Have 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.
~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 Sacred 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”.