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Bellydancing In Nature

How I Won the NPR "Making a Difference" Radio Contest.

By Delilah
copyright© 1994

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 husband Richard.

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 hours.

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 one.

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," Rumi.

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.

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