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The "Spirituality" Of Dance, Part 1

by Anthea Kawakib Poole
(Part 1 is reprinted from Jareeda)

We Oriental Dancers spend much time and effort learning technique, the "skeleton" of dance, while its "flesh and blood", the original impetus of our dance, goes begging. Bona-fide dances of worship are comparatively rare, but Oriental Dance is essentially the expression of a profoundly religious people. Although we in the West have become adept at using our body and mind as we learn to dance and translate music into movements, our spirit energy is largely forgotten. Of course, every so often one hears "the spirituality of this dance" or some similar phrase, but not much attention or information is given to developing this quality.

It's reasonable to consider your dance "holy" if you believe that high art is an expression of co-operation between the material and spiritual, as some artists do. They understand that Oriental Dance is more than technically-correct costumes, music, and steps; they get beyond these "bare bones" by incorporating their soul into the creative process. This is art at its highest--a reflection of eternal values.

There are techniques for doing this just as there are for the actual physical movements. Meditation, or wordless communion with God, connects the mind and spirit and fosters the exchange of spiritual energy. The degree of relaxation during this process determines its effectiveness.

As belly dancers, we understand that body-gravity adjustment enables us to relax into the correct postural alignment; this inner relaxation is the foundation of our dance even during the most intense and energetic moments. Incorporating relaxation and meditation into the warm-up exercises and into the dance itself can be an actual key to divine inspiration, a springboard to new heights of achievement and understanding in this art that comes from the soul.

Can something so simple work?

Although you may not be intellectually conscious of close contact with God, it will prove itself in your increasing "fruits of the spirit" which are Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Tolerance, Gentleness, Humility, and Temperance. Just as you express your thoughts and feelings in dance, so too will your expanding spiritual awareness manifest itself and add to the enjoyment and edification of your audience and yourself!

As a historical sidelight, it's interesting to note the ancient Egyptian belief of the Ka/Ba (Spirit/Soul). The Ka, or Spirit, was bestowed on children at an early age, stayed with them through life, and was reunited with them after death; the Ba was the soul they created in conjunction with the Ka. In other words, the soul was a living work of art produced by the shared experience of the mortal and his/her Spirit-Guide.

A more well-known tenet of Mid-eastern religion is submission to God's will (Insha'allah: "as God wills it"). Sometimes seen by Westerners as an act of evasion or a refuge for the irresolute, it actually takes supreme steadiness of purpose to acknowledge the incompleteness of mortal vision and yield your desires to the all-encompassing divine plan. (Analogous to this is a Christian concept: whatsoever a child of God desires and the Father wills, IS.) The practical application of this belief translates into more success, less wasted effort in your endeavors, provided they are "meant to be."

The cornerstone of the energy-balancing technique described earlier is your decision to use it. The next time you dance, remember those perceptive Egyptians and explore the creative harmony of your body, mind, and spirit by tapping into the inspirational "Muse" flowing all around you. 

See The Spirituality of Dance, Part 2