"The Power of Bellydance"
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It was love at first sight. Watching my first Bellydance performance was like being re-united with an old and intimate lover. The movements and music captured my heart and from that day on I was taken on an uncharted and life-changing journey. I tried to get away a few times, thinking that I was meant to go in another direction, but the dance always pulled me back. It became something that I did not want to live without.

The beauty and power of Oriental Dance has taken many of us, calling forth our inherent femininity and speaking to our souls. It has empowered us from the inside, reflecting back to us the truth of who we are through it's flowing and fluid movements. In the midst of our daily lives among computers, traffic, corporate fashion and the many roles that we play each day, it has given us the opportunity to love our curves, ourselves and our sensuality. It has created an avenue to express what has often been repressed and to awaken what has been aching to come alive.

Sometimes, in our quest to achieve technical prowess and create dazzling performances, we take alot about this dance for granted. We all agree that it makes us feel so much better and more alive and the exercise gurus would say that it's just those endorphines being stimulated. but those of us involved in this art form know that it is much more than that. As I've looked through my notes, reviewed testimonials from other dancers and students and looked back over my many years of performing and teaching, what I have realized is very clear. Bellydance is different from other dance forms in that it is uniquely healing and empowering in ways that I feel are important for us to explore.

Some of the benefits are obvious. Women throughout history, from the most primitive to modern cultures, have loved to adorn themselves and their environments. The dressing up, costuming and exotic images that are a part of this dance and it's culture, satisfy our intrinsic need to decorate, beautify, and embellish. We cherish the many new friendships that are developed and the feelings of bonding and sisterhood. In fact, a UCLA study on friendships between women reveals that  "friendships between woman causes a greater release of oxytocin, a hormone which counters stress and has a calming effect." It is said that this may be one of the reasons that women consistently outlive men.

The deep abdominal breathing that accompanies many of the movements, soothes and nourishes our nervous systems, so important in our culture of shallow chest breathers. Lifting the rib cage and the upper body isolations expand breathing and lung capacity and can reverse the effects of having been hunched over the computer or steering wheel all day. It's wonderful to see this change in posture create a more regal and confident appearance.

The slow snakey movements have a power of their own. They force us to slow down no matter how busy or chaotic our day has been. The fluid softness of ripples and waves elasticizes our body as tension melts away. For myself, some of the most profound moments are during the slow dance sequences when I touch upon an inner stillness, a luxurious and rejuvenating reprieve which brings renewed vitality and creativity.

So often, a scattered, busy mind is organized by the astute focus it takes to do the moves that we do. The attention to detail, alignment, posture, isolations and layering, create a body-mind connection that is quite phenomenal. Engaging core muscles for intricate movements creates a deep inner strength and the undulations, figure eights, and circles massage internal organs while balancing energy flows and meridians. Stiff necks can be relieved and carpal tunnel syndrome prevented by working with wrist circles and waves throughout the hands and into the shoulders.
Shimmies are energizing, grounding, and one of the best ways I have found to 'shake off the blues'. They help us find the groove between control and letting go, teaching us to relax while in motion. Wouldn't it be great if we could have movement breaks instead of coffee breaks in the workplace. Many repetitive motion injuries and stress related illnesses could be reduced and possibly prevented.

Veil dancing taps us into our gentleness. The way a silk veil moves through the air and the feeling of the fabric touching skin transforms a roomful of tense, anxious people into soft and floating butterflies. Aggression and anger, channeled into sharp hip and pelvis movements, are turned into power and passion. Harsh emotions can then be softened by softening the intensity of the movement.

The diversity in the music leads us through an array of different tempos and feelings (slow, sensual, lively, joyful, soft, subtle, sharp, dynamic, snakey) often within one dance. The many changes that the music asks of us break us out of our familiar patterns and habitual ways of moving. Hypnotic rhythms and otherwordly sounds take us into altered states, a vacation of sorts, tapping us into more intuitive ways of thinking and non-thinking.

And then, of course, there is performing. Performance artistry and theatre have always been a powerful communicative resource for communities and society at large. I see performing as a co-journey that creates an intimate connection between the performer and audience. The states of mind and healing feelings that we feel when performing are felt by the audience as well. Part of the beauty of performing, for me, is to have the opportunity to share the magnificence of our dance while expressing my passion and joy, the same passion and joy that resonates in the hearts of all people. Dance gives us a universal language that goes beyond cultures and ethnicities. To speak with our body in this way allows us to communicate from the deepest part of ourselves. 

For now, I've just skimmed surface of how our dance can and does heal the body, mind and spirit. Still to be explored are the benefits of zill playing, sword balancing, trance dancing, expression of our sexuality and so many other aspects that have personal therapeutic as well as global value. As we, the dancers of this dance know, the list goes on and on.  I see an immense amount of untapped potential still to be uncovered and look forward to the day when our exquisite 'Ancient Dance' is finally revered as a fine art and a healing art in it's own right.

 On this, I am sure we agree---Oriental Dance is a great gift for us all.

by Rafi'ah...published in "The Bellydancer Magazine" and "Shimmy This Magazine"

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