Gilded Serpent presents...
Journey to Nepal
that in Asia I gained a deeper understanding into my own chosen
I will never
forget Nepal and the dance adventures we encountered. They
will remain etched in my mind forever. What I found most amazing
is how much I learned about Middle Eastern dance going to Asia.
originated during a time in our history when human beings
lived close to nature. In Nepal I was exposed to the
different animal dances in the jungle and learned a few
Nepalese folk steps enacting stories about lotus flowers
blossoming, moons shinning and trees swaying in the wind.
I can see how belly dance may have also have partly originated
by copying nature and its animals, especially the snakes.
our exciting, first time journey to Nepal began in Hong Kong,
China where we had a most enjoyable 11-hour layover. Despite
the fact that half of the people at the Hong Kong airport were
wearing masks in an effort to ward off the deadly SARS virus,
my friend Tina and I returned greatly refreshed from our 11-hour
layover. This is because after a long 14-hour flight, we wisely
decided to leave the fear-ridden Hong Kong airport to see "Lantau
Island". Lantau is a beautiful rustic island off Mainland China
where we visited largest Buddha statue in the world.
of the beauty of the island, we hiked up its sacred mountain
and without another soul in sight, we joyfully belly danced
atop the mountain peak looking out at this famous Buddha statue.
There was a haunting mist gracefully floating atop the mountain.
Very strong winds pushed this eery white mist eastward across
the mountain as we watched, thoroughly entranced.
graciously offered to watch our backpacks below, I climbed
up a bit further and found myself completely alone overlooking
a beautiful bluish-green lake. I could also see the huge Buddha
statue from afar as the Buddhist monks chanted their holy mantras
below. With the wind urging me on, I decided to join the mystical
dance between the whistling wind and the floating mist.
on top of this powerful mountain, I outstretched my long
arms abandoning myself to the incredible spirit of this
mountain. Simultaneously undulating my body, I allowed
the powerful wind and the haunting mist to dance through
my tired muscles and bones. Abandoning myself to the
wind, it completely took my breath away and I felt its
incredible power surge through my entire body.
to say, I returned greatly invigorated to the Hong Kong airport,
once again prepared to face the atmosphere of fear amidst the
SARS virus. Such is the healing power of belly dancing with
6 hours later we arrived in exotic Nepal. Nepal is a tiny kingdom
in the Himalayas. It offers a cultural heritage that is among
the richest in Asia. This small country also possesses tropical
jungles teeming with exotic wildlife and the highest mountains
in the world, including Mount Everest! Nepal enraptured my
friend Tina and I with its natural and cultural diversity.
in Nepal began in the colorful city of Katmandu, marked by
deep religious devotion. Here we were exposed to Hindu Pagoda
temples, Grand Buddhist Stupas, monkey temples, a wealth of
medieval art and architecture, and artistic palace squares
honored as World Heritage Sites.
the streets of Katmandu, monkeys bathed at the cremation
sites, Hare Krishnas joyfully danced in the streets,
young men celebrated their rites of passage into manhood,
very poor "untouchable" families swept the streets, women
freely breastfed their babies, and wild dogs and goats,
as well as sacred cows and bulls, shared the already
crowded dirt roads with the city dwellers.
It is no
doubt that Nepal provides the setting for a vibrant culture.
However, as much as I enjoyed the guided tours of the temples
and other sites in Nepal, the highlights of our trip consisted
of our dance adventures with the PEOPLE of Nepal, especially
with the people in the Nepalese jungles and mountains.
possess a rich cultural heritage that includes music, song
and dance; there exist dances which enact sacred stories and
in which every gesture has profound meaning. Many of these
dances honor the earth and the many gods and goddesses of Nepal. In
the city of Katmandu, dancing is a serious art form. The Nepalese
perform most of their dances in temples and on stage. Dancers
who aspire to be professionals audition for performing arts
schools consisting of a rigorous five-year dance program. Wow!
I was impressed! For a time, visions of founding a four-year
performing arts school in the states, offering Middle Eastern
Dance as a focus, played in my head. In the remote Himalayan
mountain areas and jungle regions the natives dance as a form
of celebration, to honor animals they consider sacred, and
as an integral part of their ancient ceremonies.
a few days in Katmandu, we made our get away from the hustle
and bustle of this city to the beautiful Royal Chitwan National
Park. This Park, the oldest national park in Nepal, was designated
as a World Heritage Site in 1984. We peacefully stayed in the
heart of the park surrounded by the soothing jungles of Nepal.
It was here in Chitwan that we experienced the true safari
atmosphere of the Terai. We were offered guided cultural tours
to meet the natives of the jungle and to experience their traditional
self-sufficient way of life.
are the indigenous inhabitants of the Terai. One of the highlights
the natives offered was their Tharu folk dance show. At dusk,
outdoors, under the beautiful moonlight, the drummers and stick
dancers performed traditional jungle dances for us.
only the men are allowed to perform dances for the tourists.
The one young woman in the troupe who DID perform was
actually a MAN dressed as a woman.
before our guide told us "her" secret, I remarked on how I
thought she was very pretty. After their show, they invited
my friend Tina to join them in their rhythmic display as I
happily videotaped these exotic dances. A lot of Tina's hip
movements from belly dance actually worked quite well with
their jungle dances. This was only the beginning of our many
exciting dance adventures.
the Chitwan National Forest there thrive more than 43 species
of mammals. We embarked upon an exciting elephant safari hoping
to spot as many of the park's mammals as possible. It was a
heart stopping experience to pause only a few feet away from
the endangered, one-horned rhinos. We bravely took advantage
of this rare opportunity to furiously snap close ups of these
ferocious creatures. We were told to be quiet and stay very
still. There was a mother and baby rhino wading in the river.
As we crossed a muddy river, an entire group of these dangerous
rhinos stopped drinking to look up at us. I was simultaneously
thrilled and alarmed, as the leader appeared to be sizing us
up. Tina and I then realized how wise we were to embark upon
an elephant safari rather than on a safari by foot! Altogether
we saw 8 different rhinos. Santa, a Terai native, acted as
our jungle guide. He told us this was very unusual; most tourists
are lucky to see even two.
brave and with the spirit of adventure now etched in our hearts,
we attempted to mount a bareback elephant via its trunk by
hanging on to its huge ears. No doubt taking pity on us, two
natives helped us up with a push from behind.
elephants then took us to their bathing site and gently
placed us into the cool jungle river below. We joyfully
swam among these majestic creatures. In the refreshing
river, man and beast together cooled off from the immense
felt a strong connection to the power of the jungle and to
the animals. It was not surprising for me to find out later
that there were native dances imitating the jungle animals,
including the elephants. It was at the foot of these beautiful
animals that I was inspired to dance in the water as I looked
up at them in amazement.
showed Tina and I what the natives call the "elephant" dance.
He bent forward from the waist as he swung his arms, his make
believe trunk, back and forth and side to side. He then got
down on all fours imitating the elephant's heavy, and powerful
gait. He didn't stop here. He showed Tina how to act out many
of the animals we had seen in our day in the jungle. This included
the peacock and crocodile dances as well as a hilarious rhino
dance. In this rhino dance, Tina and Santa humorously enacted
a fight dance, both on all fours. In this wild dance the dancers
circle each other until they charge and then butt heads. Ouch!
Santa stated in the jungle this fight is almost always between
two male rhinos over territory. Except in this case, Tina was
not right for the part. So, Santa humorously adjusted the dance
to display a male-female fight dance, explaining that they
were a married rhino couple on the verge of divorce. We laughed
at his sense of humor.
watching Santa copy the animals in his native jungle, I am
now inspired to closely observe snakes as the true and original
teachers of the belly dance. I now more fully understand why
people who live close to nature and to the animals naturally
want to imitate nature and the animals. It is a powerful experience
to connect deeper to nature. I see this also in the belly dance.
Dance, no doubt came out of a close connection to nature and
the snakes. The people of Nepal also have their own snake dance
as do many indigenous people all over the world, including
East Indians and Native Americans to name a few. Wow!
In traveling to Asia I was gaining a deeper understanding into
my own chosen art.
was more than just our guide. He was also a fun loving ham.
Obviously, he loved to dance and he seemed to take great pride
in his ability to entertain the tourists. On top of this, he
was also an eager Belly Dance student. When he found out I
was a Belly Dance teacher he begged me, during our coffee break,
to show him a few Belly Dance moves. I don't know why we were
being offered hot tea and coffee in the hot, humid jungle weather.
But even though it was over 100 degrees outside
and I had just finished drinking my hot cup of tea, I couldn't
pass up teaching a student who demonstrated such eagerness
I was in the middle of the jungle, with the elephants, just
a few yards behind us, teaching a jungle native how to Belly
Dance. His enthusiasm was catchy. Pretty soon, a crowd of onlookers
appeared as his stiff but eager body attempted to follow the
relaxed, isolated movements of the shoulder shimmy. I must
admit he WAS quite a sight as he attempted to look graceful.
With great effort and with very stiff shoulders he managed
to shake his entire body, but NOT his shoulders. All the while
he carried a pained expression on his face. Our audience couldn't
help but die laughing! Feeling sorry for Santa, no one laughs
at my students, I invited the onlookers to come join us, but
not one of them budged. I took this opportunity to point out
how Santa was the only one brave enough to attempt to learn
this art. No one laughed at him after that. Later, I realized
Santa simply loved the attention and that included the laughs.
So, I need not have worried.
people in Nepal celebrate their New Year in April. Later that
evening after dinner, while celebrating the New Year, Santa
graciously offered to return the favor and teach me a typical
dance of Nepal. I was thrilled to accept.
I noted how the men of Nepal, unlike many American men, were
more than happy to sing, dance and express their feelings for
us through their traditional music and dance. This is probably
because they all grew up singing, dancing and playing the drums.
It was refreshing to hear our other guide, Janaki, happily
offer to play a small keyboard type instrument for us as he
sang. He didn't care that he had a cold. Also, two of the male
waiters offered to improvise on the jungle drums for us as
we took our dance lesson. Wow, live music, in the middle of
music, completely improvised, was very beautiful, because
like Arabic music, it speaks from the soul. We'll never
forget dancing in the jungle lodge with this wonderful
group of live musicians playing, singing and dancing
their hearts out freely for us. This is characteristic
of the people of Nepal in general. We knew it would be
a rare occasion indeed to find men like this back in
the states and so we relished every moment of it.
and movements of these jungle dances were soft, rhythmical,
soothing, almost hypnotic, reflecting the harmonious and relaxing
sounds of the Nepalese jungle itself. Also, the consistent
drum rhythms accompanying the soft melody lines were similar
to belly dance music. The dance movements also showed some
resemblance to belly dance, except there was more stepping,
traveling and turning involved. Now I more fully understood
why belly dance is also called, "Oriental Dance". Many
of the hip and especially the arm movements are similar to
the dances of Asia. We also witnessed this in India and in
the Newary Dance show we had the pleasure to attend back in
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Artwork of Scott Arguette
essence, a good dancer owns the stage; she requires it and manipulates
it as a fighter dominates the field.
7-7-03 Baraka & the
Bus or What happened to Baraka? by Baraka/Beth
By now, having lost my home, my studio, my library,
my recordings, and my database, you would think I would start
to get the hint that it might be time to move away from dance.
Having been a dancer literally all of my life, I simply couldn't
give it up!
from the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival, The Opening Night Gala by
Tahseen Alkoudsi and Shira
at the Mena House Oberoi Hotel on June 10-17, Cairo, Egypt. More
30th Annual Belly Dancer of the Year Pageant photos
Abrupt musical transitions were rampant throughout the
pageant. The competition was fierce in the Duet / Trio category...
News from the Ahlan wa Sahlan 2003 in Cairo reported
flavor of the instruction and dancing are very different from
that offered by the U.S. festivals, and it offers an exciting
opportunity for immersion in the Egyptian dance arts.