Part One of a Three Part Article
Part I . . . .Past
The purpose of the video Dance to the Great Mother is NOT just to provide pleasant inspiration for the pregnant woman, though that is one of its benefits. An important aspect often missed is that this dance work is for all to witness, but especially for the children and for our future in general. Dance to the Great Mother provides an image that is rare in our society not that of just a pregnant woman, but of a pregnant woman freely expressing herself physically, emotionally and spiritually through her experience. By doing so, she represents the sacredness of women, motherhood and life. This is not a prenatal video. This has become a video icon.
I have been dancing and teaching good old straight ahead belly dance for nearly 30 years. I see belly dance in much greater terms (as most of us do) than just a bunch of wiggles put on a stage. I see it as having a soulful impact for both presenter and audience. I see it as a therapy and a creative art form rooted in the very source of creativity. It is a wellspring of possibility and potential. I see belly dancing as a gift. Because of my approach in thinking, I am very interested in the aspects of human growth that rise out of our work, and out of our sisterhood.
In this article, I will share with you some of my personal experiences, but I want you to know up front that there is an important underlying message which I seek to deliver. Growing up through belly dancing shapes a personal growth process that provides lessons far beyond just belly dance moves. I know that belly dance has given me the ability to think harder, visualize more clearly and be more the woman I am meant to be. I feel more awake and more alive. One day, I recognized that I had blinders on much of the time . . . as do many women around me. Those blinders were put on us by the evolution of our society. I believe women must battle to keep them off, but, more importantly, we must recognize that we are wearing them in the first place. My wish is that all women wake up, be strong and healthy, think for themselves, have more perspective, and be all they can be. To do that, women must be free to move. They must take those blinders off! When women worry about whether they are thin enough, or whether they are revealing too much of their body; or when they feel they should not speak out and say whats on their mind, then they are not free to move. Thats what excites me most about teaching women to belly dance. This ancient art form teaches women to have a healthy acceptance of their bodies; it opens their minds and erases any self doubt, guilt or shame they carry, either consciously or subconsciously. It does shake things up!
I think its important that women contribute sincerely and consciously to the issues of our worlds future. This means we have to start thinking and dancing outside of the box! We need to offer a uniquely feminine voice in shaping the world politics of tomorrow. Thus, my story.
Barefoot and Pregnant
I was truly barefoot and pregnant with my first child in 1981. Id been working as a professional belly dancer six nights a week at a night club called the Grecian Corner in Seattle, Washington. We all have our own destinies to fulfill, and each of us is given gifts and circumstances in life to accomplish them. My gifts would enable me, in time, to become a really good belly dancer and teacher. I was good at my craft and I was making pretty good money in those early days. However. . .
Being pregnant at age 27 was like having the financial rug pulled out from under me. I had no other occupation. I didnt really mind because I knew I wanted a family as much or more than I wanted a dance career. I danced for a few months while pregnant, then I was glad to retire into an early bedtime schedule, stay at home, and be pregnant. Steve picked up a day job bartending, in addition to playing in the Brian Butler Rhythm and Blues Band at night. I literally had one pair of shoes to speak of, but I didnt really need much to walk around the house and up to the corner grocery store. I had no extra cash at the time, so I didnt buy any new shoes. Mish Mish (a Seattle dancer) was putting together a book on ethnic fashions for pregnant woman. She recognized a dearth of interesting choices for women and saw ethnic clothing had more pizzazz and could spice up maternity wardrobes (remember, this was 1981). Because I was pregnant, she asked me to model for her. So, even in my first pregnancy I was being asked to represent a new image of the pregnant woman a sign of things to come. That was my first realization that the pregnant image for women could, would and needed to change. The shoe shortage became a funny and embarrassing problem. Mish Mish had to go to Nordstrom's and borrow shoes for me so I would have something on my feet for the shoot. (I include this note because it paints the stereotypic picture of pregnant womens vulnerability, and in this case it was perfect.)
During my first pregnancy, I was happy, content, barefoot, and a little nervous and fearful about my future as a professional belly dancer. There was plenty I didnt know. I hadnt done this before. Would I still be viable as a dancer after I had a baby or would I loose my edge? Would I want to be a belly dancer anymore? Would I be out of shape and have bad stretch marks? While I was pregnant, I did have a small income and an outlet for my belly dancing. I taught private lessons in my living room for $10 an hour practically up until the day I delivered. I took up vegetable gardening (I grew tomatoes and zucchini as big as my baby that summer). I stayed pretty healthy and fit. Laura Rose was born on July 15th at home, in an hour and a half, with the help of my midwife, Marge Mansfield, from the Seattle Midwifery School. People always ask if belly dancing facilitated a fast and relatively easy delivery. But I cant really answer that question because Ive never had a baby any other way. My mother, who was not especially physical in her life, had me in about the same amount of time. It could be heredity, but being in good shape doesnt hurt anyone. Having a baby is a very physical activity. However, I in no way felt like I was in any kind of voluntary physical control of the process. It wasnt like my ability to do great belly rolls assisted me in popping that child into the world. On the contrary, I felt like my body took absolute possession of me. It was overwhelmingly quick!
Oh yes, and the other question I get is this: What made you decide to have your baby at home? I really never thought I would plan a home birth, but I began to change my mind in prenatal classes as I became more informed. For one, Steve and I had no medical insurance, so we explored this option; and two, I live in the city and I figured I could get to a hospital if I wanted or needed to. At about six months along, I called the hospital and asked for a tour. They asked me how far along I was. When I told them, they laughed and suggested I wait a while. I asked them how I could explore the options if I waited until the last minute? I want to come NOW, I implored. I was scheduled with a group of woman ready to pop any minute. The nurses proudly showed me the one hospital room with the flowered wallpaper. This was supposed to convince me I would have a more personal birthing experience. That is, if I were lucky enough to get there first or be the only one giving birth that day. I learned in my prenatal classes that walking was the best thing for labor. So, I asked the folks at the hospital if they minded women pacing up and down the halls? They said no problem, that is, up until your water breaks. Then its against hospital policy. I knew your water could break a long time before you actually delivered, and that walking was beneficial up to the last minute. I was not at all sold on this hospital bill of goods. Everything was structured for their convenience, the current medical mind set and the insurance companies, not for me. (What a smoke screen.)
After that visit to the hospital, I had a recurring dream. In this dream, I would go into the bathroom, stare into my own eyes in the mirror and say, Its time. Then, I would lock the bathroom door and crawl into the dry bathtub and hide. I would think to myself; if I wait here long enough, I wont have to go to the hospital. This dream was trying to tell me something. By seven months along, I went to visit the midwives. They were so much more attentive, warm, friendly and conscientious and they gained my total confidence! I knew if there was any sign of doubt or risk in the course of my pregnancy I would be having my baby in a hospital. But I was perfectly healthy, so why not?! In the end, when it came time to deliver, it was such an amazing experience and I was in my own bed! Even the pediatrician made a home visit. I cant imagine having to get in a car to take my little newborn package home from a hospital that first few days. Steve and I were so pleased. This was one of those growth experiences where the naive young woman began to pull the blinders off and think for herself. Im not suggesting every woman should have her baby at home. Im suggesting you think for yourself and not be pushed around by the convenience of some conglomerated establishment.You do not have to do their dance.
Woman are afraid to give birth.That notion starts young. We are told how so many women never made it past childbirth in the old days. We hear of the pain of birth, and as teens we are aware of the disfigurement. An unwanted pregnancy is a lonely up hill battle. It can happen so easily, and men can escape responsibility just as easily. One of my own daughters said she thought adoption was better, basically because she was afraid to give birth. Shes very young and is changing her mind, but it is a scary thing. Giving birth is essentially something unknown, and our lack of directly valuing the experience as a path of power, beauty, bravery and valor does not help things. Fear is a powerful device.
Weight Gain and Dance to the Great Nanny
After Laura was born, I didnt loose a pound. Instead, my breasts grew like gigantic melons. I spent summer afternoons lollygaging with other new mothers at a place nicknamed Baby Beach on Lake Washington and I signed up for local aerobics classes three nights a week. By late September, I was getting back in shape and into my costumes again.* (See belly body beauty tips below.) I started working at the Greek Night Club again. I was amazed I got my job back. The young woman who replaced me had become quite a dancer with the nightly experience and, of course, she didnt want to leave. Once I was back at work, I found my situation kind of ideal for raising a family. Steve and I were both able to be equal parents all day long for our kids as they were growing up. Wed go to work at about 8:30 in the evening to our respective night clubs (by that time Steve had joined a very active rock band, Jr Cadillac). We were both home around 12:30 or 2 a.m.We had an amazing nanny named Betty who would become part of our family for many years to come. In the beginning, Laura Rose was usually asleep before Betty arrived. As she grew, she stayed up longer and looked forward to Bettys bedtime stories. We were very blessed to find Betty.
Dance to the Great Mother
Four years passed, and I got pregnant again. My due date was July 15th my first daughters birthday. Victoria Artemis Flynn was actually born on that day (so we have twins, 4 years apart). I packed up all my costumes and grabbed a bowl of yogurt and strawberries, a pair of cozy bedroom slippers and was ready to settle in for an extended sabbatical. I was about 4 months along when I got a phone call from Susanne De Liles. She said she had a conference coming up and was looking for a belly dancer to perform. I told her I was retired at the moment. She sounded very disappointed and gingerly asked why? I said, Because Im pregnant. She laughed and asked me to please hear her out! Being pregnant would be wonderful. This event is for the Regional Conference of Northwest Family Planners. She asked me to do a talk on the history of belly dance before my dance. I was invited to dance as long or as short as I liked. I was speechless and, of course, I accepted the engagement. I set out to write a talk and develop a meaningful birth dance; a belly dance dedicated to the Great Mother.
Power to Speak
When I performed my Dance to the Great Mother that night for the very appreciative audience of men and women at the conference, it was a transformational experience for me. I realized I could still dance while pregnant.It had not seemed a viable option to me during my first pregnancy in 1981 (why not?). I realized that, of course, I will always have something to say with my art, and even more NOW than when I was limited by the night club environment. It was occurring to me at age 27 that there were other environments and other occasions to dance than the nightclub or the typical birthday party. There is a deeper meaning behind the belly dance and I felt a deep need to describe it.
If I could tell you what I mean I wouldnt need to dance Isadora Duncan
Dance to the Great Mother became an example of Isadora Duncans articulation. As fate would have it, I was given the opportunity to perform this dance on more occasions. With each performance, I grew larger in size and in spirit. Woman after woman approached me with tears in their eyes saying :
So beautiful, your dance serves to connect me with the Divine Mother.
I wish I had seen this dance before I had my babies so I could have enjoyed my pregnancy.
I want my daughter to see this dance before she has her children.
If I had seen this dance before or while I was pregnant, I would have felt beautiful. Instead, I felt so ugly and fat.
I hated myself while I was pregnant. I wanted to lock myself in a closet until it was over.
Why have I not seen this before?
I listened, and I joined them in their tears. I had the privileged opportunity to travel around the country masquerading as Isis the Great Mother throughout my entire pregnancy. It was true, I felt like a goddess. I felt beautiful, powerful, articulate and fulfilled in multiple directions. But I cried with them because I understood these womens private pain as well as my own elation with my position of privilege this time around. This was my second pregnancy and I certainly had blinders on the first time. During my first pregnancy, I was happy but, of course, anxious about dancing again. I was reclusive and voluntarily silenced myself as an artist, because of the way I perceived my condition, as if I didnt have anything to offer because I was pregnant. I couldnt see, I was blind! And yes, I believe women look at the birthing process because of societal conditioning as a temporary affliction! This is womens most powerful hour, and they are made to feel weak in character, in their position in society, and in regard to anything of importance outside of the actual birth. They are minimalized in their own minds.
However, it was my first gestative experience that tempered me and gave me the wisdom of deep compassion and understanding in this regard. Remember the earlier question, Did belly dance help with the swiftness of birth? was impossible to answer because I had not experienced birth in any other way, other than being a bellydancer.
Here was a question that I didnt even know needed to be asked until the second time around. Were women better off NOT dancing while pregnant?* (See metaphor for life.) I had not been free to express myself fully the first time around. The second time, I drew from a prior experience to really know the answer to that question. Dancing publicly is a much, much better way, for all woman! Its our birth rite! It is physically, psychologically and emotionally wonderful, but it also serves our culture in a positive way. We should be seeing this not just as an idea but perhaps as a duty!
I was revelatory in my discovery and knew I had to get this video taped professionally, to share with other women for all time. We had no money and no time to seek grants. We tried to appeal to arts organizations with the urgency of our cause, but it was like talking in a foreign language. One grant officer said, Well, youll just have to get pregnant again little darling. Finally, Peggy Hackney, the head of the dance department at the University of Washington, helped archive the dance. Its there somewhere. Bob Zalot, then editor of Habibi Magazine, gave me a small grant. Perhaps the first grant given by a trades publication to the art of belly dance, (perhaps the only one). Then, with the help of Bill Brown working after hours, we videotaped the dance so we could utilize it; thus the program Dance to the Great Mother exists today.
The year was 1985. I performed my dance mostly for female audiences, but I also performed a collaborative piece at the Broadway Performance Hall in Seattle for a mixed crowd. It was called Phases of the Moon, Faces of the Mother. It starred Laurel Victoria Gray as Aphrodite, Kathy Balduci as Hecate, Tahia Alibek as Artemis, and Delilah as Isis the Great Mother. I remember encountering a few shock waves from the older male members of the audience because I dared bare my belly. Actually some of the women, too.
End of part one
* Book Mark . . . and Read Part II Presented in August
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Continue to scroll down for notes and extra resources
Delilah's Dance as Metaphor for life
Dance is a metaphor for life. As we are born, we are destined to move in life through time and space. As we learn to dance, we are also learning to move through time and space. Thus, the process of learning to dance can bring us information about living our lives, if we allow it to. We can learn how to move through our lives with fearless autonomy, grace and spirit; to flow with the melody line, be in the stillness or ride the chaos; to overcome the fear that puts us on the sidelines. We can learn to listen to the voice in our head that says, 'I CAN DANCE!'
Delilahs Belly Body Beauty Tips
Delilah's cure for Stretch Marks:
Stretch marks are about hormone surges. Even men get them when they go through growth spurts in their teens. When I first became pregnant, I spent a few minutes each day meditating. In my meditation I would visualize my hormones lining up in single file and jumping into my blood stream in a slow orderly fashion. I really engaged my imagination. If I felt they might be getting too frisky, I reassured them to relax and float downstream. It worked pretty well. I got a few stretch marks, but I actually treasure them. They are my badges for bravery!
Delilahs Body Reclamation Exercise:
While exercising and being conscious of your diet, add a few minutes to your daily visualization. First take off your clothes and stand in front of a full-length mirror. Breath deep and study your body. Imagine you could nip and tuck and change your body shape. Then set a realistic goal.
Example: This week I need to strengthen and trim my thighs.
Then see them morphing into a shape you want.
It is uncanny how ones body will improve in the target area day by day, week by week. Try using this poem as a meditative affirmation:
My beauty is your beauty and your beauty is mine
I cannot be beautiful alone.
I can only be beautiful in connection to your beauty
More articles about Great Mother and Belly Dance and Pregnancy at
Divine Mother by Mirayah Delamar Sound file
Jamila Salimpours Poster and poem
Gaby Oeftrings review of Dance to the Great Mother
Dance to the Great Mother, Review by Shira
Tips for belly dancing while pregnant by Cathy Shephens
Articles by Pam England and other resources
Article by Jamila
Purchase Dance to the Great Mother $39.95
or Belly Dance During Pregnancy $49.95 online
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