Delilah's 1997 Isis Oasis Retreat

an account by Kajira Djoumahna, Santa Rosa, CA.

In another dimension, in a time warp into the future past, about 30 bellydancers came together as seekers. They left five days later as sisters, new priestesses of the dance if you will, with the kind of connection one can only gain by having a profound shared experience. During their time together, they embarked on a journey into their own hearts and psyches, which became one with the universal heart and mind - the unspoken and spoken truths of women of all the ages past, present and future. It became clear to each dancer that when she left to go back into the world on her own, that she would re-enter it with a different purpose, or a more clear path. The purpose is to heal - oneself and the Earth. For our collective future is in our hands....... yes, our time has come to take responsibility, to lead perhaps, to dance the dance of truth in the light and in the darkness.

If this sounds like an introduction to a new science fiction novel to you, gentle readers, I shall now caution you that it is not! The following is my attempt to put into words an experience that defies such mundane methods of communication..... an attempt to describe verbally what mere words cannot.

Let me begin at the beginning of this retreat. Even though it has no beginning, and no end. Even though it was more an advance than a retreat......

Wednesday, April 30, 1997. Dancers from all over this country arrive in the tiny town of Geyserville, California and join each other full of expectation at Isis Oasis Lodge. The hills are just turning from emerald to golden; the air is still cool at night but warm in the day. The Earth is awakening beneath our feet and above our heads, in our hearts and lungs. There are vineyards above and hot steam below. This is a place heady with Egyptian imagery, this Isis Oasis. Every room in every building has stained glass, pictures, papyruses, or other decor depicting ancient Egypt. It boasts a Temple dedicated to the Goddess Isis, a lodge where most of the participants slept in two person rooms, with a meeting room above where we set up a few items to sell or trade with each other. There is a theatre for classes and shows, aviaries full of exotic birds of iridescent hue and brilliant plumage, and wild cats such as servils, ocelots and bobcats. Even a llama named Dali, an emu and a unicorn goat, a 500-year-old Douglas Fir tree, a dining hall and numerous outbuildings including yurts and a watertower, a wine barrel room and a pyramid room, a pool and hot tub. Not to mention very starry skies!

The first part of our journey corresponded to the crown chakra, and the first gate of our ritual passage, which is based on the mythical journey of the ancient Sumerian Queen of Heaven and Earth - Inanna, later called Ishtar by the Babylonians. And to Lammas, the ancient holyday still celebrated by many as the Harvest Time. This was also the first part of the seven part cabaret bellydance routine. Even those of us who had begun dancing after that routine structure had gone into hibernation understood the order of it, as it mirrors so many things in life, such as those things just mentioned.

We all became Inanna for the duration of our retreat as we also became more ourselves. This step and the others after come from the myth in which "Inanna, called to undertake a journey to the Underworld, prepares carefully; adorning herself in symbols of her royalty and power. As she passes through each of the seven gates between Earth and the Great Below, she is stripped of an item of her regalia. In sacrificing the symbols of her power, and vestments, Inanna faces her own death in the abyss of the world below. Eventually, she receives the food and water of life and returns to the Great Above with the promise of renewal." - (from Delilah's notes given out at the retreat.)

We all passed through seven gates, and in this structure four was our deepest point down. The gates were completed ritualistically and guided expertly by Delilah and Lorraine Lafata, MSW., LICSW. Lorraine has been a therapist for over 20 years, working with women who are survivors of abuse and issues of low self esteem. She is a founding member of the Goddess Dancing, a Boston-based dance collective that teaches bellydance as a sacred dance. You all are no doubt familiar with Delilah, who leads bellydance workshops across the country and abroad as well as her famous Maui retreats annually. These two women worked so perfectly well together! When one was fuel, passion and emotion, the other was a grounded voice of reason and compassionate empathy - both components being absolutely necessary to facilitate this journey and to keep us all our focused path (not an easy task at times while traveling through the underworld!)

The retreat ended on May 4, so it took place over Beltane, or MayDay, a very important holyday or Gate in Earth-centered spirituality. This was no accident. We danced indoors and out; we danced as the sun rose and as it set; we laughed and we cried tears of joy and of knowing and of great pain and of sorrow. In short, this was a very intense five days!

This retreat was open to intermediate and advanced level dancers and teachers of the art, as it didn't contain any time for technique classes or breakdowns of steps; instead, this was for those who already dance to find their personal power within their existing vocabulary. Of course, we all learned new moves almost by osmosis as we watched and listened to our fellow travelers on this journey. Some of the most profound manifestations of our new knowledge became apparent during our enactment of the seven part routine, our Gate 6. Everyone agreed that it was the most engaging performance we had ever witnessed! We agreed that it could be true because of the depth of feeling each dancer was able to convey by the time that threshold was crossed. There was no room for superficiality. These were truly dances from the heart, and it showed. Sirocco played for us that day, and during parts of the retreat that I cannot reveal without taking too much space in this article.

As we passed each gate we left something symbolic behind. I cannot go into more detail, as I do not wish to give away all the wonderful surprises, and this retreat will happen again! Let it suffice to say that we all learned more than we had imagined, journeyed deeper and farther than we had dreamed, and came home more fulfilled and with greater purpose than we had thought possible.

One of my greatest pleasures was learning from dancers who have been dancing for many years. These powerful women had danced the seven part routines in the cabarets of yesteryear. They have experienced the decline and now the beginning of the rebirth of this cycle. It's an awesome knowing that comes when we realize that it is we who are the harbingers of the new dawning of this ancient dance. That it has changed so much in many of its current forms of expression as to barely resemble its former self; why, this fact has caused me to wonder how many dancers have actually quit dancing along the way because of these changes. Even though it is heartbreaking to comprehend the changes in our beloved dance these past two decades in America, it is empowering to realize the next years that are coming, as in all things, the dance is made of cycles. The past and present can be heartbreaking because the dance and the dancer can be seen as once having been important. The routines of old could take almost an hour to dance! Slowly, they were pared down to fit some other schedule. During this transitional phase, the nightclubs and restaurants began losing business. In an effort to cut down on costs even more, or in some misguided and perhaps male dominated thought process, the dancer became nothing but an ornament to come out for sometimes just a few minutes today. Relegated from most important to least important, we as dancers couldn't even see it occurring before our own eyes. We thought maybe it was the different style of dance that became popular; some dancers became lazy, seeing the dance as a vehicle to make a buck or to feed their need for performance. Veilwork, floorwork and even cymbals were slowly discarded in favour of a quick and easy approach. Elevated stages gave way to a spot between tables, with waiters running by and patrons unsure whether or not they should even look at the dancer, as if she represented something shameful. We have all felt this decline, whether or not we are new dancers or experienced ones. The time has come for us to take back the POWER of this dance, out of the sleazy, smoky and disempowering environments and into a positive light of personal expression, transformation and healing, as it is meant to be.

"The cycle of the routine can be seen as a sacred metaphor for Nature's cycle of life, death and rebirth. For example, the measure of a complete cycle of seasons is one year: one dance. Our physical age reflects the number of cyclic unfoldings we have undergone. Women experience this seasonal cycle very intimately, in direct relation to the phases of the moon: new to full and back. A woman's menstrual cycle follows the same natural sequence of events: growth, death and renewal. These cycles are so connected to our instinctual makeup that we will subliminally respond favorably to their symbolic presence; thus the success - I believe - of the complete seven part cabaret routine. It is a life dance, as it corresponds directly to the cycles of nature and the rhythms within us.

Attaching a deeper meaning to the dance allows us to reclaim the sacred feminine in our daily lives. Dance is a rich and significant celebration of the unfolding universe. It is meant to be danced and to be witnessed. And anyone truly paying attention to its astounding power and beauty knows the dance is not a 'simple minded salacious striptease.' It is an awesome power to contemplate and a vehicle for enlightenment." - (from some of Delilah's notes given at the retreat.)

We learned the difference between "dancing" and "being danced." We now understand that we as dancers can embody the spirit of the Divine, or Higher Power, God, Goddess — the Force. The promise Delilah made to us was fulfilled — none of us now "see the Cabaret Bellydance Routine in quite the same light!"