Navel and Nasal through Belly Dancing
The top headline on the flyer read A Scentual Dance, Featuring Delilah and The Visionary Dancers. In larger script was the title of the show, In the Garden of Allah. Small letters beneath specified An Aromatic, Multi-sensory Experience. Then boldly Bellydance & Aromatherapy, and the date -- Saturday July 24th, 1999. Near the bottom of the page was a note that Only therapeutic grade oils will be used. Please be advised: if you are "scentsitive," this may not be the show for you. Finally, the
dancers: Sara Teller as Myrrh, Pine Crooks as Clary Sage, Corrine Holister as Sandalwood, Faye Zama as Lavender, Susan Stratton as Cedar, Carone Scott as Jasmine, and Delilah as Rose, and our scent-bearers or "zephyrs," Jeannie Colby and Alexa Resler.
We opted to keep the advertising minimal. We would just pass the word via email, flyers and word of mouth: if each of us sold 20 tickets, the hall would be filled. As we spread the word and sold our tickets, we each encountered an unexpected phenomenon. People looked at us strangely, wrinkled their brows and said "Aromatherapy and what?" and "I don't get it," as though they thought we were joking. Some interrogations were very invasive, nearly requiring us to give away the structure of the theater presentation away before it1s debut. People were almost suspicious of us!
Not everyone was so perplexed. There were those who marveled and understood immediately that each dancer requires a muse. What better inspiration* for an artist than a meaningful fragrance?
Perhaps the occasional subtle but hostile response was founded on a misunderstanding of both bellydance and aromatherapy. Bellydance, of course, is an adaptation of a folkdance developed by and for women. Aromatherapy is the art and practice of treating ailments using essential oils. It is not just an oil's evocative scent but the active relationship that aromatics have upon the chemicals, hormones and enzymes that control mind and body. It is a holistic therapy, combining the ancient arts of perfumery and healing, blending the senses of scent and touch. Modern drugs are derived almost entirely from plants, just as essential oils are.
Still, why did some people react with perplexity and seeming suspicion? They had no problem thinking of a dance show: a visual and auditory extravaganza!, but a scent show? Why? There's nothing to see or hear in a smell, so it can't be very interesting, right?
Science tells us we are much more affected by our sense of smell than we may ever know. For the senses of sight, hearing, touch and taste, a signal travels some distance from the sense organ to the part of the brain that processes the stimulus. For example, light enters the eye and affects the color receptors, which send signals along the optic nerve, which branches, regroups and eventually ends up at the visual cortex at the back of the head. From there you become aware of color. Neurons to and from the visual cortex are distributed evenly across the right (intuitive) and left (analytical) hemispheres of the brain. In contrast to this convoluted visual pathway is the sense of smell: the molecules enter your nasal passages and trigger neurons. That's it. The function is very similar to the touch-based reflexes: Most of us have touched something too hot and pulled back without thinking. After the reflexive jerk, you feel the sensation of heat. Smell, unlike the other four senses, goes straight from the source to your "reptile brain," which controls heartbeat, reflexes, sexual impulses -- all the basic functions of life. From there, awareness of scent travels to the two hemispheres for unconscious (right) and conscious (left) analysis.
The ancients knew much more about scent's healing and activating properties than our society acknowledges. A few -- a very few -- scientific studies have been done. They show what the ancients knew: scents affect us, whether we realize it or not. Odors can agitate or soothe, protect us from food poisoning, and trigger vivid memories.
Some individuals are acutely in tune with scent; others are less aware of the effect smells can have. Smells bring us back to past memories and associations: Mama's perfume, Dad's shirts. Consider the smell of rain or snow, the verdancy of spring, the hot dustiness of summer, the crisp leafiness of autumn . . . . How do they make you feel? Do you think of it consciously in words, or unconsciously in sensations and emotions? Perhaps the intuitive right brain, working with the "reptile brain," connects us to the essential workings and mysteries of life.
Why, then, did some of our friends have such difficulty with this connection between navel and nasal? Perhaps it was our society's puritanical roots. Deep in the Judeo-Christian unconscious is the idea that denial and physical suffering are closer to God; therefore the more separated you are from the physical realm the closer you are to Heaven. As a population we flinch in fear of the sensual domain because it grounds us, acknowledges the value of the earthly realm and earthly life. Bellydance celebrates life. Of course it is sensual! Sensual, emotional, spiritual . . . .
Our puritan society tells us to ignore many of the passions of life. Invisible, inaudible, intangible scent, with it's uncontrollable
reflexive responses, is ripe for denial. Could this explain everyone's confusion at our novel approach for a bellydance show? Could it suggest an unresolved phobia of Aphrodite? Perhaps we are afraid these vulnerable nerve endings might spontaneously combust if we indulge our senses. We fear our priests or mullahs might disapprove. Perhaps women are afraid that we must endure another round of condemnation for the acts of Eve or be burned at the stake. If so, then an aromatherapy bellydance show might be the perfect subversive action to take us all back to the garden!
That's why I thought of aromas as dance themes. Two olfactory tracts lead straight to the limbic system, which concerns both memory and motion. After all, adding balm to injury can soothe and heal the wound. The holistic processing involved in dance expression is nonverbal. When taken out of the stricture of classical ballet, dance becomes the voice of the intuitive right brain. Isadora Duncan said, "If I could tell you why I dance I wouldn't need to dance."
We needed to dance. Our stage was set, our theater in the round was filled. The mistress of ceremonies Kathy Balducci and her assistant Laura Legere described the art of aromatherapy. We danced -- unscented -- a cheerful karshlama, then Kathy read the tale of each scent and a bit of the personal journey each dancer made with her aroma as mentor and muse. Jeannie and Alexa wafted the audience with scented zephyrs of essential fragrance before each dancer's solo: myrrh (death), clary sage (vision), sandalwood (grounding), lavender (calm), cedar (strength), jasmine (love), and rose (purity).
We had not done this in front of an audience before. We did not know how -- or whether! -- it would all work out. I tell you most excitedly, it went beyond our expectations. As the first scent curled into the air and made it's way to the noses of the audience, a way of how was forged. The audience released their guard and each scent was met with eager anticipation. There was a quiet alchemical state of elevated frequency, of transformation and emotion hanging in midair. A unity of mind and experience joining together. Without words each dance unfolded. The evening passed through the gateways of seven scents and the curtain came to a close.
After a long, tremendous, thunderous round of applause we ventured out to greet our audience. To our amazement it was as if there were flowers and sparkles in everyone's eyes. They were smiling, happy, elevated; transformed and almost stoned on the synergy of scents, senses and emotion. Some said they were moved to tears by the dancers and the dances, the scents and the sensuality of each individual. There was a softness and a gentle sincerity that we could smell!
by Delilah 1999
*Inspiration means to breath in!
This show is an original concept by Delilah. The first production was on July 24 1999 in Seattle Washington; Second version February 20th 2000 in Maui. . .and it is currently in the works as a production with all original music score by Steven Flynn.