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Gilded Serpent presents...
Bellydancing, Mythology and Astrology
Exploring the creative character of dance expression

by Keti Sharif  - BA Art History

Is dance a ritual, a means of celebration, a form of entertainment, or something more?

Could it be a mode of human expression that harnesses the secrets of the universe?

One of my favourite quotes is, “Everything in life is a symbol, and astrology speaks the language of symbols. Translating our ordinary experience into this language allows us to live life with more grace.” Jessica Murray

As an ex-architectural design student, geometry usually underlies my dance teaching.

Dance is created from shape, pattern, and body geometry articulated through movement in a spirit of communication, expression, and, often, celebration. There is a life force alive in dance - the dancer - that expresses a dynamic link with life and ancient cosmological principals (regularly occurring patterns of creation in process) on a universal scale.

So you don’t think your dance could possibly be that important in universal terms? Think again.

Dance is based on fractal geometry, and the first stellar geometry that was studied in the ancient philosophical center of Alexandria, Egypt, became known as astronomy – the mathematical study of the revolution and pattern of the planets and constellations in our solar system and how they affect the human, animal, and planetary organisms. Euclidian geometry describes the basic shapes and spheres that are consistent on a molecular and universal level, giving birth to the idea that the macrocosm reflects the microcosm. The Pythagorean theory of the “Music of the Spheres” draws vibrational parallels with sound frequencies and colour-light wavelengths. There is living, organic, scientific patterning around us. And as we live it, we absorb it – we even dance it!

In primitive cultures the links between heaven and earth, spirit and matter, or human and god or nature was understood and celebrated through ritual, song, and movement.

The movement that was used was created in response to rhythms, which were basically primal patterns of time keeping, usually based around the four-part revolution. Rhythm mimicked the cyclic natures of birth and death, planetary regeneration, the lunar phases, the female menstrual cycle, and the seasons. Myths were even created to explain these phenomena – like Ishtar’s descent into the underworld or Isis’s search for the dismembered body parts of Osiris. The “sacred marriage,” or “heiros gamos,” was featured in most fertility myths and, in Euclidian terms, represents the “viscera pisces” (splitting of the whole into two parts). In Asia Minor, Artemisian cults followed the lunar cycle and danced the “chiftetelli” every full moon. In fact, ancient scholars began mapping the astrological signs over 5,000 years ago because they experienced a direct, perpetual correlation between the planetary movement and the events that took place on our planet. Mythology speaks this language and translates the basic cosmological dance in a simple array of “characters” or planets ruled by the gods in various incarnations, each with very specific attributes.

Mythology progressed in various ways throughout the Asian, European, Middle Eastern, and African continents. Often the same mythology is rehashed and cross-culturally explored through a character or deity with remarkably similar characteristics and placement with other characters in the story plot. These characterized themes are simply the human way of understanding pattern, universal principals, and the cyclic nature of our being.

Dance, however, in its primal state, bypasses many “mental analyses” and seems to translate a type of elemental universal knowledge directly through the body.

One can, I guess, say the same about music, which in its most primal state is almost unconsciously drawn from the musician, with a guidance that cannot be explained in terms of “literal study” or “dissemination of learnt material.” It is sometimes called “inspired,” but where does that really come from? In dance, one of history’s oldest modes of communicating with divinity and nature, the body becomes a vehicle for universal knowledge through music. The two are inextricably linked; the audio becomes the visual. When the two parts become one, the expression is complete. And in its completion, we assume some message has been transposed from the divine “inspiration” to the “vibrational” mode of music to a “physical” understanding through the body. As simple as it seems, this process harnesses various cosmological elements within its progression; there is a clarity or awareness realized through the act itself. Inspiration and instinct often guide both music and dance.

In dance, the body becomes a vehicle for three things:

a) The establishment of a rhythmic pattern response through the rhythm and tempo of percussion, thus creating a physiological and psychological effect. Drums are primal and instant in their effect with a core range of tempos from 60-180 beats per minute (BPM) that affect our physiology (our entire endocrine system noticeably speeds up simply by listening to 130 BPM, while 60 BPM is pacifying and is often used in hypnosis).

b) Creating a music-melody-movement response to the various instruments played, thus tuning body movement with sound wavelength and frequencies. Instruments are held by the player near the body area that harnesses the frequency of the specific instrument. For example, drums are approximately 50 MHz, as is the frequency of the pelvic area in humans. Flutes are pitched at almost 4,000 MHz as is the frequency of the head area in humans. This explains why African warriors dance using low, grounded aggressive movements to earthy drums, while the Sufi dervishes spin to flutes for enlightenment. Fiery guitars sit in the mid-body area, with qualities matching the solar plexus’ characteristics of pride and courage apparent in Spanish flamenco. The emotive heart area tunes into a higher frequency again, so instruments like the accordion and violin create music that engage feeling and “pull the heartstrings.”

c) Tuning into cosmological principals based on the body’s ability to create SPACE, WEIGHT and SHAPE in unchanging elemental fractal geometry. We dance the shapes and patterns that music creates, thus replicating the pattern in a physical, kinesthetic dimension.

Therefore as we dance, the tempo of the rhythm and the emotive frequency of the music and melody are demonstrated through the organic body-mechanics of dance. Dance becomes the art representing the music - “The Music of the Spheres”. We fall into fractal patterning and “know” instinctively that when a certain drum pattern emerges, we step and rock into it. Like the zaar dancers who instinctively swing and shake their bodies into trance states through moving meditation on the rhythm. Or Sufi dervishes who step and whirl in tune to the rhythm that takes them to psychological nirvana. Rhythm is a natural evolution of cosmological mathematics and this is possibly best portrayed in Islamic art.

Islamic art is based on art that expresses god through pattern – the cosmological patterns of the universe, as god creates it – an unchanging, unyielding force to be respected and revered. These fractal images are repeated in Arabic rhythms and music, even in dance.

We dance the four elements of earth, fire, water, and air as they manifest through rhythm, vibration of music, and frequency of sound. Frequency of sound matches up with colour wavelengths – red (earth) for base frequencies like drums, orange and yellow (fire) for the string instruments (low-mid frequencies), green and blue (water) for emotive higher frequencies, accordion and violin, and lastly indigo, violet, and white (air) frequencies for the highest, lightest instruments like flute and sagat. Elements can be colour-coded and respond to vibrational frequencies.

Assembled in this order, what can this tell us about other philosophies?

The first correlation that becomes apparent is that these are the EXACT alignments of the colours of the Hindu-Buddhist chakra system from root to crown chakra. The physical placement of the instruments are also in harmony with the assembly; instruments are played on the part of the body that harnesses the four elemental qualities and the same body area responds to the instrument, expressing its attributes along with element, sound frequency, and colour synchronicity.

The elements carry a planetary mathematics with them, which is seasonal, fractal, and perpetual. This, in ancient times, was expressed as the astrological system of twelve parts or signs: three water signs (Pisces, Cancer, Scorpio), three earth signs (Virgo, Taurus, Capricorn), three air (Aquarius, Libra, Gemini) and three fire signs (Leo, Aries, Sagittarius). Each sign is ruled by a planet and carries a set of characteristics that portray the “trinity” or “three aspects” of each element. For example, water is represented as Pisces (flowing water), Cancer (intuitive, lunar-ruled maternal water), Scorpio (deep mysteries of water). The signs then begin to speak a language that tie them back to the elements, to shape, to character and frequency of body expression. In fact, the signs rule various parts of the body – Aries rules the head, Taurus the throat, and so on, with the last sign of Pisces ruling the feet.

Each sign is also attributed a specific colour – the astrological colour wheel begins with red at Aries (passion and impulse from Mars, the red planet, god of war) and ends with violet at Pisces (enlightenment and spirituality – Neptune’s nebulous yet flowing compassion). Exactly opposite and equal to the chakra system, these colour-codes match up from the traditional colour of the root chakra (red) at the base of the spine to the crown chakra (violet) at the top of the head. The array of colours takes its order from the wavelengths of the colour spectrum, seen in crystals and rainbows (images often arbitrarily used to promote a variety of “new age” gimmicks, from quit-smoking hypnosis to organic weight loss tablets). Recent media has loosely linked the ancient sacred cosmological references of mandalas, colour wheels, and zodiac symbolism to a wide range of products. Some certainly reflect deeper principals, but most are designed as a nouveau pop-culture emblem to lure the “new ager” to seek enlightenment through their wallet.

Dance, on the other hand requires only music. Exploring cultural style and technique may cost money, but the rewards are real, and once learnt, become tools for transformation.

When dancing, you may keep in mind that when you explore the “character” of each sign and the body part it rules, along with its element, you open up a plethora of imaginative storytelling through dance expression! The universal character within ourselves (and each human being on the planet) is what we portray in dance. Bellydance particularly works with the archetypes of Venus, Aphrodite, and Hathor – the human-created goddesses of love, dance, and music. But there are many archetypes that become a beautiful interpretation of the many parts that make up the whole.

As we dance, we bring in ancient knowledge that lies at the core of our “humanness” – the conglomerate of the most simplified geometric elements, the characteristics of the persona, and vast array of mythology we have created over the centuries to better understand and express ourselves.

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