINGS, AND LOVE ALL THAT LIVES, EVEN AS YOU STAND BEWILDERED ON THE STREETS IN THE GREAT CITIES OF THE WORLD.
AGNES WHISTLING ELK.
WOMAN AT THE EDGE OF TWO WORLDS, BY LYNN ANDREWS
Delilah is an internationally recognized performer and instructor of bellydance. She is a partner in Visionary Dance Productions, which has produced her series of instructional and performance video tapes. Delilah holds an annual bellydance retreat in Maui, where all aspects of bellydancing, including dancing in nature, are studied and experienced.www.visionarydance.com