Or How Can the Practice of Bellydance Lead the Dancer to a State of Grace or Enlightenment?
by Yasmina Ramzy
posted April 1, 2009
This month’s column is based on a talk given by Yasmina Ramzy on April 26, 2007 at the International Bellydance Conference of Canada. Yasmina has been busy this month with producing her recent theatrical presentation called, "Egypt" . She will be back with her usual format next month.
Many of us have a sense that this art called Bellydance has a power that reaches beyond rhinestones and bare midriffs. Many of us have experienced inner growth after learning a Hip Twist or Undulation. Yes, of course we gain a more loving and intimate relationship with our bodies and with our sensuality. And yes, after overcoming social taboos and identifying with a strong female archetype, we gain greater self-esteem. Just learning how to exact parts of the body in very subtle but precise movements often gives us a sense of power. But even after all this or sometimes because of all this, most of us feel that in those movements and the emotions they create, there is an inherent, awe inspiring mystery that is so powerful, it may be the mystery that unlocks the secrets of the Universe or the mystery of who we are and why we exist.
Who and where is "The Goddess"?
People relate to this title "The Goddess" in many ways. She is referred to by many names: Isis, Ishtar, Mary, Tara, Cerridwen, Persephone, Sarasvati, Aradia, Diana, Aphrodite, Kali, etc. The list is infinite and depending upon the culture or religion, she has varying attributes. For this talk, I am going to focus on two of her more all encompassing titles: Mother of the Universe and Queen of Infinite Space. Since Isis is probably the longest living form of the Goddess who has been worshipped by many cultures and for thousands of years, I will start with Her as an example. Also because what we today call Bellydance is primarily derived from its Egyptian form, it seems appropriate. Apparently, the word Isis is derived from Her ancient Egyptian name Aset. The ancient Greeks had difficulty
pronouncing Her name so it eventually transformed into the name Isis. The word Aset literally means "a throne" and that is why one of Her forms is often seen wearing a crown which is in the shape of a throne.
Why a throne? And what is a throne? It is a seat or a support that royalty are placed on. It serves as the foundation that holds up the one that sits upon it. "Foundation" is the important word that I want you to remember. As Mother of the Universe, we can see Her as the ultimate womb from which all creation comes forth. As Queen of Infinite Space, she is that vast emptiness that holds the infinite stars, galaxies and all of creation. We have many famous symbols of the Goddess like the cup or chalice, like the moon that reflects light rather than give off its own light, water that takes the shape of whatever it is put in, and of course, the throne that holds the king or queen. All of which are fairly passive symbols, yet evocative images and ideas.
The most important practice of almost all mystical paths is meditation. It is universal and does not need a frame of reference from any particular theology.
Although one might say there are many forms of meditation, they all really lead to the same state of being. This state is a state in which the mind is completely passive or when one no longer holds on to the sense that one is a separate entity with thoughts, opinions and emotions. When one is in deep meditation, it is said that the practitioner experiences a state similar to Enlightenment or experiences the mind of the Goddess, almost like looking through Her eyes.
I have been taught that the Being who sees through these eyes of mine and the one who sees through the eyes of you and you and you, and indeed, the eyes of each and every person in this room is the same Being. When that Being looks through these eyes, it thinks it is Yasmina and when it looks through your eyes, it thinks it is …..(so and so)….. but really it is the same Being or same awareness that is looking. When we meditate, we try to let go, let the mind sit and abide in this awareness, and to be the One who is looking. Take a quick moment to be aware of the one who is looking through your eyes and ask yourself who is seeing these objects, then ask yourself who is the one hearing my words and finally who is the one reacting to these sights and sounds. Then take a moment to realize that the awareness that is experiencing all this phenomena is the same awareness behind all the eyes and ears and thoughts of every living being. That awareness is Isis. The thoughts, opinions and emotions never stop – there is no beginning or end to creation. No one can stop thoughts or universes from arising, but one can become the vessel or empty space from which all things arise.
And that brings me to Bellydance technique.
As teachers, we know that the major challenge for the Bellydance student is to let go and relax all muscles not necessary in the execution of a particular movement. One of the most important characteristics of Bellydance technique is that the foundation of the dancer’s movement be grounded and his or her feet, weight and centre of gravity have a close relationship with the floor. Finally, the uniqueness of Bellydance movement which sets it apart from all other forms of movement is the sense that the art is internal and always centered. I often say all movement either comes from the stomach or is absorbed into the stomach. Sounds a lot like meditation doesn’t it? Letting go and abide in the foundation of the mind.
Many students can imitate the shapes, architecture and lines of Bellydance movement but the dance artist who fascinates us with a sense of physical magic is the dancer who has mastered these rules and, in fact, relishes in the intricacies and subtleties of making the movement look like it comes from nowhere.
Somehow, when we experience this very natural flow of movement that comes from giving up major effort and we allow the qanoon to tickle us, the violin to melt us and the taks of the drum to twitch a muscle, we then experience great freedom and joy. When that joy is a continuous flow through us, our audience is blessed with this joy as well.
Whether it is a strong and powerful dancer, a sensual dancer, a sweet and feminine dancer, or a dynamic dancer that we witness or express, the one characteristic that everyone agrees on is that Bellydance expresses joy. Even most folklores associated with Bellydance are a different culture’s way of expressing joy.
There is an image of Nut in the Valley of the Kings in Upper Egypt. Her hands and feet are on either side of the room, her legs and arms go up and down each wall, and her belly covers the ceiling which is painted a deep blue colour, filled with stars. It is said that her belly is the Vault of Heaven and these are her words:
"Come forth o children, under the stars and take your fill of love. I am above and in you. My ecstacy is in yours. My joy is to see your joy."
So I say that the ultimate prayer or worship of the Goddess is in the practice of Bellydance. Through the art of Bellydance, each one of you has the chance to experience oneness with the Queen of Infinite Space and the Mother of the Universe and… great joy.
Ready for more?
- 2-4-09 Ask Yasmina #3
Personally, I am all for any kind of creative expression (blood, snakes, flowers, even fake chicken heads and urine) as long as it comes from a place of inspiration and with the intention to move members of an audience to think about the world around themselves and their own relationship to the substance or reference of choice with a new and wider point of view (maybe an even more loving point of view).
- 1-15-09 Ask Yasmina #2, Handling Media, Choreography, Name Our Dance
In creating a work of art that will enlighten or move an audience emotionally, the artist’s intention is to communicate a message or an emotion.
- 12-1-08 Ask Yasmina: Evolution, Oum Kalthoum, & Cover ups
A first column in a once-a-month series: GS is proud to present this passionate and knowledgeable expert in the field of Middle Eastern Dance; she is an artist, pioneer, and creator of the International Bellydance Conference of Canada.
- 8-10-07 Dance of Power
The sensual is from the realm of the magical, the psyche, rather than the physical.
- 8-28-06 Bellydancing, Mythology and Astrology: Exploring the creative character of dance expression
- 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?
- 5-15-06 God Belly Danced, Part IV: The Rise of the Pagan Anti-Belly Dance League
Dancing girls, wherever they came from, at this time apparently were luxury import items and thus were subject to a 25 percent duty tax, equal to that of precious gems.
- 7-25-03 The New Age Adage for Performing Dancers
If you have nothing to say through your dance, do not dance.
- 3-31-09 Mina’s 1001 Arabian Nights
1001 Arabian Nights started with asking several of the community troupe directors and teachers I’ve known over the year if they would like to create a show with me. They all seemed very excited about the prospect of doing something “different” in the dance community.
- 3-30-09 The Bellydance Museum: An Accident of Fate?
Soon, I found out my collection of Arabic instruments, ancient jewelry, and our shared bank account were all gone along with my ex-wife. The only thing I could find was a small part of my picture collection, which I now had to sell in order to stay alive.
- 3-28-09 Producing "Tales of Desire"; a Tribal Fusion Bellydance Experience
We felt that the buzz in the community was that people were getting tired of seeing the same performers on every performance DVD that came out, so we really tried to mix it up and offer a more varied line up.