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Conversations with Delilah and Julia Terr
Part II

This conversation was videotaped in 1996 in Seattle, Washington. These are the full transcripts
with additional comments
not seen on the DVDs.

Delilah's Bellydance Workshop, Vol. II

D: For instance, lets take the shimmy. I've given a lot of thought to the meanings of individual movements. There was a time in the Moslem world when people were forbidden to reproduce the human form. Music and dance were taboo and human expression was limited. To reproduce the human form is a basic quality of human expression. A child will draw its first picture as a circle with a dot in the center. A belly and a navel, “That's me” the child will say.” This moratoriuma on a basic freedom of self-expression blocked a lot of innate creative potential. I believe that creative energy cannot be destroyed, it is essential to life. If it's blocked off, it condenses and finds another way for release. Scholars say that at this time when humans couldn't reproduce the human form, the creative energy went full force into mosaic work, tile work, architecture, jewelry, and woodwork to incredible degrees. For women however, creativity was blocked even more. No voice, no determination over your life or where you go or who you marry. The space that one occupies begins to condense, it starts to overload and shake from strain.

That's what we see in the shimmy, it's the vibration of the life force condensed. It can't go out, so it backs up, to the most creative point; to the belly, to the hips. It goes in, and in. And what we see is the purist form of shake, quiver and vibration. Nobody shakes it quite like the women in the Middle East. They’ve got it down. Maybe it comes out of a contortion of human rites and life situations, but what we are witnessing in a body quiver is the beautiful condensed value of the creative essence. Something beautiful that comes out of a lot of outside pressure. A diamond is formed by pressure exerted on coal. This is the essence of that creative force, the vibration that comes out of the earth. I believe that if you block it off any more, move any further inward, women will be infertile. There will be no life force here. Life on this plane will just stop. It just keeps going in, until it is too small and there is no more.

JT: So, is the shimmy, in a way, a quintessential movement?

D: Yes, the shimmy is a big part of the dance. Science recognizes energy and life force as vibration and wave forms. You learn to shimmy your hands, this is very shamanic. The shimmying of hands is shamanic all over the world.

Shimmying your shoulders is all about passion. Your shoulders are thermometers of passion and sensibility. When you think of something you love to do and you shimmy your shoulders that just feels so good, it's about passion, it's about heat, it's about embracing life! Its not just about shaking your boobs. That's superficial and immature. Our culture could believe that, but that's not what it's about. It depends on our filters, how we view something. We’re so conditioned to think in a certain way we won't see anything else. The magic of this dance is that it broadens your horizons. It makes you see and think differently.

I want to see more men dancing. Men shouldn't be afraid of their feminine side, their feminine energy. We’re all made of masculine and feminine energy, and to live in a productive future, I think we have to keep it all balanced.

JT: What is it like for men to experience belly dance?

D: Men usually can roll their belly quicker and better than most women, in my experience. I think it really has to do with the amount of freedom men have. Women see for themselves that they are not in touch with their bellys. It starts at a young age, because little boys can roll their bellies easier than little girls, most times. They are allowed to be physical, they're innately more physical. Girls have to wear shirts boys do not. From early on this sets up a difference in regard to freedom. I have daughters, but they've had boy playmates, and you can see there's a difference of essence. But we can learn from each other’s differences.

JT: So the belly dance is always a celebration of the feminine, and for a man to belly dance, is to understand a small part of that celebration? Can a man find masculinity in belly dance?

D: I really think that it's about feminine energy, and I would probably stay hard on that point. I don't necessarily want to limit it to celebration — maybe appreciation of the totality of life is better. I think it's knowing the feminine. If a man learns to belly dance he learns about his feminine side, about being a vessel, the internal world, of being a part of the earth verses above the earth, about vulnerability, pain and joy of birth, cyclic renewal, emotional accessibility, happiness, sorrow, the whole spectrum. It's learning about life, the process, the forge of creativity.

JT: How far can a man go with that feminine process of creativity?

D: If you start applying what I would consider masculine aspects to the dance, in my opinion, it becomes another dance. In a bellydancing show you'll see a man doing a folkloric stick dance or something similar and it becomes more masculine. Or, they do a sword dance and it becomes a war dance. Not necessarily all the time. It’s fine. It’s art, it doesn't mean they can't do it. But it becomes another aspect of a broader Middle East dance form, or just plain show biz.

If you ask, “What is the belly dance?” I don't think it's simply Middle Eastern. I think it's a women's dance — not owned by any one culture but rather by all women. It’s about creative process. It's about gestation. It's about giving birth, women have the gift. Women have this ability to bring life through them. It scares the pants off of a lot of men. It’s a gift to be that close to the portal that brings life into this world. You stand as a witness, as a mother giving birth. It’s incredible. I would say that bellydance is a women's dance, and there is some root particle to it that is very much feminine. But it is not just about birthing babies. It's a metaphor for the creative force. We’re all, men and women alike, giving birth to projects, to ideas, to concepts, to learning experiences, and that is the metaphor that comes through in the dance. The dance is created by a body in movement through time and space, put to music, or silence, to vibration or frequency, to color, to air. You're using all these elements when you're talking about dance. I believe that we're born in this world to move through time and space, and when we learn any kind of dance — tap dancing, or another dance — we are learning to move through time and space. I believe that studying any kind of dance can teach you more about your life process, and we, in this culture, do not think like that. We have a locked in attitude about dance. “Oh, dance. Isn't that something you do with leotards? Something that young people do, on a stage, with a ballet bar? Oh, no. I don't dance.”

In ancient society it was unheard of not to dance. It would be as if you didn't drink water or eat bread. You danced for your life. For health. It was just a part of life. We've come a long way from associating this in our daily life. We think of it as a hobby. The percentage of people who have dance in their daily lives is so small, I find that really sad. It’s our opportunity to live. What we're born with is a body to move and express and feel. Be in our right brain, be in our bodies. I find that when I'm teaching bellydancing to women, one of the big obstacles is getting them grounded in their own bodies. It’s as if they’re floating up above their bodies, and I want them to sit down and sink into their bodies, feel the weight in their hips. If you're going to shake or move your hips, you have to know where they are, thighs included. Often women aren't really placed in their body. Once I was trying to teach a group of women to do sort of an earthy, walking shimmy, and these women we're just popping off the floor. So, I decided to try to walk like they we're doing, because if I could walk like they we're doing, maybe I could correct the problem. To walk and shimmy like they we're doing, I had to erase my hips, like using a psychological eraser. So I said to them, “All right, you guys(sorry, ladies) don't know where your hips and thighs are.” I want you to feel them, I want you to touch them, I want you to embrace your thighs. You’ve got to know where your body parts are and you've got to feel your body and love yourself. Feel where your hips are, feel the weight. So, let’s imagine them ten times bigger. Radical, perhaps, but it worked. They started to realize how removed they were, that they don't see themselves in the mirror anymore, because they just don't look. Not to say that there's anything wrong with their bodies. They have to learn to really see and be and also design the body you want. That's the first step, is to know where your body is.

When I had to lose weight after my pregnancy, I had fifty pounds to lose, I would visualize, I would work out, I would dance, and I would visualize my body coming back together the way I wanted it to. Id think, thighs, it needs to be strengthened here, I need to lose a little here, and that week it would be exactly where I’d lose, and strengthen. When the mind and the body are working together in harmony it's just incredible. I think that's what belly dance does, it accesses all parts of the body. Not just the feet lead. Feet are secret propellants of the dance. Sometimes the hips lead. Sometimes the shoulders, sometimes the hands. The energy connection is a lot like tai chi, or yoga. This is an ancient dance form and I believe the most ancient principles of movement and breath work are all part of the dance. More related to it than, say, ballet.

One of the things that I'm doing with the dance, right now, where my career has led me, I've performed in cabarets and that kind of thing and really had a lot of fun with it, and done concerts, and creative things, I've danced at galleries with other artists, and just a multitude of experiences that I've had with this dance that I don't think a lot of other bellydancers have had. Maybe they haven't realized that they can do these things. Giving yourself permission is a big part of the real dance.

JT: Were you dissatisfied?

D: I see myself as a perpetual student, I'm always reading, and writing, and thinking. I'm exploring, I'm combining different elements. I learn more from my students probably than they learn from me. I always feel like I learn something new from every class. There's always something new, something unexpected. I’ll go teach a class and something magical will happen. I'm always looking for it. A lot of people go through life and don't look for the magic. I think belly dance has taught me how to do that. This is a thread that has been with me always, but what is paramount now is taking ancient dance, and combining it with dancing in nature. I know that it's brought me more in touch with my body, my creativity, my life.

About four years ago, I did some video dance work, dancing into the sea. Right into the surf. We went to Maui, where the water is warm, the lighting and scenery are great. I didn't have musicians for this so I brought some music, I could barely hear the sound track over the sound of the surf, but it was plugged in to the camera. I knew the music inside and out anyway. I did a cheiftitelli, an ancient dance rhythm, right into the sea. I couldn't practice here (in the Northwest), because the Puget Sound is too cold, so I just did it a million times in my mind, then I went to Maui and did it for real. My policy is to be in the moment, so whatever comes up I can use. If a wave moves that way, it inspires a reaction. My whole body was in tune with the wind, the light, the sand moving out from under my knees or feet, or the water all of a sudden going up, going out. It was wonderful, I couldn't believe it. On that first dance, I thought, “Why have I waited so long?” It was perfect. The belly dance was meant to be danced in nature. Of course, in the ancient past, it most likely was. How come it took me so long to figure it out? The other uncanny thing was, as I was in the water, I could reflect on the same things I was doing with the water and the energy as being the same things I was doing in the nightclub; in the indoor, decadent experience of the nightclub. The night club scene could be a jungle, there was plenty of stimulation, it has always been my ability to incorporate the surroundings into my dance. Here I was, doing the same thing in nature. it was a surprise to me how similar the two were. What's the lesson here? We don't need to take ourselves to nature. We are nature. I feel so silly saying this, but it is a revelation I have passed on to many students. We don't have to take ourselves outside to nature, nature is with us all the time. We are part of nature. Also, when I went back to the nightclub after dancing into the sea, my dance had developed another dimension. It got much deeper. All of a sudden I would slip into a rhythm and I would feel the surf, and I would feel the sand, and I would feel the sacredness of the earth, and be able to incorporate it all. Everything.

JT: What kind of feedback did you get? Was there a change that others could see?

D: I don't know that I'm overly concerned with other people’s feedback, but I know that my career took off in a new direction. I started bringing people with me to dance in nature (Hawaii, Costa Rica, the Northwest), to experience nature and dance with her. There were no teachers for me to learn from when I started this process. I had to test the waters and explore different avenues. I did a lot of experimenting. And many of my students helped me develop a process of understanding the inspirations that you gain from nature and how to move them into your body. Bellydancing is perfect for it. Tai chi is done in nature, that helped me to understand the connection between bellydancing and tai chi. It’s self expression, being in your body.

The whole meaning of bellydancing is much more than classifying yourself as a modern Egyptian bellydancer. That's one aspect of bellydancing. Hula could be considered bellydancing, too, with the concentrated energy in the hips and the belly, that cradle. You, as a dancer, being in your body, in that special way — a powerful way, a grounded way. Bellydancing is just a term available to us. So, now I've been dancing with wind, and up in volcano craters, with the earth. Sometimes we use music, other times we just use the sounds around us, like the sound of insects. The sound of the cicadas when we were in Costa Rica was amazing. I had never heard cicadas before. They are so loud and so eerie. Their pitch would rise, and then fall, and rise, and then fall. It was like a breath. You could feel the energy moving up into your body, from the earth. And then you realize you're dancing with INSECTS! It’s amazing. A group of women accompanied me there, and that experience blew us all away. It brought us all closer together, that communing with nature. I don't know how to explain it, but these experiences change our lives, and maybe change our luck, if you believe in luck. I think it gets us lined up on a track where things flow more smoothly, more creatively, more satisfying. I love my life. I love this universe, and I'm so fortunate that I can run around and express myself and dance like this. I feel really blessed that I can share it with people.

JT: Tell me some of the things you do in teaching, and how the Hawaiian retreat evolved.

D: Every January I convince more than 30 women, musicians and staff to take ten days out of their lives, and really study dance, commune with nature, be in their bodies, network with their sisters, and focus some priority on dance. Rather than a day workshop here, a day workshop there, skimming the surface... you're going to invest yourself, you're going to be there. And we do it in a beautiful setting — a kind, nurturing environment. We have a dance studio. We study the techniques of the dance. We talk. Being away for ten days on a retreat is therapeutic, and a lot of stuff comes up for people. They’re channeling it into the dance and to the natural world. We visit this area where all the whales go to give birth, right off the coast of Maui, it’s the perfect place. We dance into the sea, early in the morning. Women work on their costumes for months to prepare, to honor and celebrate this process. It’s like a rebirth. It can be many things to many people, and I strive to let them find the meaning of the dance on that day. And it’s just amazing to see. You’re with a group of thirty six women, and I think there's a lot of safety in that. It’s early in the morning, the beach isn’t full of people, and you’re given permission to dance. We’re all out there doing it, and it's so fun! What really makes me happy is that women who have done this, they’re writing letters saying that they have continued. They’ve taken their costume, taken their husband, gone out to other places, maybe taken a video camera, maybe not, and just experienced it, passed it on to their daughters and their sisters. It's powerful, really powerful. I’ve taken my daughters out to the Hoh Rain Forest near the Washington coast, full of ancient trees, an incredible place. We’ve danced together there, and as we were leaving, well, most campers have sleeping bags and a tent and we had a suitcase. “What’s in the suitcase, Delilah?” “Well, ah, costumes, instruments, and jewelry.” We would go to the fabric store and buy remnants of sweatshirt material in greens and browns. We’d tie the fabric into big turbans, and drape it across our chests, and tie it into skirts, and big hip scarves, bangles and jewelry. We would get all dressed up, to be with nature; to celebrate the moment and be expressive. It’s not choreographed, it's totally in the moment. My husband will take his video camera and tape us. It’s uncanny to be able to go back and see what you've done, it's a treat. As we were leaving the park, somebody had a survey that asked, “What did you do in the park?” Hike? Hunt? They wanted to know if the airplanes flying overhead we're interfering with the experience. (which they we're, so I commented on that). But we answered, “None of the above! We danced in nature!’ It was unheard of, provacative. I realized I was the only one putting this on paper.

JT: You danced when you were pregnant, but when did you get your daughters involved?

D: Well, my live is pretty crazy and pretty imaginative, and we have a lot of friends in all sorts of different arts. My children don't study with me, they are just around it. They absorb it through osmosis. I have taught a few children's classes, my children we're involved, and they have taught me many things. It’s incredible what they’ve taught me. My veil therapy originated with Victoria when she was a small child, it was amazing.

JT: What is veil therapy?

D: Well, Id have to show you. It’s difficult to explain. It’s a process of working with veils in a very therapeutic way. It’s almost like a massage. The process of giving veil therapy is as much a part of it as receiving veil therapy. It has branched out into a separate workshop. I teach workshops specifically on veil therapy now.

But my daughters dance, because they are around it, it's amazing. Because it’s through the body and non-verbal, you see it enough, and you watch it, and hear the music... they just start dancing. That's how it was in the Middle East, too. I went to Cairo in 1977 with a group of women to study bellydancing. Well, I didn't think I would learn how to belly dance in a class situation there. I was studying it, and I just thought I would go with a group of women that were interested in the same things. I knew from the Middle Eastern men that I knew at home that there weren't going to be belly dancthe dance as small children, as part of their culture. They learn the stage stuff from musicians, not from other bellydancers. Its not a sorority in the night clubs like it is behind closed doors. It was just a different situation then. (Today it’s different.)

When I went to Egypt in 1977, we were all invested in ancient Egypt, and Bedouins, and ethnic jewelry, and all the ancient past of the Middle East. They were wearing fishnet stockings and high heeled shoes, very reminiscent of the sixties in America, go-go dancing. They were emulating us, and we were emulating their past. It was a really interesting thing. They were also very suspicious of us. As I travel more and more, I see people’s attitudes toward Americans, and it's very enlightening. These women were scared to death that we were going to take their jobs, simply because we were American, the new girls on the block, imports.

Continued on Delilah's Bellydance Workshop, Vol. III

More Conversations: Volume I

A Companion to Delilah's Bellydance
Workshop Series,
Volumes I, II, III

Back to the TABLE OF CONTENTS



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