modesty in dance is ok

Inspired by a conversation with a bunch of lovely ladies, I got to thinking on this topic. Usually when we think of bellydancers (a form of dance that most polytheist and pagan dancers seen to be particularly attracted to) we typically think of dancers wearing next to nothing..often showing off their legs and almost always showing their abs, much of their chest and the whole length of their arms. This looks of course is inspired by Egyptian bellydance where I believe it originates. I felt it necessary to go on record saying that to bellydance such wardrobe is entirely unnecessary, and in fact in many countries such traditional forms of bellydancing are done under full cover of clothing. There are, for instance, examples in video from dancers in different parts of the Arabian world wearing beautiful flowing dresses and clothing that are essentuated in the right areas for their dancing but don’t leave the body bare. In such videos the only unveiling really done is loosening of the hair in dance.

This idea is not an uncommon one of course when we see pictures from the ancient mediteranean world. Typically dancing figures in celebration, often religious, were fully clothes figures and often with their bound hair loosened to flow over their shouders as they danced. The same comparison can be made of images of the oracle of Delphi. Compare how she is clothed and portrayed when she is seated at the oracle and how she is protrayed when she is dancing in a frenzy of prophetic possession. Her dress doesn’t change…the only difference is her head which is covered in the first example is uncovered in the second and her hair is wiping wildly about her and she dances.

Generally the few examples we have nude or almost nude dancing girls comes via images of slave girls who are not religiously dancing but dancing in service to a man. Her nudity serves only his lust. This is a direct contrast to images of women and maidens of citizen status or religious office engaging in dance. Again an exception can be pointed out from the Egyptian front, though in their religious services it is hard to determine which figures are representing slaves. It seems me that most of the slaves in Egyptian art are wearing next to nothing, but then so do most depictions of dancing in Egyptian art. So when it comes to Egypt I will place a note of exception there. Generally I am speaking in terms of other places in the mediteranean..and notably in Hellas with which I am particularly concerned as a Hellenic Polytheist.

I am not making this point to say that those who bear themselves in what is considered typical bellydance costume are being impious, or that they dance in a fashion contrived for concubines and slaves. It certainly has its own beauty. I am only making the comparisson to show women that it is not necessary to be adorned in this fashion in order to partake of these traditional forms of dance. I would personally love to see some dance troups develop in which the women adorn themselves in more traditional ways as an addition to (not replacement of) the bellydance community. Personally I feel alot can be said for wearing chitons or kaftans etc in my own dancing!

Now when it comes right down to it you might hear that the purpose of leaving the body nearly bare is in order to essentuate the movement…but I call bullshit on this. I grant that it can make it more in your face visible…but with all the adornment that is also worn..often covered in bells and other decor that makes plenty of noise…well we really already have that part covered lol.

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Clapping and Stamping

As a fledgling dancer I feel that we are gifted with a music source within ourselves too that can be a good addition to sacred dancing, by little more than than the rhythmic clapping of the hands and stamping of the feet. It is also a feature that is often preserved in various forms of folk/ethnic dancing so widespread that it seems to be a deeply rooted expression of human celebration.

Personally, I feel that the clapping of the hands is a predecessor to the ringing of cymbals, prevalent in many cults such as that of Dionysos, Rhea and other deities, including a special type of cymbal that was used to celebrate Apollon on Delos. To this measure one may choose to use cymabls, which in their typical size are unweidly and generally inconvenient. This can be made up by the eastern finger cymbals of course which can be delightful for precision use. But in general dancing in celebration of the gods nothing can surpass, to my mind, the clapping of hands as the energy of our beings travels through our arms, into our palms and bursts with each contact. Of course we can always add to this by jewelry addorning the hands, wrists and arms, something that dancers of several traditions have used, to accentuate the movement of the limbs and the snapping of the wrists. Bangle bracelets have often been worn, or cuffs adorned with bells. Such has also been worn around the ankles to similarly emphasize the stamping of the feet.

Unlike the clapping of the hands which can be associated with the upraising of the self, an explusion upward to the gods in joy, the stamping of the feet seems more communicative of the earth, and life itself. It connects us to the earth, the mother of life, and to all other forms of life and nations of people like a heart beat. The Delian maidens were, for instance, also said to stamp their feet in their singing in celebration of the birth of Apollon as they sang songs of the nations in their distinct dialects. Stamping of the feet relates commonality of all things to each other, and the rising of life and progress/evolution of life which ever runs forward. In this fashion it also honors our connection with the gods, whose stride suprasses all speed that we know.

And Apollon himself can be considered the forebearer of the stamping, as he is the god of the high-stepped dance as he is illustrated to be in the Homeric Hymn to the Pythian Apollon. In his high stepping dance he leads the chorus, as he so led too the Cretan sailors to Delphi. He stamps upon the earth with his golden feet as he plays the harmonic measure upon his lyre aroud which all things spin in their order… these seasons flowing to the measure he addresses them, the cycles of life and death, and the orbit of all things about the axis. The stamp is the harmonic order of life, and the harmonic order of energy that rises through the body in perfect balance. In many respects I can find a similarity between the image of the dancing Shiva and Apollon the dancer in its form. From his high-stepping dance, and the rhythmic stamp of his feet as each step descends, it is as the light he possesses is striking deep within the earth.

Therefore, by all means, let us stamp and clap in praise of the gods.

the art of dance

It has been a while since I have posted, something which I plan on remedying. Lately I have been writing more on my regular blog (lykeiaofapollon), and unfortunately been neglecting this one. Not that I have not been dancing, because dancing is a vital part of my personal worship practices…but rather because it didn’t occur to me say anything about it. Dance in ritual is, quite literally, an art and an expression of the soul. One doesn’t need to be a great dancer in order for it to be effective and meaningful. But since it is an expression, a communication between the soul and the gods through movement it needs to be treated and constructed as an art. And this mean a visualized planning of what is going to happen.

What do you want your movements to say? While ritual dance often leads to ecastic mode, it is important to have an idea of what movements are going to be implimented even if you are not entirely sure of what order they are going into. I will be the first to admit I don’t do choreography since it is just me…but I do have certain moves and certain features which I feel is more appropriate for some gods than for others. Are you addressing in your dance a deity associated with the earth or sea that would invite certain stamping and foot/leg concentrated movements, low sweepings of the hair and shoulders etc? Are you speaking to a deity that is heavenly that you my wish to raise your arms in celebration for? And how about gestures that immulate certain animals? The Hindu dance has certain dance forms evocative of the elephant’s truck for Ganesh for example. How many gods would you do the serpentine movement of the arts in honor of (if you like to use bellydance material that is)….and so on.

What shall adorn you? Will you wear a long robe that gracefully wraps about your legs as you dance…a formal look that you may care to use for certain gods, or something sparce or sheer, nearing nudity, for others (such as could potentially be the case for dances for Aphrodite or Dionysos). What colors do you wish to choose? What adornments? Do you want to jingle with every step and gesture in joyous celebration, or are you looking for a silent silhouette to convey a intensity and silent communion? Shall your hair be free and floating or bound up and formal?

What items would you care to bring into your dance to communicate symbolically with the gods? You may not necessarily use the item directly but rather just brandish it. Would you use fire in some form in celebrate gods of light, fire and smithing? How about a drum for rituals or gods that call for an earthly celebration, or in honor of some great goddess? Do you want to have items balanced on your head or palms to convey your stability amid chaos and change? What do you wish to communicate or honor (since the dancer may also wish to communicate by honoring the god by representing the god themselves in some form with their movements and props)?

What rhythm do you wish to impliment? (this is important especially if you are going to be setting up music for the ritual since you will need something that is of the same rhythm and complimentary to what you want to convey in the dance) Do you wish it to slow and stretched out? Do you want dramatic pauses? Do you want it to be fast tempoed and lively?

There is alot that goes into the art of sacred dance before we when begins to dance, but I feel that it is well worth it.

Happy Dancing 🙂

dancing with fire

I will confess that much of my personal training (outside of general dance training…which sadly has been put off for about a week because of a terrible chest cold) is being developed with a dance of fire in my mind. I am not talking about poi spinning, though I would love to someday be able to do that. But rather, I am talking about dancing with lit sources of fire. I was inspired by a video in which dancers balanced a tray on their heads with candles lit on it. I would love to do something like this in honor of Apollon and Artemis. So I have been practicing with an empty tray every now and then to get used to the feel of the metal tray perched at the top of my head. I have thought about doing something with candle pillars in my hands but quick movements of the arms often douse these all too easily. Maybe small oil lamps balanced on the palms instead. This dance requires a great deal of balance, which is what I have been trying to focus on, in order to not upset the little flames.  Though it may seem inconsequential to a person experienced with spinning fire around them with poi dancing, it is still something that I look forward to doing for devotional purpose in dance. That said, I am not sure if I will ever peform this devotional dances in front of anyone. I tend to be uncomfortable dancing in front of people, which doesn’t seem to be an issue when dancing for the gods since I tend to have just the divine audience usually!

Balance

Balance is something I have been personally working on, largely because it is essential to dance but is also conductive to how the personal energy flows and i find it relative in own spiritual life as I am discovering. The harmonious flow of energies in order to move upward towards to the heavens is within the domain of Apollon. While we don’t see any direct association with a sense of physical balanace as we see in Hinduism with the relationship of Shiva with Yoga, I can see how it could be applicable as Apollon in association with both music and dance, which calls for balance and harmony in practice. As such an exercise to develope balance is important as far as I can tell for implementing sacred dance. This doesn’t necessary have to take the form specifically of yoga, but any kind of routine that you feel would be beneficial to learn the feel of your center of gravity and how to use that. In our spiritual lives we must maintain a balance in order to be healthy individuals, and therefore I conclude that a spiritual dance, to be at its best must also include an understanding of balance. I am not very gymnastic so I can’t stand on my hands (I tried all through my childhood to do this without success..I never had enough upper body strength to pull it off) but there are many ways in which I can use balance. Especially in gestures and moves which require a shifting of the body’s gravity, as when one leg extends up from the ground. Therefore I have been devoting some minutes every day just to balance.

Dancing in Limited Space

For those who maintain an altar or shrine within their home they will be familiar with this issue all too well, that unless you are in a position where you can have an extra room to be a religious activity room, you inveriably are working within a very limited space for your ritual work. At times this very factor makes me quite envying of those who have outdoor spaces and altar rooms so that I can really let go in my worship dance. But at this point it is not to be. So there comes the issue of what can be done in a limited space.

In front of my shrine to Apollon I probably have a five foot square space in which I can freely dance. Thus it allows for movement but it cuts down on what you can do in the limited space. To get around this I often find myself dancing in place. Much of bellydancing contains moves that don’t require wandering around (though there are just as many moves which take you out and about), and I find it usefull to incorporate such studies into my dance at his altar. Therefore I purposely do alot that deals with positioning/bending the arms, legs, and torso, gestures of the fingers and hands, movement of the head, and generally movement of all the above in ways that don’t take me outside the small space where I am standing (else I would be running into furniture heh). It is a challenge because when you are flowing into an instinctual dance often times you will find yourself wanting to really move, and this can result in injury if you have obticles to your movement. But because alot of movement can be done but positioning, gesturing and bending, you don’t realize at first just as how much can be accomplished in one small space until you actually do it. Granted it is always preferable to have the large space, but think of it as dancing in a crowded building in which you are shoulder to shoulder with many people who are also dancing and worshiping, and you will see that it is something that be worked around. A large platform is not entirely necessary for ecstatic dance. This is especially if you are focusing intent spcifically in gestures and positions of the body.

Thus a scarf/veil can be whirled around the body and beautifully displayed without moving more than a foot from where you begin, a fan might be fluttered and arched and slapped, you might need a slightly bigger space for larger accessories such as bows, spears and swords depending on how you wish to dance with them but you still don’t need the entire outdoors. So enjoy the dancing and don’t allow such a minute thing like space get in the way of your worship dance!

The Music within

Though music is entirely helpful to getting into the mindframe of dance (as well as providing a musical medium that you can dance to), it isn’t entirely necessary. I discovered this at a young age and teachers used to gently tease me about dancing to the music in my head. If music is a audible expression of our reality, this reality is also contained within ourselves even as it is contained within the world and the cosmos. Therefore whereas music provides a more immediate way to get in touch with the harmonic movements of the world and our inner being, we have to realize as some point a dancer is able to tap into the rhythm of all of this without the audible inspiration. In sacred dancing, though we do often have the oppertunity to dance to music, especially in the age of technology which allows us to have music at our fingertips, there always arises a situation in which we may want to follow through a dance expression in honor of the gods without access to music.

I really can’t even boil it down to start doing it. Alot of it can beging with reaching a point of silence where you are hearing your heartbeat and each inhailation and exhalation of breath. I know ever since I was a kid strains of music always come into my mind when I go into this silent space. It is one of the reasons I can’t meditate worth squat because of this mental distraction. But it provides a wonderful starting place. It is not like an audible music so much but a rhythme, a breath, a movement of energy, a careess and so much more. Sometimes I end up humming little improvization snatches when I am not in a position to dance. In worship however when I fall into this meditative silence I let the music take me to where I need to go and move and move. So right now I am learning technique. I am particularly paying attention to gestures of hands and arms which tells so much of a story with everything that they do. The flat palm, the cupped palm, the arms held away or close, swiveling in various forms of motion. Technique is a necessary component for me because technique when practiced enough becomes part of your natural response to the inaudible music.

Dancing for the Gods

So welcome to my new blog, regardless of whether you new to my blogspace or know me from my other blogs (Beloved In Light & MythoGraphic). As readers know I have taken a very strong turn lately in dancing as an intrinsic part of my spiritual practice, namely mostly in honor of Apollon, but as a spiritual relationship with the gods in general too. This means I will been forced into a situation where I will have to get in shape (after all moving those little muscles is going to have to have some result) which will improve my physical health and also through dance draw me into a closer alignment in celebratory form to those gods I love.

However since I am still something of a beginner at dance this is going to take alot of work from me, and probably a wide range of inspiration from various forms of dance worldwide because ultimately…this my dance. There are already many forms of dance that I am interested incorporating specifically for the worship of Apollon such spear dancing, fire dancing, and I even plan to develope my own version of bow dancing specifically in honor of Apollon and Artemis. This means of course means alot of work on improving my sense of balance and muscle control fore fine controled movements (especially when I begin working with sharp objects). That said, I also plan on learning more about veil dancing (of which there are some beautiful hellenic examples out there) and fan dancing. So as you can tell this will be a very very long journey.

So far I have been working on learning bellydancing, especially since bellydancing involves tight control of so many isolated muscles it can only be beneficial for evolving my dance form. At this point I can (and have been able for some time) isolate the chest/upper ab muscles  in order to rotate the upper torso, hip rotations and drops, and have a solid basis I think with some few head movements, and I am currently working at developing the arm movements. I find the wings easier to do than the snake arms but this because there is alot of uncertainty with me when I am doing snake arms since I don’t have access to a full length mirror yet and it is hard to know if I am doing it correctly or not. Once I can match the look and the feel of doing it correctly I will be more confident in it. Snake arms is something that be incorporated into many cultic dances which involve a representation of serpents such as that of Dionysos, Apollon, Athena and Demeter, among others. So it really is a good multi-purpose move to learn.

Alot of my daily practice is just repeat repeat repeat, and then perform in ritual. For daily practices I feel that one can just work in spontaneous knowledge of what they know, and then incorporate props and specific elements for the bigger festivals and main monthly rituals. At least that is how I feel on the subject from where I sit. So I am prepared to move forward in my life Dancing for the Gods!