Belly Dancing in Egypt: Experience of the Beautiful
November 29, 2000
Note from the Author
I sometimes get carried away when I write and tell a story. Because I have so much to say and everything is so interrelated, I find it difficult to write something short. I know time is valuable and also that there is so much to read; here I offer a synopsis of the point of my article so the reader can determine whether or not she wants to read on.
Basically, I try to create a picture of how some of my classes are very different. The story below involves two Ancient Egyptian/Pharonic Style Dances. I describe one in detail for the record and illustrate how it falls into two different categories of dance: choreographic and sacred liturgical. Then the point is deepened by sharing a personal psychic experience, an experience of the beautiful.
It was Tuesday night. I taught my small six oclock and seven oclock beginning bellydance classes at my Fremont studio and then ran over to the big studio in Ballard to teach my intermediate/advanced class at eight-thirty. On this night, I would go from basic figure eights and shimmies to the more esoteric. The theme for the Ballard Firehouse studio class was Pharonic Style Dance.
I arrive and greet Sarah Teller, my classroom assistant and dance coach. Shes signing people in and handling any business so I duck into the back and change my skirt, coin belt and sports bra for a simple long, sleeveless knit gown. I call dresses like these Goddess Gowns. Its what I like to wear when I teach and perform Ancient Egyptian Pharonic Style Dances, sometimes also called Hieroglyphic dances. I also slip on some cobra arm bands and a pharonic style wig.
I enter the class room and I feel the surprise and delight from my students in seeing that I would get all dressed up for them on a Tuesday night. Some of my students have taken my Pharonic dance class before and recognize my costume. But there is extra delight because, on this night, Im wearing my new Ancient Egyptian Hathor headdress. I made it especially to take to Egypt last month to do pharonic dance in the pyramids and temples along the Nile with musicians and chanters, Ani Williams and John Dumas. I also show them some of my sacred dance instruments that have brought me greater personal meaning over the years. A pair of sistrum, a Hathor mirror and a brass Ankh. Ive used these props in various dances.
I began class with a simple dance Ive taught for years called Lotus Pool. The music is taken from the sound track of the 1954 Movie; The Egyptian. It begins with a series of forward steps and hand and arm passes and then moves into full body profile poses to each side. One move is especially unique. It combines arm movements and hops and ends in a back arch with the hand posed back over the tail bone. Then a series of circular patterns ensue. The elbow, forearm and hand undulate and lead the body to walk in a tight circle for eight counts to the right, and then to the left. The hands end posed overhead. Then the hips begin to circle and the arms begin an hour glass pattern to the sides and occasionally a head slide or circle is added, giving this movement a magical essence. Next, a second series of hand passes and side profiles shape the dance, until the body suddenly and gracefully floats across the floor to the right then the left, and then settles from off the ball of foot to fully rooted like a tree onto the floor with arms raised overhead. The music slows around a womans solo voice.
The next series of movements is symbolic of a loosening of the branches. With focused emotional intensity, the hand turns down the center column of the body in front of the face, throat and to the heart where it unfolds out to the left. The motion returns along the same path and then repeats on the right. Both arms return overhead. The dancer looks up at her hands as they open and move forward and appear as if they hold a heavy globe. I call this move drawing down the moon. Within open time in the music, the image is the qua for the dancer now, rather than a counted choreography. Visualize! Imagine you are magically pulling down the moon and dropping it into a pool of water at your feet, I tell my students.
As they do this they descend to the ground on bent knee. I call this the sandal pose. I instruct them to lose themselves in the inspiration of the moons reflection on the water and improvise a floor dance to the rest of the musical passage.
In this dance we go from left-brain directed choreography to right-brain personal investment. But that is not all. We go from standing in airspace and working the entire body in forms and dimensions, to recognizing the heavens, connecting with the heart, to the sanctity of the earth and the souls ground. People have been coming down to the earth to pray since the beginning. This is no accident. There is powerful soul work to be done here.
This is a sacred dance. One of the most important aspect about dance is this: the openness and freedom of the second section of this dance expands the idea of dance as performance to dance as personal ritual or public worship, which would put it into the category of liturgical dance. In the space left open in this dance, I have sung songs, and read poems. I have voiced or silently made prayers. I have made wishes and spoke positive affirmations for myself. I have simply listened, being sure to breathe and be present and then let the spirit guide me as to where to move as a dancing sculpture unfolds from within my bones - an original dance.
This simple story, I think, contains the reasons why I dance. I can feel it as I write these words. I need a connection with my body in todays world, one that isnt being met by many activities. Ive reached way back to Ancient Egyptian insights to find sustenance in this regard. However, I make this connection in all forms of dance, be it bellydance, Charleston or kick boxing. Once you know the availability of this connection with body and soul, there is no other way.
For the second half of the class I introduced my Hathor Movement Meditation. This is another stylized Ancient Egyptian dance. I begin by explaining who Hathor, the namesake of this dance, is. She is the Goddess of beauty, music, dance, women, birth and ecstatic states. She is often mixed up and interchangeable with Isis. You need to know how to read the hieroglyphic name to tell them apart in Ancient Egyptian wall reliefs.
For me, this is truly an inspirational dance. I explain to my class how this dance synchronistically came to me while cooking in my kitchen one evening. And now I have danced it in some fantastic places all over the world, including in the German show Egypta and in Hathors temple in Dendera Egypt in 1997.
We go through all the slow movement passes together and then I stop to tell my class a beautiful experience involving this Hathor dance from my most recent trip to Egypt (October 2000).
I was in Nefertaris Temple in Abu Semble. Only part of our Sacred Sound Tour group was present. This is one of my favorite temples. Ani had her harp and set to play in the corner of the main chamber with its six Hathor head pillars supporting a 14 foot ceiling. I took the lead and taught the group a series of dervish arm and hand movement passes symbolic of polishing and opening the heart. Then I began to spin in the center of the space for a while and then Rachel did a beautiful soul filled dance. Mark Dalton, who was a member of our group, stood at the opposing corner across from Ani and videotaped the dances. As we finished, I noticed he seemed overwhelmed and I became concerned. As we left the temple, Mark approached me and told me he was indeed overwhelmed. He was intently videotaping and observing the beautiful scene as it unfolded when, all of a sudden, as we finished, a loud voice inside his head repeated over and over again this simple prayer.
Good Queen Nefertari
Fill my heart with Love
So I may do good work.
Mark shared this with me as we were passing from the temple site into an onrush of a thousand tourists arriving. Six plane loads of tourists had just landed at the airport and everyone was now arriving. The peace and quiet we had entertained was dissolving all around us. If you had asked me thirty minutes later, What was that prayer Mark heard in his head in Nefertaris temple? I would not have been able to repeat it. I would have just known it was simple, beautiful, and feminine.
However, there is more. Three days later we were scheduled to be in the great Pyramid. Our group had received special arrangement and permission to be inside the pyramid all alone for two full hours. We would be free to go in any chamber we liked, uninterrupted. As we prepared in the hours leading up to this event, it became very clear to me that the members of our group held many personal expectations and even had planned agendas of what they wanted to get out of this experience. I had been in the great pyramid twice before and had amazing experiences, but, at this point on our trip, I had no expectations. Perhaps I was exhausted, though I felt clear. I felt acutely aware of other peoples needs. So I just floated. I took the camera and became the eye in the pyramid on the dollar bill. Ani played her harp and sang, John played his flutes and digereedo and people chanted and toned in the silvery darkness. People went deep into personal space. I felt like I became invisible as I glided in and out and around everyone's energy bodies.
I began in the Kings chamber and was alone in the Queens chamber for a few minutes then descended to the ante chamber in the bedrock beneath the complex for a while. The camera ran out of tape so I put it down and laid down on the floor next to the well at the bottom and, as they say, got didged by the digereedoo all over my body.
We had only five minutes left. The next thing I remember is entering the Queens Chamber again. There were three other women inside meditating. I entered from the North. I found myself directly across from Judy with my back to the East, facing into the center of the space. Eneka was in the Southwest corner facing into the center, Mary Ann was facing into the Northwest corner and Judy was in the middle of the wall at the West, directly across from a corbeled nitch on the Eastern wall. Judy had her hands over her head in a triangle pose with her eyes closed. Her long slender body and extended posture reminded me of Nut ready to swallow the sun, carry it through her body and deliver it back to the East in the cosmic round . She was in a pose from my Hathor Meditation, unbeknown to her. I took her position as a qua from the universe for me to do my Hathor Meditation then and there. So I did. At the end I always turn 90 degrees and take three steps, bow and make a prayer or wish into the earth. I did not plan it, but these three steps took me toward the East where my head was just inside the nitch. This is not a little nitch. However, the corbeled shapes rose out and up around my peripheral awareness like a crown around my aura. It felt magnificent. As I bowed and opened my eyes I saw the stone floor. I felt this crown around me and I, all of a sudden without any sense of invited recall, I heard Marks voice mixed with voices of all the ages.
Good Queen Nefertari
Fill my heart with Love
So I may do good work.
My heart swelled and I felt I had been given such a remarkable gift of knowing. First, I felt I was given a sneak preview of how non-linearly the universe works, in a way that is usually out of our view. Second, I will never forget these humble and beautiful words; and what better prayer to affirm and live by. This is an experience of the beautiful.
And as I pass on these dances and this story to to my class, it reverberates out even further into the world. Many of them will not forget. The dance we did in Nefertari's Temple was called Zikr which means to remember. Thank you Nefertari!
As we finish the Tuesday night intermediate/advanced class a request is made. Can we do this again next week?
Yes, let us remember it.