Bellydancing In Nature
How I Won the NPR "Making a Difference" Radio
I've been working for several years, with growing intensity, on
the idea of taking bellydance into the natural environment, and connecting
our bodies and our dance with the body and dance of the earth itself.
After my 10-day retreat on Maui last January, I scheduled a few extra days
to experiment further with this concept. There were three dancers beside
myself: Karrilee Shames, Salyna Raven, and Claire. We were accompanied by
Armando and Suliman of Sirocco, my husband Steve Flynn, and Karrilee's
We had made plans for a guide to take us to a nearby bamboo
forest early one morning. A tropical wind and rain storm raged through the
night before our trip. As the sun first came up, we strained to see signs
of the storm's letting up; the sky was still cloud covered, but the wind
had subsided. Everything in the air felt suspended in these early morning
Our guide arrived from the other side of the island with a report
of on-going torrential rain. On Maui, one valley might be sunny while the
one next to it is deluged. Since it was storming on the other side of the
island, perhaps the storm had moved thru. We decided to take our chances
and persevere, with care. Flash floods are a serious danger in the hills
of Maui; we did not want to find ourselves dancing in the middle of
We drove to the trail head for the forest, parked and surveyed
the weather again. It felt good; the sun was shining, so we packed up our
satchels of instruments, costumes, camera equipment, and lunches. We were
off on a bellydance safari!
The hike through the bamboo was exciting and magical. The sound,
the scent, and the temperature put us in deep communion with nature. Our
awareness needed to be at peak performance, sensing any change in the
weather or water levels of the streams that would alert us to head out. We
needed to listen, and to keep our sense of direction and time coherent.
The process of dancing in nature is to be in tune with the
natural world around you, to invite nature in to inspire your dance. The
student learns that there is a difference between dancing with nature and
dancing in front of nature. The more experience one develops, the closer
one is able to come to the earth. The illusionary barrier that separates
humankind from nature thins, and the realization of our sacred
inter-connectedness with absolutely everything takes over.
Sol and Armando serenaded us with rhythm and melody as we danced
with the curvature of the land, the rocks and the streams. We danced in
the waterfalls, the sunlight and the occasional rain shower. Steve was
recording our experiences on videotape.
Later in the day we found a choice spot in the bamboo forest that
seemed to call to us. It was a wide place in the narrow path that cut
through the forest. The other three dancers and myself formed a circle;
two stood in the forest and two stood on the path, marking the four
directions. Steve with his camera and Armando with his tar stood in the
center of our circle. We all decided to focus on a spot about 11 feet over
the center of the circle and meditate as a group on sending healing energy
toward the earth's rain forests. We would do a kind of dancing prayer.
Armando began to play, we began to dance, and Steve began to turn
at the center of the circle. Armando turned also, to stay behind Steve as
he filmed us in the circle. As they played and watched us dance, we
realized that their turning at the center was part of the dance as well!
The dance, the music, and even the documentation of it, had all joined
together with the forest in this moment.
There was magic in the event. When we got back to the retreat
center that night, we saw that we had some amazing video footage to show
from it. The dancers, musicians and myself continued to work with nature
for a few more days; it was a richly creative time for all of us.
Back on the mainland, we began scrutinizing our footage and
showing it around a bit to interested dancers and friends. Whenever we
came to the bamboo dance, a feeling would come of reverence, marvel and
importance that is hard to put into words. In some way the piece itself
spoke to the reason all of us were in the forest dancing with nature that
day. There was something special going on here.
In April, Steve told me about a contest on National Public
Radio's syndicated environmental program, "Living on Earth". The
prize for the contest, called "Making a Difference," was a
10-day trip for two to the Costa Rican rain forest for whoever could
submit the best idea for helping the environment. In 500 words or less you
had to complete the sentence, "If I were president in 1993, this is
what I would do to make a difference for our environment..."
I grabbed a pen. I envisioned our dance in the bamboo forest. I
grounded and centered my energies as I do with my students every time I
teach a class. I felt the earth's inspiration well up into my body, gather
in my belly, then move up and out, spilling out onto the page just like
the oracles of old. Then I read what I had written back to myself.
Called "Well-Nation Day, A Day of Peace On Earth," it
was inspired by my past three-years' work on the concept of dancing in
nature. "Well-Nation Day" was a call for everyone (private,
business, and government) to take a day off once a month, shut everything
down, and give the earth, and themselves, a rest.
It would save on the resources that would have been consumed and
the pollution of various kinds that would have otherwise been produced on
that day. But perhaps more importantly, it would give everyone the chance
to step off the juggernaut of entrenched patterns of their busy 1990's
lives, and look at the world with fresh eyes. It would give us a chance to
step away from technologies and life styles that tend to separate us from
the earth, and to perhaps experience more directly our existence as beings
living in our bodies, on the earth. It would be an opportunity to have a
different consciousness for one day each month.
The more we live in our heads, the easier it becomes to
rationalize away our environment. The truth is that we can't live in our
heads without our bodies. The realization of the connection between
ourselves and our bodies, and between our bodies and the earth, is the
same one that we made in the bamboo forest, the same one I've been
pursuing in all the dancing-in-nature work.
Bellydancing taught me this connection. This ancient dance form
reminds us that women = body = vessel = earth. Dancing with nature has
taught me where the power of all our impulses and inspirations come from.
"They derive from a slow and powerful root we cannot see,"
We took the written piece to Steve's recording studio, and I
recorded it, adding interesting sound effects and sonic ambiance (complete
with the Mormon tabernacle Choir singing "Hail to the Chief" at
the end). Proud of our results, I made up my mind that, even if it didn't
win, I was going to send it to President Clinton. The women's drum circle
I belong to drummed for our entry's journey to Boston thru the postal
system. We waited.
A few weeks later, I came home to find a message on my answering
machine from NPR saying I was a finalist. The following Monday, I received
the call, "Hello, Delilah Flynn, this is Peter Thompson from
"Living on Earth." YOU WON!"
On June 19 they announced me the winner, interviewed me and
played my piece on the radio, and awarded the prize trip to the Costa
Rican rain forest. What a wonderfully synchronistic cycle: what may have
begun in Maui's bamboo forests as a danced prayer, gets transformed into
an idea, which flies through the airwaves via NPR, to be transformed again
into a trip to Costa Rica, where I will most certainly be continuing this
work, dancing my heart out in the rain forest. I can't wait! As I am
frequently heard to say, "I love this universe!"
View a transcript of Delilah's contest entry, a Well Nation Day.