Baring Belly and Soul: Belly Dancing and Incarnational Spirituality

By Rue Hass


Five years ago I signed up for what I thought would be a fun way to get some exercise for a few weeks by learning about belly dance. I could not have predicted (and would have fled from!) the idea that it would turn out that I was joining a belly dance performing troupe…that would have me up on stage in front of hundreds of people…baring my belly!  OMG!

Belly dance in its essence is a celebration of the radiance and power of the body. It is powerful core work that requires and develops strength and flexibility. I have always loved dancing, and I have a good sense of rhythm and flow.

But I found it brought up interesting challenges for me. First came my (and everywoman’s, every person’s) personal drama about body image stuff. And then there is being willing to be so visible while doing something I will never be really good at.

Belly dancing does not come easily for me. I am sort of challenged by my particular body shape, and scoliosis in my spine, along with the effects of 72 years of life (that’s another thing—I am the oldest person in my class, and probably the whole troupe of some 75 women of all ages and sizes). I watch the strong, lithe, flexible bodies of the teacher and the younger women in my group with love, longing, and deep, deep appreciation.

I learn best by watching the teacher’s body make the moves, and then I practice finding the essence of those moves in my own experience, getting my body to take a shape that feels like what I see in her. That is how I learned Tai Chi many years ago. It is a good learning strategy. But—I have the funny experience of feeling each particular belly dance phrase moving perfectly through me, and then I look in the mirror and see that what I feel on the inside doesn’t make me look like her! I am not just “comparing and falling short” here. It is an interesting meditation on learning, exploring, accepting, and creating with my own subtle energy body language.

And learning complicated choreography is hard for me. My mind works fluidly, intuitively. Choreography is a linear organization of specific moves. The teacher’s strategy is to help students to become proficient in the individual belly dance moves, and from there learn how to improvise.

At the beginning I think I am never going to be able to learn the dance. It really requires that I open to hearing, feeling and seeing the music in some inner way. I need to let my body find it, and let it find my body. My mind and earnest intentions and even practice can't do this alone.

A good example is our performances last autumn of a Zombie belly dance to the Michael Jackson song “Thriller" based on Jackson's original dance moves. What a thought— to be the living dead, with rhythm!

"Thriller" was the hardest belly dance I have learned, with many advanced moves. It required being dead and alive, precise and loose, at the same time. I had to kind of let myself bypass any philosophical disagreements I might have with the song (to say nothing of the blood and ghoulishness) so I could participate in the lively fun and outrageousness. The audiences loved it! Who knew it was such fun to be dead.

(The living dead, belly dancing, the Post Mortem realms…it all collides in my head…!)

In the weeks before last year’s performance show in May, called “She-Nanigans,” (with stage lighting, announcers, filming, yikes!), the teacher asked each of us in the troupe to write something about our experience of belly dance to be read out at various times during the show.

I thought about the history of belly dance as a deep honoring of the wisdom of the earth and the body, through women especially. I thought of how the Sidhe bring life into being through song and dance. I asked that they, and all my inner allies and Gaia, help me to move my focus beyond being so anxious about making a fool of myself on stage, to allowing the music to move the dance through me.

I thought about how learning the dances and preparing for our big annual show and other performances has been an opportunity for me to practice moving in this embodied incarnation with creative acceptance and flow.

Here is what I wrote:

“In order to be freely ourselves, and truly touch a happy creative flow of life, we need to ground ourselves in the land under our feet and the stars above us. That grounding forms a nourishing support for weaving the complex rhythms of life and the patterns of emotion that we embody. Joy, lightness and heartful courage arise from here. Now we can offer form to the irrepressible shenanigans of spirit.”

Belly dancing through the lens of Incarnational Spirituality has helped me to stand strong in myself, to hold a space for my unique individuality, to co-create with intention and love. It is helping me to dance my spirit into being.