Dancing days are here again
As the summer evening grows
You are my flower, you are my power
You are my woman who knows
(Led Zeppelin, “Dancing Days,” from Houses of the Holy, 1972)
My friends Ciona and Jennifer have a hobby that is not very common in our western culture: bellydancing. Recently they invited me to see them and some friends put on a show, and I, along with everyone else in the packed 12th and Porter Nightclub in Nashville where mesmerized.
The ancient Greeks worshipped the female form in Venus de Milo. The Egyptians of three millennia ago looked up to the goddess Hathor. Solomon paid homage to Woman with his languid sonnets in The Song of Songs. Hindus still honor Lakshmi for her beauty and wealth (what a great combo!). The Aztec feminine deity Tlazolteotl (kinda rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) was extolled for her dominion over physical love, lust, fertility, sexual guilt, and death (quite a progression, huh?). Throughout our history, humans—both men and women—have recognized the beauty, symmetry, and grace of the feminine form. And even though sculptors, painters, poets, photographers, and more have passionately tried to capture the essence, I believe that the Oryantal Dansi, as the Turks call it, tops them all.
Moving to the rounded reverberations of talking drums and sitar swirls what I saw was nothing short of feminine finesse at its very best. The ever-rising boleros and bells with finger cymbals ringing nimbly helped convey the siren song…the mysterious intoxication that allures all.
Weaving and bending air currents with artistic limbs, the arc of an arm posed the question and the languid hands further refined the riddle. Ethereal yet earthy. Sacred yet scintillating. A sensual grace like Janis Joplin singing the Psalms. With the artistry of a long-winged gull hovering on a wind current, or a weeping willow swaying in a sultry breeze, these women could beckon and even bend the will of all in the room to their wiles.
The night I saw her dancing
She moved in liquid music
Like every song that moved us
Was the music of her soul
Whether the dancers were big-hipped or thin, statuesque or petite, it mattered not. Some had heaving bosoms, and others had, as the French would say, the perfect breasts that would each fit in palm-shaped champagne glasses.
Some had flowing cascades of hair, others closely trimmed—further accentuating their ears and eyes. One looked to be of northern European descent, one from the Mediterranean rim, another from the Orient, several perhaps from Persian bloodlines, Jennifer looks like she may be from a Russian background, and Ciona has her exquisite African comeliness. But these sizes, shapes, and sources did not define the dance…it was the circular motion of those midriffs. The navel, what was once the conduit for Life, now reverberates, insinuates, and celebrates it. Hebrew tradition tells us that the belly is the seat of all emotions, and all the sensuous delights that make up the maidenly form are in orbit around that waist and those undulating moves. Rising and falling, swaying and swerving like Caspian Sea swells.
When she danced
She knew the music
Like the waving of a wheat field
Gives the hidden wind away
With supple fabric draped perfectly, flowing over and around every winsome curve, the abdominal gestures center all the signals. I was bemused as to how skirts wrapped and slung so low around the pelvis while vibrating to manic beats could stay moored. One would think so much shimmy and shake could lead to surprise disclosures. Well placed scarves, babushkas, shawls, capes, and boas were all employed to further accentuate the enchantment, revealing and demurely hiding various areas when needed.
Just as important as the toned stomach and dimples of the lower back are the dancer’s eyes. Whether tempting with come-hither glances, sparkling in playfulness, or lilting in rapturous release…they invite us inward. Indeed, they are the windows to the soul, and must be free to flash both fair and vixenish, both ladylike and luscious. Never concealed—they confess as much of the mood as do the hips.
This was not bawdy burlesque, nor effete flitting about, and much more than just a bodacious boogie-woogie…this Danse Du Ventre was a celebration and invitation to all that was charming and lovely in these women through the soulful interpretation of their bodies.
When she danced
The music knew her
Like the instruments were listening
To the motion that she played
(three verses from David Wilcox, “Grateful For Her Beauty,” from Vista, 2006)
I trust I haven’t come across as some leering pervert…like Jethro Tull’s Aqualung “sitting on a park bench, eyeing little girls with bad intent.” But I can’t help being filled with wonder, even thankfulness, over the alluring beauty of the feminine form when fully articulating and utilizing all of her best assets while sinuously imbibing in what the Arabs call the Raqs Sharqi. As my friend Devlin will say upon seeing a striking woman, “Let’s just pause for a moment to praise God for His creation…”
I love to watch a woman dance
She bows her head and lifts her hands
Her hips begin to circle slowly
Her eyes have closed; her face is holy
She holds the whole world in trance
I love to watch a woman dance
(Eagles, “I Love To Watch a Woman Dance” from Long Road Out of Eden, 2007, composed by Larry John McNally)