To Build A Belly Dance Temple

By Delilah
Temple Dancers

Table of Contents


Story: To Build a Belly Dance Temple

The Temple Design

Temple Priestesses

Tarot Card Challenge

Tarot Readings


View any of these original Tarot paintings, by An-Magrith Erlandsen, in detail by clicking on them below. Each card will open as a new window in your Web browser.

The Hierophant

The Lovers


The Moon

Wheel of Fortune

The Sun

The Empress



High Priestess


This year, the 14th year of the legendary Fremont Solstice Feast, the Visionary Dancers built a belly dance temple as an installation.

We began building it on the Sunday before the Feast, and within seven days time, our Dance Temple was complete. Then we tore it down on the eighth day.

We leave this record and dedicate our work to: “All Our Inner Awareness”

It was December Fourth, 2002.

Each year for the past 13 years, it has been my honor to perform a sacred dance ritual involving the burning of the Winter Solstice Sun King Effigy. For the past few years I have invited some of the dancers that I work with to support me in this dance ritual.

2002 was the year I told myself to economize in my use of time, because I had been biting off much more than I can chew. I felt sure I needed to spend December on family time, and also preparing to lead 30 dancers in a 10-day Visionary Caravan Bellydance Retreat in Hawaii in early January (less than a month away). There would be lots of details needing my attention. I didn’t have time to take on any more time-consuming projects, so I encouraged my students to take on their own project for the Winter Solstice Feast, instead of planning a performance with me. I could easily put together a dance as a soloist for Winter Solstice, but the challenge of choreography for nine dancers in such a small space, allowing time for rehearsals, costume construction, and everything else entailed was out of the question. I encouraged them to try a new project and build an installation of their own. I asked them to dream of building a healing dance temple, to don the guise of priestesses and call upon their own inner awareness for guidance.

This dance temple would be a stage where the Visionary Dancers could perform in shifts all night, and each of them would get a chance at much more personal dancing, instead of a five-minute role supporting my performance. I had another reason for this encouragement. It was part of a master plan. I've been cooking up a new idea for a dance troupe called the Neighborhood Temple Priestesses.

Last year I tried to point the group in the direction of this project, but they only had eyes for the main event. This year I was more adamant. It was simple: I was not going to choreograph them, so it was either the Temple or nothing! It took some convincing. At first I didn’t really think they had the drive and devotion it would take to put the project together. I felt that way until about 12 days before the event. They then came to class one day and discussed ideas, hours available and supplies they had at home and their willingness and enthusiasm was high — I was impressed!

Magi (aka An-Magrith Erlandsen, volunteered her life-size tarot oil paintings. (She had been working on paintings of the entire deck and the Major Arcanna were about finished.) We had done a show around her art work earlier that year which proved quite powerful. The dancers had candles, artifacts, pillows, tools, fabric, letters, and family, friends and husbands they would ask to volunteer. The goal was to build a venue we called our Dance Temple. We would invite Solstice guests into this temple, our sanctuary, during the feast from 6:30 until the main event at around 11pm. We would assign 60 to 90 minute shifts for dance priestesses and musicians. This would allow each of us to enjoy the entire feast and still cultivate the project. We envisioned a place people could come and quietly either observe, or participate in beautiful dance performances we call therapies. These are dances I have cultivated over the years that are familiar to many participants in my workshops across the country; “Prayer to Ishtar,” “Veil Therapy,” “The Mirror Dance,” and others. We would work intuitively and industriously with one another, performing dances as therapeutic prescriptions for ailing hearts, as rejuvenating tonics, and as dancing fortune cookies!

I really wanted it to be their project, in which I would have only a supporting role... HA! As usual that turned out to be only wishful thinking! It was my idea, after all, and once I felt their enthusiasm, I would have to jump in, lead it, and see it through to the end. The project would quickly begin to consume me from early morning to late at night.

On the weekend before the Solstice I waited anxiously for e-mail messages to hear when and where the Fremont Arts Council had secured the space that year. That notice had gotten buried in my junk mail folder by mistake, so my dancers and I were in limbo about the space on Friday and Saturday. Indeed, it had been secured, though I didn’t know it until I attended the headdress-making committee meeting on Sunday afternoon. This year’s Feast would be in an old deserted Safeway store at 57th and Northwest 22nd in Ballard.

This was the first year I attended the headdress making. Like all Fremont events, it was more like a party. I found 60 neighbors, young and old, rummaging through boxes of decorations, pipe cleaner wire, beads and ribbons. Each person designing masterpieces with hot glue guns, Christmas tinsel, glitter and thrift store jewelry. We were given prepared bases upon which to make elaborate bangled and embellished headdresses. It was fun and a great way to meet my neighbors. I made eight or nine of them and then eventually Pine (one of my dancers) showed up too. It was her initiative to stake out a space at the Feast site for our group. I was going to give it up, not seeing any of the other dancers present, and thinking about how little time was left for such a large-scale project. Pine was inspired, however, and so together we motivated each other.

We got into the Feast area and arranged with the site manager to block out a suitable space. We found tape and crepe paper and marked out a section of linoleum in the northwest corner of the empty store. On a brown paper bag we wrote with a marker “Visionary Dance Temple” and taped it to the floor. I think we were in what once was the deli section of the grocery store, because there was a pass-through window on the west wall. On the other side of the window were the back storage rooms that would make intriguing installation spaces for other artists. Our space was about 34 feet by 46 feet. Good size for a temple! I immediately started brainstorming about the temple’s design with Pine. She had the idea to use painter’s canvas drop cloths for walls. Seemed reasonable to me.The ceiling was 16 feet high with big beams and wood slates in the ceiling so we could screw eyebolts easily into it and securely hang the paintings from chains overhead. The situation was close to ideal.

Before I left that night I realized I had committed to a huge project that would likely take every minute of each day for the next seven days. Not exactly what I had in mind, but sometimes we don’t get to choose. Sometimes we are called, and once called it is our duty to answer. This project was clearly one of those occasions.

The next morning I wrote and sent e-mail to the other nine dancers outlining the project needs, and put together a schedule of who could work when, and do what. I also sent a JPEG illustration of the design of our temple. Then, each morning for the next seven days, I sent a report about who had done what and the progress we were making.

Monday I went in and chalked out more details at the site. In the North would be a candle-lit altar wall made of both sides of the tarot card of Magi’s choosing. Another card would be set in each direction. An interior wall was needed to create a six-foot-wide corridor our guests would travel through, before they entered the main sanctuary. This corridor would be strung with opposing clotheslines overhead on which we would hang veils to create a veiled gallery maze that people would walk through. In the gallery, four more tarot cards would also be hung. At the end of the tunnel would be set the extra-large painting of the Empress card. Originally when Magi brought the paintings to the site, she had set the Heirophant card in the north. None of the women working that day could imagine working or doing their dances with that foreboding presence standing so prominently in the sanctuary, so we voted him out into the entry way and traded his presence for the High Priestess card. The Heirophant faced west on the outside of the temple next to the Lover card facing south. Inside the gallery hung Justice, the Moon, the Sun, and the Wheel of Fortune. In the inner sanctuary, the Empress hung in the North, Death was in the West, Star was in the East and Strength was in the South.

As the days progressed, our temple was gradually erected. Volunteers would appear from the community who would ask “How can I help? What do you need done Delilah?” I had only to speak my wishes and they would become manifest. It was truly magical. We built a 40-foot long shelf, over 12-feet high, to host lighted candles. We hung acres of white fabric to hide fluorescent light fixtures. Joist brackets were hung between beams and canvas that hung to the floor was secured to long two-by-fours. We took needle and thread and added more fabric where necessary. With needle and thread we sewed our temple together. In the main hall, we brought the rug from my dance studio and placed another smaller one a top of it, creating a dance island on the sea of old linoleum. This island would be our stage. It was Christine Hamby's great idea and handicraft to stencil contact paper with gold paint and put it onto the graying white linoleum to make a faux tile mosaic. Faye Zama and Christine scrubbed the floors clean, stenciled the contact paper, adhered the pattern onto the floor, then covered it all with Future floor polish so it would look more integral. It glistened in the candlelight like a true marbled temple floor. It was magnificent!

Laura Rose and Sarah hung ivy boughs from the candled shelf above, and we built a terraced altar made of a dozen ironing boards covered by gold fabric and duct-taped to the floor for more stability. It was gloriously and femininely inventive, but by the next morning, after a night of tossing and worrying about its security, we decided to dismantle it completely for fear it might be too dangerous to last the evening. We started over. The fire inspection was due on Friday. Laura Legere disassembled it all and started over — only to build an even better altar out of sturdy tables and more ironing boards. We hung a large mirror over each section of candled altar, to bounce light around the room and add beauty and depth. On Friday we passed the fire inspection and everything was sprayed with a fire retardant.

Usually the entire event is candle-lit but there are some special small exceptions. Our veil gallery could not be lit with candles so we were allowed a few strings of Christmas lights to light the corridor and the paintings.

Music! Ah yes, we had some volunteers and we set a schedule of dancers and music due to change shifts every 90 minutes. We also needed two temple guides to lead people through our installation. We were so busy building the structure. We were not exactly sure of how it would all run — but we knew that it would come to us as the time came near.

By the time our temple was completed we knew the name of it: “The Dance Temple of YOUR Inner Awareness.” Our temple was spacious and profoundly powerful. We stood in awe of it. We had so many metaphoric correlations going on related to this project, it really felt like the temple was built out of its own desire to exist, not ours.

I needed to contemplate it all.

Here we have a beautiful open space with its special floor, all wrapped in canvas white, with huge tarot card figures standing in their proper positions. Your body is a complex temple, and our temple was also a constellation of tarot cards. It is meant to be read and I challenge readers and psychics to read it — see The Tarot Layout (coming soon). It was built in seven days for the special day of Winter Solstice, so it must be a Tarot layout which relates to our coming future.

Then what about the role of guests? I felt we should call them “seekers.” Could a walk through our temple (a metaphor for our body) be a “dance of going within?” Could it be an oracle experience for the individual? Yes! — if we choose to experience it as such. How? The seeker must go within, enter the temple, get inside the moment and fully engage their inner awareness. There are Jungian symbolic “road signs’ all around our psychic territory for us to interpret — if we are open to doing it. Like interpreting a dream, we each have to access our awareness, and to allow the dream/dance to communicate a message back to us. Chance and synchronicity line up to answer and support the seeker who asks questions. The road signs are to be found in the intricate, symbolic Tarot paintings, as well as random oracle fortunes we wrote all over the white canvas inner wall. Words heard during the Temple Journey are pertinent to one’s life. Encounters and occurrences here were no accident. I am not talking about La La Land here. This was a purposely and carefully constructed magical space — I know exactly what I’m talking about and I have some great examples of Temple occurrences from that evening I’ll have to write about another day.

The priestesses were not fortune tellers — their role was to serve as empathic instruments. Their intuitive works were guided by natural rhythms and creative inspirations. This is the essence of what we call modern magic.

Our project called for other character roles as well as dancing priestesses. We stationed two Temple Priestess Guides; one just inside the entrance and another in the chamber in front of the Empress at the end of the veil gallery. Their job was to guide and instruct the seekers they encountered.

I finally came up with a page of instructions that Magi transferred to a painted design hung outside of the temple entrance.

The Dance Temple of Your Inner Awareness

Enter the Dance of Life.
Experience Its wisdom and rejuvenating offerings.
You were born into this life to dance.
The divine archetypes dance within you. . . and without you.

To Enter
Call up your internal presence
You hold the understanding deep within your being.
It is up to you to know.
The priestesses will open the bethel of psychic understanding.
If you are willing, the priestesses will guide you
It is all up to you to know.

Begin your Dance by removing your shoes,
Anoint, contemplate, hold a question in your mind.
Wait for your priestess to come for you, bless you and lead you through The Dance Temple of Your Inner Awareness.

Each step through our temple is a symbolic dance through time and space on this one special evening in each life. The seeker enters, is greeted and blessed, then moves through the corridor and pushes through the maze of veils. There was a light at the end of this tunnel! A blazing candle bowl stood at the end of the veiled gallery beneath the portrait of the Empress. The second Temple Guide held seekers there in this chamber space until there was room for them to enter the main sanctuary. They watched through the purple curtain at the activities of the dancing priestess inside the main sanctuary. Before they entered, the seekers were instructed once again by the temple guide;

“Inside the priestess has a gift for you. If you should choose to accept it, hold a wish or question near and dear to your heart as you stand or sit on the tiled line. The priestesses will know, and they will come for you and invite you to participate with them. If you should just like to observe for a while, feel free to do so quietly and then pass through the golden curtain to the east.”

All through the night young and old, lovers and families came and accepted the beautiful and gentle dance therapies delivered by the priestesses. They danced with chimes, rattles, hand mirrors and dozens of scented veils to the music of harp, gong, digereedoo, harmonium, ney, tar and the drum.

It was so very lovely, an honor and a dream come true to serve in the Dance Temple of Your Inner Awareness. I knew, as we all knew, we have done this before in an ancient past. We had been called to this task of erecting this site in seven days time.

At 11pm they came for me and asked if I would direct the burning of the Sun King. Of course that had been my only plan at the beginning, but now it was a role and a duty in a much longer dance. The procession was to lead the Sun King to the grand arena. Beneath the traditional evergreen candle chandelier, the King was hoisted above the gathering crowd. Peter proceeded with his annual dedication, recognizing the years of tradition cultivated by this special community event. He orchestrated a powerful “omm”and toning from the citizens of Fremont. Then my dance unfolded, as a geometric puzzle inspired by the floor painting and the lines in the room. For me it was a continuation of following the call.

The torch was lit and then handed to me. Without much teasing the wand of flame passed from my hand into the night above, along its journey to ignite the Effigy directly. The Sun King Effigy burned slowly this year as we all paused, with much to think about, before a heavy roar of acknowledgement arose from the audience. One could feel the heavy psychic burdens this past year had brought to bear on us all, mixed with serious concerns and prayers for our world’s future.

And what about my overbooked schedule? What happened? Well, our theme in Hawaii this year was “Fire in the Dance; Finding Your Passion.” Our preparation was to address the call of authentic life, lived and danced passionately. Creating the Dance Temple was my passion, and upon reflection it was the perfect psychic preparation for my coming retreat. My family was supportive, and involved in the building of the Dance Temple too. The reward was seeing what could rise out of the fires of passionate commitment in only seven days — and then to let it go to dissolve and burn away into our memory.

Dancers, musicians and helpers

Magi Erlandsen, Faye Zama, Sarah Teller, Pine Crooks, Berkeley Baker, Laura Rose, Laura Legere, Christine Hamby, Sarah Sprigs, Delilah & Steve Flynn, Ed Sullivan, Linda Khandro, Ed Antkoviak, Patrick, Corinne, Barb Ode, Carla, Lorraine, Crystal, and lots of other Fremont artisans. We thank you all!