Oriental Dance: the (damned?) Orgasm!

11227520_1615078812067926_7322434701552796917_nHave you ever seen a dog obsessed with a delicious, juicy bone? If so, you know exactly how I look in relation to Mystery. Although I´ve learnt, so far, that most things in life are not meant to be rationally understood – perhaps only experienced, felt, integrated through the heart – this blessed curiosity keeps me swimming against the tide, trying to dismantle the unsolvable mysteries of this often absurd & fascinating life.

One of those bones I keep bitting, despite exhaustion and the loneliness of the path, is the reason why Oriental Dance – commonly known as bellydance – has been, century after century, considered a sexually provocative, decadent, dangerous thing. Yes, thing. Not art. The ones who consider it and do it as an art form are a tiny, miniscule, almost invisible minority. The rest does “bellydance-twist your hips till you drop-exotic acrobatics-gymnastic”. Not a pretty reality – it´s still the reality we have to deal with.

11350415_1605015999740874_1041024747964203298_n“What if we saw our sexual energy as a form of magic, and what if we used this magic to bless and change the world?”

~Ev`Yan Whitney | Art by Suren Voskanyan (Via Katie Holland)

Picture this:  I´m sitting at a “Harry Potter” style dining room in one of the oldest and best colleges in the world. There´s a huge wooden table where bright minds of different generations (back to 1352, when the college was founded) have been sitting, eating their food with silver forks and knives, discussing high matters. Paintings of patrons and other important figures related to the institution are hanging from the walls, imponent shades of authority staring at us with enigmatic expressions, leaving the impression of being simultaneously present and absent.

I´m there to study and, for the first time in 13 years of career, get away from my reality – although beloved, challenging and exhausting. I´m also in the place of the student, not the teacher – a position I take as a privilege. For once, I´ll be the one absorving all the brilliant things others have to teach me. Pure joy!

The campus internal tabloids yell and rejoice: ” a famous bellydancer has arrived to the convent!”

 The world is instantly set on fire.

There´s no stage over there or so I thought. Although I don´t mention my work on costumary introductions between teachers and students, someone got hold of who I am and spread the rumor throughout the campus and what started as a little flame, suddenly becomes an epic forest fire: impeccable English gentlemen lose their composure; the faces of elegant and posh English ladies become red – as if they got drunk on cheap wine – and everybody, even the stones, whispers a disturbing question:

-Is she REALLY a bellydancer?

No matter how intelligent, well educated, travelled and open minded people seem to be; no matter how civilized (a relative term), (relatively) free and modern they may be, a professional Oriental Dancer – or the so called bellydancer – is always a disturbing elephant in the room. Hormones go crazy; men start to get the fever while women get hysterical for no apparent reason; civilized folks return to their ancestors´caves in a second.

-What´s the big deal? Why the noise, the fear, the excessive excitement and the disturbance?! This is just DANCE! – I tell them but, make no mistake, no one listen to me. I´m the crazy girl, lost at sea, yelling into the big ocean with no one in sight, not even a shark.

Someone – unidentified gentleman or lady – suggested I´d perform at the college. Me, at the “Harry Potter” dinning room, performing for those fascinating college folks. Me, body and soul, dancing for an intellectual audience that will – no doubt – suffer a collective stroke at the sight and feeling of genuine “raks sharki”. Me, the responsible for the ruin of a classic, high standard, cool and well behaved Summer. Me, The Dancer, the eternal sinner.

NO. I came here to study, not to work. – I answered, aware that I´d keep receiving stubborn requests, kind reminders of people´s curiosity, prejudice and eagerness to take a walk in the wild side. I also knew that, from the moment my profession was revealed, I´d have to deal with those looks only a professional Oriental Dancer ever gets – the vamp; men eater, Lilith, damned woman looks.

Bye, bye, low profile! Bye, bye, luxury of being treated like a “normal person”.

For the following weeks, the reactions towards that shocking revelation kept unfolding in front of my (ever astonished) eyes: people got nervous around me; they tried to know more, get a glimpse of a movement:

– Ah! You moved your hip in a strange way. How did you do that; can you repeat it?

-Nah. Not worth repeating it –  I was just walking.

???

From that moment on, everybody chases a hint of delightful and dangerous hell, some sign of the devil in the shape of a woman. Curiosity was killing them as much as boredom was killing me.

I never got the point. For me, Egyptian Oriental Dance is as natural as breathing, a pure reflection of Life (and Life includes all sorts of wonderful and terrible things). Life includes the mind, the heart and the soul; it also includes the physical, the sensual & the sexual without which no Creation is possible.

Why does this dance keep disturbing men and women alike? Is it its absolute freedom (a madness with method/structure)? Is it the inhaling/exhaling of pleasure found in every movement? Is it the expression of a S10172647_425385637636831_3435177297531018136_nacred Sexuality, something that pours from our skin when we dance simply because we are – the crime of crimes! – enjoying ourselves on every dimension (including the sexual). What is it, exactly?

Egypt and every “third world” country seem to have excuses: they´re deeply repressed countries with the heavy hand of pseudo-religion over their heads. In these countries the sight of an ankle can provoke a natural disaster. Fair enough. What about the “first world”? What´s its excuse for keeping Oriental Dance under high moral prosecution?

After years of career and life in Egypt; after travelling the world, doing what I love, and observing a wide range of dancers and audiences, I got to this conclusion:

Egyptian Oriental Dance is disturbing for many reasons (some of them, no doubt, connected with religion, body issues, repression, cultural codes and politics). Above all these reasons, comes the Big Devil: this dance is a celebration of our Human/Divine Sexual Energy; a non apologetic orgasm; a celebration we haven´t yet totally understood. Our limited/narrow notions of sexuality and the fake morality attached to it blind us; it stops us from seeing and understanding further. Our general disconnection from our bodies – that we use as machines and not an integral part of our Being – also adds chaos to the blindness.

Egyptian Oriental Dance is an ORGASMIC expression that unites body, mind, heart and soul. But its orgasm is not small, located in a specific part of our body or under any kind of prison: it´s free, total, holistic, personal & universal at the same time. Why haven´t I noticed it earlier? Perhaps because sexuality is – in my opinion – the root, literally and metaphorically, for everything in life.

If we dig deeper, we realize sexuality (and yes, that amazing moment we call Orgasm) is a direct link to our Spiritual dimension. Nothing new over here: merely forgotten. Every discipline connected with Tantra and Yoga have throughly explored the golden bridge between the Sexual and the Spiritual. The same bridge can be experienced – and observed with costumary disturbance – in the Oriental Dance practice.

The pleasure we get from smelling a flower is part of our sexuality; eating delicious food is part of our sexuality; the creative impulse (may that be making a baby or giving birth to a work of art) is part of our sexuality; kissing someone we love and ravelling in the touch of his/her skin is part of our sexuality; the joy we get from a gorgeous sunset is part of our sexuality. And the list goes on forever. In other, rather logical, words:

There´s no life without sexuality. If Oriental Dance is Life, then Oriental Dance is sexual. 

It took me a while to get it. We don´t feel what´s integrated in us. It takes effort and continuous search to find a ghost we never knew existed. I´m getting there and, I confess, smiling at the childishness of it all. Afraid of pleasure; scared of our own joy; terrified by our own freedom. Damn, humans like to complicate!

Meanwhile, the love and respect I´ve always had for this dance grows. What a truly magical and, YES!, revolutionary dance this is. The world is starting to get it, slowly (too slowly, if you ask me) but, I hope, surely.

P.S: More on this subject will be found on the 2nd updated edition of my book “The Secrets of Egypt – Dance, Life & Beyond”.

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7 thoughts on “Oriental Dance: the (damned?) Orgasm!

  1. Aha, Dear Joana – the question that plagues us all. In the West, there is Orientalism 1.0/2.0/3.0 on steroids at play. The late Professor Edward Said gave us this term/framing a while ago, but while it may not be what he described back in the 70’s, it’s alive and well. With the heavily Puritanical roots we have in the U.S., we’re a classic example of approach/avoidance when it comes to sex. Ask any group to differentiate between ‘sexuality’ and ‘sensuality’ and prepare yourself for some pretty interesting responses. Those crazy people in the Arab world – look at how they’re portrayed in U.S, films! The women have advanced to ‘sophisticated terrorists’ from the sexy/seductive/wanton women of 40-60 years ago. But that sexy/seductive/wanton woman still exists in their deep subconscious. So you can be a PhD. physicist and all that wonderful education is upstaged by this imagery. In my view, there’s an additional stereotype overlaid here – the smarter women whip off their glasses, pull the hairpins out of their tied back hair and gyrate on the tables at Oxford! Yep, we have a bad case of arrested development at play here. In the west, there is no ‘organic’ form of dance quite like raqs sharqi and its cousins. It amazes and paralyzes the western mind. Professor Jack Shaheen tackled some of the film portrayals in his book and film “Reel Bad Arabs”; a woman filmmaker did a documentary called “Hollywood Harems” a number of years ago. Both shed light on the ‘crazy’ you describe here. I have no answers, dear Joana – just sharing some thoughts on this great mystery!

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    • Thanks for your interesting – and spot on – comment. I get your point – totally.
      There´s not one single answer to this enigma but understanding – and accepting – human sexuality as a bridge between the physical and the spiritual is KEY, in my opinion.

      USA is not the only country where notions of sexuality and sensuality are utterly screwed up. The rest of the world joins the pity party in great style!

      The separation between body, mind, heart and soul may well be the main problem that brings all others attached to its tail. I confess I´m tired of such ignorance (or amnesia). I laugh at it, some times; other times, I feel like squeezing somebody´s neck (LOL).

      Recognizing and assuming, with natural joy, the Orgasmic nature of Life will consequently solve loads of prejudices and fears towards Oriental Dance. Such a fascinating subject, isn´t it? No matter how deep I think I´ve dug into it, there´s always more and more and more.

      Your comment made me smile – I´m not alone! 😉

      Love,
      JoanaSaahirah

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    • Dear Felicia,
      My lovely sister. You have loads of good points, as usual. Especially this: “we have a bad case of arrested development at play here. In the west, there is no ‘organic’ form of dance quite like raqs sharqi and its cousins. It amazes and paralyzes the western mind.” SO TRUE and straight to the point. We haven´t accepted our own Humanity/Divinity and all its complex and colorful sides. This reflects – so obviously! – in the Oriental Dance practice and how dancers are still considered and portraied. But we´re getting there. Slowly but surely 🙂

      Love,
      JoanaSaahirah

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  2. Amazing writing! Still I think a word different from orgasm would have been more appropriate as it may generally be understood as suggestive of only the physical manifestations of sexuality while what belly dance actually does is the integration of the physical which is naturally sexual, the mental and the spiritual dimension of being into spiritual ecstatic joy or using a term from Deepak Chopra, into exaltation of spirit through body movements which are not sexual in intent but sublimely and artfully divine.

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    • Dear Alma,
      Thanks for your comment.
      The word I intended to use was – in fact – Orgasm. I know most readers will misunderstand it- or only get it partially – but, some times, a girl gotta do what she has got to do 😉
      I didn´t write that Orgasm, at least in the way I understand it, was an exclusively physical manifestation. That´s the point: it´s not JUST a physical manifestation. Just as Sexuality, or the concept I introduce in this article, it´s also NOT limited to sexual intercourse or what we tend to consider “sexual organs”.
      TARAB, which is the base for all Egyptian Music and Dance, is by definition “ECSTASY”, EXALTATION, EXPLOSION of the senses (ears) that is so intense and absolute it becomes SPIRITUAL. It´s in this sense I use the word Orgasm and it´s how Egyptian Dance actually is: so present in one´s body that it becomes spiritual.
      The old illusion of separation (between body and soul) is dissolved in this article and, may I add, in the authentic Egyptian Dance.

      Hope all is clearer now. Happy Tarab, everyone! 😉

      JoanaSaahirah

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