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Friday, July 22, 2011

Belly Dancing in Water - The "Origins of the Dance!"

Have you ever wondered how it all started? (Belly dance, that is.)

Have you ever wondered how we - as human beings - started? Apart from Creation myth(s), and God taking a rib from Adam, and that sort of thing.

How did we go from being fairly successful pre-hominids to beings with art and culture, with complex languages, and (even) complex thoughts - on topics that range from cosmology to cosmetics to cosmic knowledge.

There had to be a "transition point," didn't there?

And for us women, there had to be a point at which dancing evolved.

Specifically, there had to be a point at which belly dance began to evolve, because this dance form is the oldest one that there is!

Seven years ago, I travelled on business to Hawaii. After checking in and taking a short nap, I got up, put on a swimsuit and cover-up, and walked down to Waikiki beach. It was late evening; the beach was deserted. The stars were out, the weather was warm, and starlight and hotel lights sparkled off the gentle waves.

From where the waves slowly lapped the shore, I I walked out more than fifty feet from the water’s edge, until I was chest-high in the warm water. Seaweed softly stroked my skin. I relaxed, lengthened my back, and let the waves gently rock my spine.

This, I realized, is where belly dance was born.

Several millennia ago, we women took to the beaches in the blistering Pliocene-era heat waves.

Up until that time, we (or our earliest ancestral hominids) were fruit-loving forest dwellers. When the savage Pliocene-era heat and drought decimated our favored forest dwellings, we had to live in the plains. This was too hot, and much too dangerous. Being (even then), intelligent beings, we did the only intelligent thing possible. We went to the beach! (So, for that matter, did elephants and dophins, all mammals who’ve adapted to a watery environment. The dolphins stayed and adapted further, and we and the elephants eventually went back on land.) We lost much of our “fur” in the process, and gained a great deal of intelligence. (Elaine Morgan writes about how our “beach time” helped us evolve in The Descent of Women (1972); another really good smart woman’s “beach read.”)

So there I was, in the slowly, lapping waves, under a moonlit and starry night, with seaweed stroking my back and thighs. I relaxed, and “reconnected” with my ancestresses.

And guess what? My body naturally and instinctively began to do the most fundamental movement in Oriental dance (belly dance); an “undulation.” I “undulated” up and down my spine, in rhythm with the waves and the seaweed.

I floated my arms out to my sides, and let them “rest” on the soft swells of the water. Once again, naturally and instinctively, they moved on their own, in a pattern that we now call “snake arms.” It has nothing to do with snakes, not really. When we women first “evolved” this dance movement, it was because our arms naturally responded to the movements of the waves.

You can read an excerpt from Elaine Morgan's Descent of Woman here:

We (or our early pre-human ancestors) spent a lot of time in the water. Enough time to morph us into what we are today; mammals who stand on two legs instead of four; mammals who use speech (which carries beautifully over water); and mammals who have hair on our heads (to protect our heads from the sun’s rays), but who don’t need much hair on the rest of our bodies. We also became mammals who dance.

We have evolved so that standing in water, responding naturally and instinctively to a soft, gently lapping wave, is enormously soothing to us. This kind of movement releases tension. It gets us back to our “calm state.” Movements that “flow” and “undulate” our spine – whether done in water (ideal) or on land (since that’s where we now live) – help us feel good. And movements that open up our shoulders, and stretch out our pectoral muscles, and release our neck tension (especially when done in water) feel very good indeed.

Experiment on your own (if you must), or with a girlfriend or two or three, and even consider asking a belly dance teacher to come up with a "belly dance in the pool" class for you! No matter how it goe, you’ll learn (or discover) means for reducing neck and back tension, unwinding the tight spots in your clavicles and pectoral areas, and even ways for reducing the impact of carpal tunnel syndrome.

What better way to counter this summer's heat waves? Enjoy!

Yours in dance - Alay'nya