"The Power of Belly Dancing"
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..by Rafi'ah
 It was love at first sight. Watching my first Belly Dance 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.

I think we take alot about this dance for granted. We do agree that it makes us feel so much better and more alive. The exercise gurus would say that it is simply those excercise 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. Oriental Dance is profoundly different, 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, satisfies 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 recent 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 and is greatly needed in our culture of shallow chest breathers. Lifting  the sternum,  rib cage and upper body isolations, expand breathing and lung capacity and reverse the effects of having been hunched over the computer or steering wheel. 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 bodies as tension melts away. For myself, some of the most profound moments are during the slow sequences when I touch upon an inner stillness, a luxurious and rejuvenating reprieve which brings new 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'. Shimmies help us find that groove between control and letting go, teaching us to relax while in motion. It would be wonderful 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, can be turned into power and passion. Then, if we choose, harsh emotions can 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. These 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.

Performing artistry has always been a powerful communicative resource for communities and society. Performing is a co-journey that creates an intimate emotional and energetic connection between the performer and audience. And if we are experiencing these states of mind and healing feelings, then our audience can feel them as well. The beauty of performing, for me, is the opportunity to share, uplift, and awaken another to the magnificence of our dance, to express a joy and passion that resonates in the hearts of all people,  going beyond any particular culture or ethnicity. To speak with my body gives me a universal language to communicate from the deepest part of myself.

For now, I've just skimmed the surface, giving a summary of how our dance can be used for healing the body, mind and spirit. Still unexplored is the zil playing, sword balancing, trance dancing, meditative possiblities, expression of our sexuality and so many other aspects of the dance that have therapeutic value. 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 this Ancient Dance is revered as a fine art and a healing art in it's own right.





to inquire or set up a workshop in
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