Dance Journey to Nepal
Our final day in the jungle, we all had one last, hearty laugh! Once again I attempted to teach the brave Santa other bellydance moves. Santa was such an eager student, I couldn't resist, even as the driver in the car sat waiting in the parking lot for us with our suitcases packed and ready to go. This time the entire Chitwan staff, about twelve native men, came out to watch as one of their own, completely unembarrassed, once again took a Belly Dance lesson from an American teacher. This time I tried to teach him how to shimmy his hips, but alas, to no avail. This did not stop my eager male student from unashamedly trying to shimmy, bringing much laughter among his people. He seemed to enjoy all the attention he was getting and wouldn't give up trying to get it just right. What a ham. Although we were sad to bid our new dance friends farewell, we couldn't have chosen a more beautiful way to say goodbye to the natives of the Terai.
Our next adventure was in the Himalayas. I took a breathtaking mountain flight that offered a panoramic encounter with the Himalayan Mountain range, the highest peaks on earth! Flying at 25,000 ft, with a guaranteed window seat, I had the privilege of having eye level views of the snow peaks and of Mount Everest itself. When Mount Everest itself came into view it so happened that it was my turn to sit with the copilot in the cockpit.
We spent one beautiful night in the midst of the Himalayas. Our hotel, "The Viewpoint", offered a wondrous view of the Himalayas. We were lucky enough to be on the top floor where on a clear day one can see Mount Everest with the naked eye. At one of the outside patios we met a nice Indian couple. Married only one year they were quick to let us know theirs was a love marriage and not an arranged marriage. As we got to know each other, the wife, Reina and I, realized we both shared a strong interest in dance. She had been studying the Classical "Bharata Natyam" dance since childhood and was more than happy to do an exchange lesson with me. She was very interested in learning about Arabic dance, and I was more than eager to teach her.
This short opening dance is primarily composed of a series of arm and hand gestures honoring the earth and the audience. It ends with the hands posed in "Namaste", the traditional Indian gesture of respect in which the hands are held in a prayer position. The knees stay very bent throughout much of the salutation and the feet are turned out, similar to the first position in ballet. At one point the dancer bends her knees and body all the way down to touch the floor, then her forehead and then looks up at the sky, her arms spread wide, ending in Namaste. Greatly inspired by the way in which these gestures seem to set the stage, no pun intended, I have created an Arabic version for my Belly Dance shows back home. Doing so focuses the dance in a very beautiful direction and elevates the dance to a more sacred level.
That night, our guide's wife and children surprised Janaki with a visit, because it was his 39th birthday. We were honored to sit with them for dinner at the lodge while his three children, with their beautiful little girl voices sang typical Nepalese Folk songs for us. Nepalese Folk music is joyful and soft. These beautiful, lyrical songs remind me of the joyful Peruvian folkloric music with which I grew up.
In keeping with the spirit of this enchanting, musical evening, I happily offered to Belly Dance for them, as his birthday gift. I was taken outside to a cold, tiny, and very dirty bathroom where I changed. In marked contrast to the jungle, the night air was quite cold and I shivered as I stood outside the lodge door waiting to make my grand entrance. A group of Nepalese army soldiers sat eating and conversing in the adjacent room. Of course, just my luck, I happened to be right outside their window. They stared at me incredulously. I had forgotten to pack my cover up, but fortunately I had a black veil wrapped around me. Although I carefully had chosen to wear a one-piece outfit, my arms were still completely bare and my legs peeked our through the cuts on the side. I was a little embarrassed as the soldiers continued staring at me. In Nepal, the women usually dress conservatively.
How the heck was I going to pull this one off, unless I figured out a way to turn my dance into a comedy? I have had all kinds of strange things happen to me in my 13 years of performing and this was a new one. I waited a few seconds and thank goodness my music started again. Once again, I began dancing only to stop again because the music now was playing very slowly. I imagined myself dancing in slow motion, but I decided the music simply sounded too awful. I was not about to dance to music that sounded like Donald Duck singing. I finally turned the music off myself. No one else was about to do it. Never having heard this music before, they no doubt assumed the music was supposed to sound this way.
Back I went outside in the freezing cold, as they quickly switched to a CD player. Fortunately, I had brought both CD and cassette tape. They hooked up the music as I waited close to the door, ignoring the leering soldiers. Finally, thinking the worst was over, I heard the beautiful Arabic music begin again. I happily entered, gracefully opened my veil and began dancing to beautiful classical Egyptian dance music. Warmed up and relaxed now, I finally smiled to my self and to the audience. I couldn't believe I was dancing in the middle of the Himalayas.
The audience was quiet and shy, but attentive. Jankai's 10-year old daughter came out and danced with me. She was a natural. I was not surprised. Like a lot of children in her country, she has been studying Nepalese dance for years. Then, just as I was starting my favorite dance number, the music went completely dead, and, the lights went out too! The entire hotel was experiencing a blackout.
Fortunately, every table was lighted with a candle, and the light of the moon shone through the windows. The combination of the moonlight and the flickering candles created a mysterious and other worldly setting. "This is really beautiful", I thought to myself. Quickly, I began improvising music by playing my cymbals. I asked Tina to drum a beladi rhythm for me on the jungle drum Janaki had brought along. Thank goodness she had been taking drum lessons just prior to leaving the states and was getting quite good at it. I encouraged the audience to clap to the rhythm. Wow, it all worked out after all. The audience seemed to appreciate my inventiveness and warmly applauded at the end of the show. I knew I had just come up with another idea to try back home in Sacramento. After the show, we continued dancing with Janaki and his family. We joined them in dancing traditional Nepalese dances with them.
I will never forget Nepal and the many dance adventures we encountered. I learned a lot about Middle Eastern dance visiting Asia! I was exposed to the different animal dances in the jungle, and I learned a few Nepalese folk steps enacting sacred stories.
If I could travel back to our ancient past to find out about my chosen art, I would go in a heartbeat. However, I am afraid that is one trip I will never undertake. Unless.has anyone out there invented a time machine yet? Well, that's another story.
Isadora Duncan, the mother of Modern Dance taught her students that their dance studies were above all, to spring from the movements in Nature. She wrote, "They were to feel in their souls a secret attachment, unknowable to others, to initiate them into Nature's secrets; for all the parts of their supple bodies, trained as they would be, would respond to the melody of Nature and sing with her. ("My Life", p. 128). Wow! This is what I witnessed in Nepal. I saw the people connect to nature, animals and people in a deeper way than we do here in the states. Being a part of their music, singing and dancing have added richness to the understanding of my own art and to my performances back home. I am truly grateful.
Part 1 of this
Journey to Nepal by Daleela
Ready for More?
Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation, My Journey
in the Process by Lilly
Our adventure brings us to a rare
treasure! Yair Dalal in Concert in Marin County, California Report
8-14-03 "What is Belly Dance?" The First Presentation in the New Symposium Series, by World Arts West A report and review by Sadira There has been much controversy surrounding the particular groups and soloists who have been chosen to represent the Middle Eastern Dance category in the Ethnic Dance series throughout its entire 25 years of production.