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Volume 1 Issue 1 ISSN# 1708-3265

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Belly Dancing, the Original Women's Movement!
by Janet Privett

What visions come to mind when you hear the term "Belly Dance"? A "hoochie-coochie" dance perhaps? A sleazy strip show degrading women? A serious setback to feminism? At the very least, "Belly Dance" conjures visions of voluptuous women in gossamer costumes, seductive undulations, and exotic music. Would it surprise you to learn in ancient times this dance was considered sacred and not intended to be seen by men at all? Belly Dance is the purest expression of a woman's natural power, a celebration of womanhood. It was a dance of life, a dance performed for women by women.

Hieroglyphs on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples and tombs portray women with arms raised in dance. Sometimes it's called the ancient dance of the Pharaohs, but belly dancing dates back to an era long before the pyramids were built. It's images were reverently painted on cave walls at the beginning of time.

Prehistoric women had a high mortality rate in the childbearing years. The original dance was a form of Lamaze, a primitive ritual preparing a woman for childbirth. Girls from an early age were taught to practice abdominal undulations, breathing exercises, and to concentrate on the isolation and strengthening of muscles which might make the difference between life and death during the birthing process.

When a woman went into labor, her female friends and relatives would gather to act as coaches. They danced to keep her focused on breathing. In the struggle to create new life, this ritual was a way to both celebrate the creation of new life and increase the chances of survival for both mother and child.

Early cultures worshiped fertility, and women danced with bare feet because it connected them directly to the fertility of Mother Earth. This was a mystical way of uniting forces within the physical and spirit worlds. When you learn about the history, it's no wonder this revered dance was passed down through centuries as the dance of the people and the ultimate in female expression.

Belly Dance was a also way for a poor woman to elevate her position in society by performing in the marketplace. People would throw coins in appreciation of her skills, and she would sew these coins onto the sash worn around her hips. This was a way to build and display her dowry so she could marry into a higher class. To this day, costumes reflect the tradition with sequins or coins sewn onto sashes or belts. Even the word "sequin" is from an ancient Turkish term for a gold coin.

With the arrival of patriarchal religions and the Dark Ages, this celebration of womanhood was demoted to a performance for male entertainment. Women's freedoms were taken, and the law required veils. The original spark of belly dancing went underground and became the first feminist rebellion. Women still performed the dance when they gathered without men present. Imagine how liberating it must have felt to remove those hot and heavy veils and whirl in the cool air of the harem. Belly dance became a dance of protest, an expression of freedom, the first "burning of the bra!"

Some sources say the term "belly" dance comes from the word Baladi which means "of the people," a country dance belonging to everyone. The French named it "dance du ventre," or dance of the stomach. Middle Easterners also call it "danse orientale" or simply Middle Eastern dance.

Influences came from all around the Middle East, Turkey, India, Persia, Afghanistan, North Africa, and many other sources; including elements blended from each region or tribe, which had developed its own style.

Rhythmic instruments called finger-cymbals or "zills" were worn on the thumb and middle finger of each hand. Gypsies brought the Middle Eastern dance to Spain where zills became the Spanish Flamenco dancer's castanets.

Many legends surround Middle Eastern Dance. In the legend of the sword dance, a woman would perform for the enemy camp with a sword balanced on her head. Men of her village would have been killed, but the enemy thought a woman was no threat and welcomed the entertainment. While the men were too mesmerized by her movements to react, she would grab the hilt, stab the sheik, and escape into the desert night.

Women of any age and without any dance background can master the natural and fluid belly dancing movements. It is an artistic expression of the music, like watching the music come alive. Unlike ballet, there are no set rules. Instead, it's based on personal interpretation. Attempts to standardize the dance into named steps have failed because this is a dance of individual expression, a journey of self-discovery. There is no wrong way for a woman to express her mysterious, sensual spirit with her own captivating movements. This dance of freedom is unique to each woman. It's the closest thing to flying without wings.

Health benefits include increased strength and flexibility, weight loss, improved posture, vitality, sensuality and enthusiasm for life. Because the dance is non-impact, doctors have recommended it for recovery after injuries or childbirth, for the elderly, and for the management of arthritis and back injuries. Most women gain confidence, and improve balance and grace. Practice reconnects the body, mind and spirit in an experience which can be magical for the dancer and for anyone watching.

I can speak from personal experience because belly dancing helped me lose 40 lbs. and gain confidence. Anything which is so influential has to affect all aspects of your life. I used my dance background in my newly released action-adventure novel, "Power of Love". The main character is a Belly Dance instructor who escapes a dangerous situation by using her dance skills in a most unusual way.

Isadora Duncan, one of the world's most famous dancers, was a champion of women's rights. She transformed modern dance with influence from Middle Eastern Dance, and gave the most beautiful and profound description of the dance I've ever read:

"Imagine then a dancer who, after long study, prayer and inspiration, has attained such a degree of understanding that her body is simply the luminous manifestation of her soul; whose body dances in accordance with a music heard inwardly, in an expression of something out of another, profounder world." (Isadora Duncan, The Philosopher's Stone of Dancing, 1920.)

Go ahead, you can do it. Learn to belly dance! Find hinges in your body you never knew you had, and loosen up those rusty joints. Put the magic of romance back in your relationship. Join the oldest Women's Movement.

Celebrate your femininity and let your soul fly!

Like the character in her award-winning novel, "Power of Love", Janet Privett is an environmentalist, a belly dance instructor, and is married to her high school sweetheart. Reviewers hail Janet's writing as "powerful, a journey full of vivid imagery and riveting action. Her descriptions shimmer with imagery which would do a poet proud."

Please visit her website and you can contact her via e-mail.

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