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The Gilded Serpent presents...
White Out Wedding
by Sarah

Ed-The Burning Man Festival was first celebrated in 1986 at Baker Beach in San Francisco, then moved in 1990 to Black Rock Desert, Nevada. Initially conceived as a celebration of Summer Soltice it became a festival where there are no spectators. Everyone comes to create art to share with each other in the desolate desert. They camp with no creature comforts except what they bring with them. There is usually a few campsites with Middle Eastern music and dance. The last Saturday night a male effigy is burned in celebration.Ancient cultures used to perfom a similair ritual to insure a fruitful harvest. 2001 statistics- Participants: Monday: 6,758; Saturday: 25,659. .
more info here

For the past five years I have been pining to go to the Burning Man celebration - yearning for a chance to shimmy and spin to whatever drum beat happened by in the dust of Black Rock City. This last August, I finally made it happen. It was a short trip, lasting only four days. It was a good trip, filled with laughter and dancing.

The first day I donned my giant, fluffy blue ballgown and tiara. A nice man named Bob let me play with his flame thrower. There never was a happier princess.

The remaining three days I spent as myself, a bellydancer. I went exploring with friends and also alone. It seems that every time I went out on my own, I made friends.

Random people would walk up and offer kindness, hugs, a foot massage, fliers, a ride on a bicycle, photographs and more. They seemed to expect nothing in return, but were happy to have something offered. Music abounded. Most of it was techno or electronic music that I don't have the words to classify. But there were also drums.

Ships would sail by on the desert, and there would be drums. Walking through the city, the rhythm of hidden drums would keep me moving. While hanging out with friends in the motorcycle-carriage at Death Guild Thunderdome, two drummers passed by; but I didn't let them pass me by. I ran out and asked if I could dance to their drumming. They agreed and soon stopped their march to let me dance before them. Dust clouds kicked up by the feet are fabulous additions to a belly dance - very sultry - and a bit of real life foreshadowing. Shortly after my little dance, a real dust storm hit. It was a complete white out.

Rather than hide from the storm at camp, a friend and I decided to go for a walk. We could only see about ten feet ahead of us, and had no idea of which direction we were headed until we hit the Playa. Then we heard drums. We followed the beat and found a cloth-wrapped man sitting at the fire fountain just outside of Center Camp. He was happy to have me dance. He was also quite a good drummer. A few people happened past and stopped to watch the drummer and the dancer in the dust. Just when I was getting too worn out to continue, the drumming stopped. Perfect timing! My sweet drummer apologized for stopping. The dust had gotten too thick between his drum and his hands. He couldn't continue either.

Once we had left the company of the drummer at the fountain, we heard the sound of more drums playing around us. . My friend and I followed these drumbeats and ran into a crowd of people. We were handed live, long-stemmed calla lillies - in the middle of the desert - in the middle of a dust storm! Then the crowd started moving. We found out along the way that it was a wedding procession. As the procession moved on, I decided to dance along to the drum beats. I thought the procession would stop at the Man, and that wouldn't be too far to dance.

We headed out onto the Playa and caught up with the lamp lighters. Every evening as the sun sets, groups of white-clad people balance poles of lit lanterns on their shoulders, directed toward the Man and around the Playa. They hang the lanterns on positioned light poles. Every morning, they take them down again. We were quite the procession.

We made it out to the Man, the pace quickened, and continued beyond the formidable structure of the Man. We were heading all the way out to the Temple of Joy! This was about a mile and a half from Center Camp!

From what I understand, the Temple of Joy was built in memory of and to honor the people who lost their lives and loved ones on September 11, 2001. It was a masterpiece of architecture and art. For more information visit this site:

Once we arrived at the Temple of Joy, the procession formed a circle around the happy couple and the dust began to clear. The ceremony began with singing and a few cooling drops of rain. The rain intensified just a bit when the priestess began to speak. Thunder rolled. The bride looked up into the sky and cried out, "Bring it on!" and thunder rolled again. She smiled. She laughed. Lightning made a web across the sky.

The two exchanged vows, had their kiss, and then were told to look behind them. There was a rainbow falling from the heavens onto the Temple of Joy!
The dust storm passed, the rain cleared, and with the sun setting, my friend and I wandered off into the desert - cala lilies in hand.

We danced again that night. We found an LED whale doing backflips in the desert. We climbed to the top of a rebar octopus. (I scored a 10 on my dismount.) We watched people dance and play with fire. We saw everything from flaming swords to a woman spinning poi while in a wheelchair; to performance art with hats on fire - and there was even a flaming hula-hoop!

Nothing, however, compared to the white out and the circumstances of that wedding. Even the burning of the Man takes second place in my memory - and that burn was spectacular!

The blaze was so hot that it was spinning in on itself and shooting out massive, whirling dust devils! After the Man came crashing down and the flames weren't quite so intense, I ran towards it to encircle it with thousands of other people. I made my way to the center, to the fire. It was almost too hot to take. There were firemen, fully decked, and a few men in silver fire protective suits helping people keep a safe distance from the flaming remnants of the Man. I had my fluffy blue princess dress scrunched up in my arms. I needed to be free of it. I needed to burn it. No more repairs, no more restricted movement, no more boning stabbing me when I inhaled! Who wants to be a princess anyway?! I ran in, chucked the dress, and danced and ran and spun! A nice man in a silver suit mentioned to me that it might be a good idea to back away from the glow for awhile. He was right. I was a bit singed. I did not, however, stay away for long.

I don't know how many times I circled the fire. When I left, my whole body was singing with heat. Someone touched me on my way out of the circle and exclaimed, "My god, you're hot!" It felt like the fire had held me, hugged me, crept inside me and didn't want to let go.

And still, my thoughts drifted back to that rainbow. My hips began to shimmy to drums that were no longer beating as I walked back to camp. Out in the darkness, a man said, "Meow." He was looking for direction. I had none. We talked about his fashion show, my dance in the dust storm, the Temple of Joy, and the burn. He wandered off. I wandered on.

I meowed as I went, and I danced in my own way. Those four days made quite an impression on me. I still have dreams of the dust, the rain, the burn, and the feeling of good will that surrounded those lovers at the Temple of Joy. Friends and strangers alike came along to wish them well - and everyone was welcome. That's the part that makes the memory stick - everyone was welcome.

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