Sherry's BookGilded Serpent presents...

A Dancer's Quest

"Doorway to Ecstasy"

Book Review by Dhyanis
posted 2-27-09

Here it is! This book is a visionary (yet practical) guide for those attracted to Belly dance as a "spiritual path". It is chock full of juicy revelations not presented in most Belly dance classes.

Sherry Brier shares the many wisdom lessons she encountered along her personal dance journey. She describes her discovery of Belly dance when she was drawn to a performance in a local park, although, she learned the major life lessons in her first classes. The deeper preparation for performing and eventually teaching she calls the "liberating path of transformation from self to soul".

From start to finish, I was fascinated by the interweaving of snippets of Egyptian past life regression, a diary-like narrative of a young woman in crisis, and the insider's view of classes from the composite character Prema Devi. This esoteric woman was actually Sherry's first teacher in Ojai, California, but for the sake of the book, she becomes the voice of many teachers. (They are listed in the acknowledgements, including Adnan Sarhan, the Sufi Master based in New Mexico.)

Sherry’s emphasis is on the broader spiritual and healing effects of learning, practicing, performing Belly dance (similar to the intention of practicing Yoga or Tai Chi) to access whatever is necessary in the moment for our selves and for our audiences

Sherry says that Prema Devi seemed to download information directly from the temple priestesses of antiquity, admonishing her students to condition both body and soul. She guided students to focus their attention, breath and movement to receive and channel higher energies.

This specific lineage of Belly dance is seldom elucidated, but soon becomes clear and obvious as Sherry quotes:

"...all dance forms evolved from rituals originally created to call upon the gods and goddesses and evoke a spiritual or transcendent experience. The remnants of these rituals are evident in many of the world's dances.”

“When the priestesses were thrown out of the temples and their rituals banned, they continued their practices in ways undetectable to those in power.”

“The dance evolved into an entertainment and was mixed with other rituals to eventually create Belly dance as we know it today.”

“Felicitas Goodman, the anthropologist, is doing fascinating research documenting the experiences and transforming power of particular postures, gestures and movements.”

“Ancient sculptures and paintings from far flung regions of the world all depicted figures in similar postures. Assuming these postures themselves, she and her students found that each one created a predictable and similar experience in all who did them. They weren't just states of mind, but journeys to different interior realms.”

“…some even created the ability to accomplish tasks...healing...divination."

Though it may sound somewhat "New Age", this unusual book offers constructive insights for both beginning students and veteran dance teachers. One of my favorites is how Prema handles stage fright with tough love and low tolerance for "ego stories". When student Sherry becomes consumed with self-doubt, Prema shows how her insecurities derive from control issues and self-perpetuating a victim psychology.

As much as we want to show ourselves to be perfect, we can never control how others see us, and we must not give in to our negative thoughts! She presents actual tools to overcome these familiar demons, to both dance and live from a deeper intuition.

There is a notable section on how the different instruments "play us", according to how they are shaped, held, played and sound. For example, the oud is a big-bellied instrument, "very plump and pregnant", held and played low, causing deep-from-within vibrations and earthy movements. When Prema introduces the dumbek she says, "Listen to the drum...with your spine...the part that develops first...the most primitive part of the body. Don't try to do anything, just let the vibration of the drum strike you in your back...  Now, instead of thinking about it, rely on the drum to initiate your movement."

Another wonderful thread is the ritual and energetic meanings of the various parts of our dance presentation from the pageantry of the opening number, drawing the audience in, leading them ultimately to their own transcendent experience. The drum solo sets up a unified rhythm for all to share: "In other words, by marching to the same drummer, you encourage compassion and empathy. You want to create a community with aspirations and values that are harmonious to one and all, one that allows for the growth of each individual and for the group as a whole...  For your short finale, you'll travel around as you did in the entrance, this time returning all the attention and energy....  You want to give it back to people in its elevated and transformed state, so they can return to their world and live better, healthier, and more inspired lives."

By nature, I have always made the connections to the "goddess origins” of this dance, and I spent 13 years producing the Annual Living Goddess Dance Theater experimental show, fusing Belly dance with any and all other dance forms to express mythological, socio-political themes. Sherry sometimes brought her troupe to participate in our show, and I admit that I did not guess her internal motivations were so driven by the platform of teachings and personal sufferings that she has exposed in her book. I found "Doorway to Ecstasy" makes a detailed case for the encoded wisdom in the practice of Belly dance, and an enriching experience for those who do it. Instead of using it as an escape or distraction from our ordinary lives, we have the chance to follow it inward, and to find and express our true essence through this mother of all women's dances.

Although, stylistically speaking, there appears to be some novice writing in this book, it is easily forgiven since the content is so generous, heartfelt, and valuable. Although the book contains no photos or illustrations (which, in my opinion, would have aided the personal narrative) the cover bears a colorful, truly ecstatic photo of Sherry dancing.

Zil Rating =3 zils
3 zil rating

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