In the Belly of Nuit
Widening Your Horizons
"There is Always Hope" Mahmoud Reda

The Healing Powers of Bellydance

"Were these beautiful young girls going to miss out on something so precious and end up instead, being part of a new global cheerleader type dance form?"

It has been a year since I wrote the Blog Post called "Am I Still a Bellydancer? It is the most read, commented upon and shared piece I have ever written in any publishing venue ever.  Whatever city I have taught in since, students whom I have never met will refer to that post, usually with a twinkle in their eye.

It seemed like I hit a nerve.

Since being published (parts 1&2) I have only written one other (Widening Your Horizons) which just made its rounds again this week to a new audience. Seeing an old blog post appear in my Facebook feed must have planted a seed to start my blog back up again. My father passed away shortly after that blog post. The will to write had left me. However, I have just recently returned from Egypt where I got reconnected with the art I love, on the terms I love, with people I love.

Judging from the worldwide comments on the controversial post from August 2014, my point of view was well received. It was interesting that those close to me at Arabesque were afraid I had committed career suicide and damaged the Arabesque brand. The fear came from a protective reaction and thus out of love for the most part. Some may have lost faith in my sanity. Although, they agreed with my point of view, perhaps they were afraid of taking an actual public stance and possibly alienate fans and students. 

As I mentioned in the post, I too was afraid of alienating the community but could no longer let that stop me from expressing my truth. Now, I am ready to be even more candid.

It feels good to be honest and I do not have the energy it takes to pretend otherwise. Quite frankly, being honest has the very wonderful advantage of attracting like-minded people and repelling others. Thus  allowing me to live a more authentic and fulfilling life.

The catalyst that got me to the keyboard today was watching a clip of very young dancers that I am assuming categorize themselves as Bellydancers in Taiwan I think. The skill of such young dancers was very impressive. However, it reminded me of when I told a young student of mine with a lot of promise that she will not really understand or express the Bellydance spirit and nuance until she becomes a woman. She admitted to me in later years that she realized the truth of my words and was happy to now experience womanhood in her dance but had been very angry with me at the time.

As I watched the young dynamic dancers in Taiwan, I marveled at their interesting choreography, their stage-presence and the evidence of being well rehearsed. They had a more polished and professional presentation than most adult Bellydance ensembles I have seen or directed. I worried though; was someone going to point out to them the profound, timeless spirit of Bellydance that has nothing to do with shiny costumes and well executed choreography.

Were these beautiful young girls going to miss out on something so precious and end up instead, being part of a new global cheerleader type dance form?

I like to believe all who are attracted to Bellydance are seeking a connection with an ancient feminine archetype that has healing and spiritual power. However, in the name of the all-mighty dollar and/or an insecure ego and/or sexual issues, students are often misled. Instead they find themselves on a path of shortcuts to a shadow of the real art. What a shame if they end up acting out someone's shallow presentation in the name of marketing.

 What a shame if these young girls never find their way to the passion of the masters. 

Now, I get to my real worry about the direction global Bellydance appears to be taking. The gap seems to be widening between the honest passion of the masters such as Tahia, Samia, Farida, Sohair, Nagua, Dina, etc and the shallow meaningless display of showgirl meets gymnast meets diva wanna-be meets sex without class meets empty marketing meets competitor meets ... you get my drift.

What does the latter have to offer anyone in the end except even worse self-esteem and body hating issues? I recently had a long two-part conversation with the wise Farida Fahmy who has come to believe that this dance form (she hesitates to use the term "Bellydance") has actual healing powers that she hopes some scientists will do significant studies on to prove. Of course I agreed and have believed this since 1981, so she told me to go and find the scientists to carry out the research. She feels it would be fascinating to know if it is based in hormones and chemistry - one day...

Every dance artist, teacher, musician I come in contact with in Egypt says the same thing; the dance is about the music and how to feel the music.

Maestros Bassam Bishara and Dr. George Sawa often talk of the ancient healing powers of different maqams. What a shame if all this wonderful magic is lost with the advent of competitions - lost in a race to the crown with the latest costume design, the latest gimmick prop  or step (which by the way, none of them are new), the use of pop and house dance music or with speed and athleticism. 

I always like to finish with hope. Here is to hope that more and more of these young dancers, despite their introduction to the art form, will eventually join the ranks of those who seek depth of meaning and honest passion, not pretend passion.

Thus our timeless art form will survive and nourish many in future generations with its healing powers.

Ak musicians

  Yasmina & Farida

Comments

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george sawa

You and the Egyptians are right Yasmina in saying: "Every dance artist, teacher, musician I come in contact with in Egypt says the same thing; the dance is about the music and how to feel the music." There are two important issues here: 1) It is so crucial for dancers to understand and feel the music, and I have to thank you for the years you trusted me to teach music to dancers in your school; 2) The healing powers of music are outstanding, especially music that is married to tarab (my glossary has 495 entries on tarab alone), so it follows that dances performed to tarab music will have healing powers too. Thank you Yasmina for posting this blog.

Deborah Shaw

I understand Yasmina, I see so many postings on FB about the young dancers in competitions. I have never admitted to anyone that after the first 2 I don't watch them anymore. Not out of disrespect but because I often wonder do they actually want to do it, is it fun for them, do they enjoy it. I do read what people have written about haw great they are, wonderful technique, the costumes. But are they feeling the music, are they dancing because they must or because some parent has put a lot of money into their lessons and costumes. I feel the same way about young musicians. It is so easy to fall in line with what your parents want, the attention you are getting and the glamour but so hard to eventually say no and walk away. I worry that they are being exploited. When you see Egyptian children dancing it's not a show, or a competition, they are doing it for the fun and love of it. At least that is my take on it.

Atisheh / Irina

Thank you so much for this, Yasmina! The frustration you speak of is one a lot of people feel. And I also have that funny feeling when I see a child doing a polished and mechanical choreo.

I'd be interested to hear more about George Sawa's theories regarding healing music. I recently wrote an essay about how bellydance helped me get through postpartum depression (it will be published soon), and I only thought about the movement. I didn't think about the music at all!

Dahab Sahar

thank you!
this was also just the topic of the german bellydance magazin chorika (magazin of the german association for oriental dance on which I am a boardmember and editor).
thx for going into that discussion and I hope to get this in touch with all the young dancers who have still the opportunity to get into that dance while using the perfect technique and additionally living the spirit of womanhood which is the haert of our dance.

greets from Germany
Dahab Sahar

Victoria Lammers

Dear Yasmina,

Thank you so much for this heartfelt post. Many years ago when I started out, a musician said to me, "you are a good dancer, but you don't FEEL the music".

I really didn't understand that comment and I was rather hurt by it. Years later I understood and really appreciated his input. When I finally realized what he meant it was one of the biggest AHA moments of my life. It changed the way I danced and how I felt about the dance.

Keep doing what you do best, educating, bringing passion and deep respect to an art form as old as time.

With much love and respect
Victoria Lammers (Jamila)

Karen MacNaull

Oh thank you, Yasmina! I feel really badly for the young dancers learning today, they are being pulled and short changed by this particular emphasis placed on "belly dance" today.

I watch these posts of these slick or overly sexualized dances by little girls and I feel very sad.

I am a great believer in the healing power of the dance and have used the basics in a therapeutic manner. I firmly believe it is both the physical reconnection and proper mechanical movement of the body as well as the emotional aspects of the music and interpretation that has a healing effect on a person. Emotionally, the dancer has to make peace with his/her body and communicate internally as well. Many issues must be confronted in order to dance and dance well.

I have been very interested in pursuing this research but have faced significant health problems (heart) the last several years. I hope you inspire someone to pursue this line of inquiry.

Thank you for being the voice of reason.

Karen MacNaull

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