Reclaiming the Goddess through the
Sacred Art of Bellydancing
are the days when belly dancing was viewed merely as a seductive
Today women take up belly dancing as a sacred
art for communication, healing, transformation, and on a practical
level to facilitate birthing and for keeping fit. Dance teachers
are actively encouraging this type of consciousness shift in
Keti is a well known belly dancing teacher
from Fremantle in Western Australia who has been dancing since
she was seventeen. She has immersed herself in the cultural
traditions surrounding belly dance and has lived and worked
as a dancer in Egypt. Keti believes that belly dancing is the
sacred dance of women but she also acknowledges the roles for
men in the dance especially as the musicians who provide the
impetus for the movement.
The Dance of the Goddess
In both Sumerian and Babylonian times when the matriarchal societies
dominated, Keti tells us, women danced different styles of belly
dance. Feminine divinity was worshipped and the Goddess was seen
as the prime creator and the nurturer. Throughout history belly
dancing has expressed these quintessential feminine qualities.
The cult of the Goddess Ishtar which existed around 4500 BC
celebrated the fertility of the divine feminine. Belly dancing
was used in her rituals for magical purposes, sexual excitement,
fertility rites, for honouring the earth and for birthing. Belly
dancing movements also harmonised with the lunar cycles and connected
participants on a kinetic level to celestial rhythms.
The Fellahine is one particular dance style performed as a celebration
dance designed to give energy back to the earth after a bountiful
harvest of such crops as lentils or corn. Some of it's movements
include stomping, as if the dancer was earthing her joy in to
Keti also believes woman at these temple gatherings would perform
their dance for the other women to suggest how potent and sexy
they were, and as an avenue to express and embrace their passion.
In both the Goddess temples of the past and in the dance today,
we see sacred movements and mudras being used as a way of connecting
to divine energies, both feminine and masculine. There is one
belly dancing gesture that has particular spiritual significance.
This gesture is performed at the beginning of some Arabic dances.
A dancer may be seen to make a small pyramid with her hands and
place it on her forehead. This is used specifically as a mudra
of protection and also opens and draws attention to the third
The ankh is also another potent Egyptian symbol that can be expressed
in the dance. On one level it represents an open door or window
and is associated with the arabesque in architecture. It was a
shape for society to look through but for eastern woman to look
out of. The ankh is also a symbol for the marriage of the feminine
and the masculine. It's top half can represent the vagina or labia
and also the potency of the divine feminine. For some it represents
everlasting life, that which can only be attained when this alchemical
union takes place. Traditionally the ankh also acts as a doorway
to other dimensions or to the underworld. A temple dancer may
utilise the symbol of the ankh in dance by spreading her arms
out and then lifting them upward into a circle. A dancer both
accesses and projects arcane wisdom by incorporating such sacred
geometry into movement and dance.
The Language of Baladi
The country folk of Egypt performed a style of dance called baladi.
The baladi is both folk law and a drum rhythm but as a dance it
is used to communicate the sensuality of the divine feminine.
It was originally performed on the outskirts of the cities and
had an intrinsic earthiness that reflected the culture's spiritual
connection to the earth.
There are five languages that are expressed during a traditional
baladi dance. The first part of the dance incorporated the movement
a shawl about the shoulders called a "milexa". A dancer would
gently wrap and then unveil herself revealing her cheeky shoulders.
The second language of baladi used the milexa as a veil around
the hips. A dancer would seductively remove the shawl from her
shoulders and begin to wrap it around her hips. This suggestive
movement hinted at the feminine power laying beneath her shawl.
Next the dancer would unveil herself, untying the hip scarf and
generating energetic hip movements. Eventually she drops the milexa
and begins dancing a new language with her free hands.
She uses suggestive hand movements to bring attention to other
parts of her body but particularly her face. Her hands glide past
her eyes as she gives a quick intense glance to someone and in
fact this move is called the "glance of the eye". This is a subtle
movement but very powerful.
The fourth language expresses the suggestion of a smile. The
dancer glides her hand past her mouth and may move her finger
tips in such a way that she is expressing a little naughtiness.
As the dancers body is no longer shrouded in veils and she has
brought attention to all her aspects, she can then use her whole
body to express herself. This dance reflects a mythical unveiling
of the woman's heart, sexual centre, eyes, voice and then finally
the full physical body.
The Feminine Mysteries
Belly dancing has often been linked with the powerful female
mystery cycles and the balancing of women's energies. It is said
that in the temple of Artemis at the full moon, the woman would
shimmy wildly to build up their sexual energy during ovulation.
The shimmy is a fast shaking movement of the buttocks, belly and
inner thighs that stimulates the ovaries. At dark moon, at the
time of bleeding, the women's movements would be softer and snakier,
taking energy in and focusing a women's' awareness inward.
Likewise women today can utilise these same dance moves to assist
them in balancing their own energies during these powerful times
of their cycle. By doing the shimmy and shaking her hips, a woman
can release outwards some of the energy that builds up in the
preceding weeks to ovulation, assisting her in releasing her emotions.
During her bleeding time she can use the slow circles and snakier
movements such as undulations to bring energy into her being to
nourish her in her time of regeneration.
In matriarchal times men involved themselves with the spiritual
significance of women's cycles and the importance of the menstrual
cycle was widely acknowledged in the community. However Keti says
that today most woman do not have a proper cycle at all and so
are out of tune with the feminine mysteries. This is partly due
to the Pill, hormonal factors, and from tampons which have a tendency
of hiding bleeding.
Many women simply use pain killers and go about there daily routines
at the time of menses remaining just as active as any other time.
The importance of setting aside time to be still during menses
has been lost Many women see menstruation as an interference in
their lifestyle because they do not realise its sacredness. By
taking up belly dancing women can now reconnect with these cycles
both lunar and personal, and in doing so reclaim the lost aspects
Rhythms of Motherhood
One of the most basic belly dancing moves is an earthy round
circular movement of the hips which Keti says mimics not only
the sensuality of courtship but the movement of birthing. Throughout
history during the months preceding a birth, a pregnant women
would sway and rock as a way to stay in tune with her baby and
to prepare her body for birth. This belly dancing movement also
toned the pelvic floor and uterine muscles. This type of exercise
was not jarring on either the lower back or the knees, the typical
weak areas in pregnant women.
During labour these woman used slow swaying figure eights and
hips circles to assist with the contractions and the delivery
of the baby. Older woman would surround the mother in labour and
play rhythmic drums while the younger woman danced around her
breathing in sync with her contractions. The birth became a dance
and the drums and the dancing evoked a trance like state, a natural
form of opiate. Birth in this instance was an initiation into
the powerful feminine mysteries. In this way a pregnant mother
could participate actively in her birth, connecting with her sense
of power. This is unlike the births of the west that have traditionally
been a passive experience for the mother.
The Dance of the Seven Veils
Keti believes that the dance of the seven veils
is perhaps the most famous of all the eastern belly dances to
be incorporated into a western society. It has captured the
hearts of men and women throughout the ages with its exotic
and tantalising allure. Yet there is symbology that underlies
this dance that is on one level a spiritual initiation.
Symbolically the shedding of veils is akin to the opening of
the seven seals or chakras alluded to in Revelations in the bible.
In this respect shedding a veil during a belly dance can signify
the removal of a seal from one of the chakras - the spiritual
energy centres in body as understood in many spiritual traditions,
particularly in Eastern cultures. Keti believes that the removal
of a veil not only corresponds to revealing a new level of consciousness
but that when specific music is played near a chakra it evokes
different dance movements reflecting that level as well. Therefore
exactly where an instrument is played upon the body will determine
which level of consciousness will be evoked.
When a veil is removed from the sexual/survival centre at the
base chakra, very earthy drums are used. This chakra represents
the level of instinctuality, survival and anamality. It also involves
birth and death and represents our most physical and primal energies.
A second veil may then be removed from the sacral or belly chakra.
This is our area of relating and creating and it is where a dancer
utilises belly and hip movements accompanied by heavy guitars.
In Egypt the kanoon, a deep harp is played which is positioned
in the belly area as well. The high guitars played at the solar
plexus or diaphragm area release a dancers' energies of fire and
passion which are typified in such dances as the flamenco. The
heart rending sounds of the saxophone or violin are played near
the heart to open one up to love and in this area we find expressive
upper body movements and chest circles. The throat chakra is the
conduit for the singing voice and speaking and at this level there
are many suggestive gestures around the mouth.
The uplifting sounds of flutes palpitate the third eye and the
crown chakra and the dancer's arms flow upward representing the
movement toward spirit. These higher chakras are activated by
the higher tones and can be utilised for direct communication
with God through such activities as Sufi dancing and ecstatic
In terms of consciousness, belly dancing relates primarily to
the womb, the sacred feminine. Yet its movements incorporate both
the fecund earthiness of the Goddess and the inspiring air energies
of the God. The dance itself becomes one of balance and harmony
with the accompanying music from the drums, strings and flutes
used to embrace all the elements of earth, fire, air and water.
The Seven Gates to the Underworld
The significance of the number seven in the veil dance is also
related to the spiritual initiation where a woman delves deep
into her own shadowy and unconscious aspects to reclaim disassociated
aspects of herself. A woman can step into impowermnent when rejected
parts of herself are acknowledged and accepted. This dark journey
involves stripping away any masks, roles or belief systems that
prevent her from knowing her true essence. Typically this journey
is represented by passing through seven mystical portals or gates
that are part of her decent to the underworld. In this descent
into the depths of self a woman becomes completely stripped and
vulnerable. Yet it is in this vulnerable honesty that a woman
regains her power.
The initiatory metaphor of stripping or releasing is on one level
related to a woman's menstral cycle and the phase of the moon.
The initial journey of descent into the underworld and stripping
away can be aligned to the time when many women have premenstrual
tension and release many emotions in the seven days prior to bleeding.
If we look at the following seven days of the cycle they are
spent bleeding and are connected to the time of the dark moon
when a woman travels deep into the core of her being. This is
when she is at her most potent and is at the height of her feminine
power yet she does this from a still place, where she can also
take the time to regenerate and nurture herself.
The next seven days which are when the new moon waxes are akin
to how a woman's energies begin to enliven where she makes her
journey back into the world again resurfacing with regenerated
energy. Then at the full moon when the light from the sun is reflected
at its greatest the woman is at the height of her sexual power
and she is also her most fertile. This is the fruitful time of
ovulation when she is her most active and she stays at this pinnacle
until her energy subsides and she begins once more to make her
descent again with the waning of the moon.
In her thesis on oriental dance Keti has researched old myths
focused on the theme of descent and has related them to women's
growth today. She explains that these mythical stories once associated
with belly dancing are resurfacing partially because their spiritual
significance are only now being revealed.
In one Babylonian myth the goddess Ishtar descends into the underworld
to reclaim her dead husband. During her descent she meets seven
tests and has to pass through seven gates . At each gate she sheds
a metaphorical veil like a piece of jewellery, or her beauty,
or her wealth.
She ultimately uses the power of seduction to tempt her way through
the gates but while she is shedding each veil she is also surrendering
her attachments It is when she is fully naked revealing her true
essence that she can then finally rescue her husband or reclaim
her masculine side. It is only after this reunion that an alchemical
marriage of balance can then take place.
As women we can lso make this descent into self awareness where
we shed the veils that protect ourselves, which are inherently
the veils of self forgetting. Only when we are stripped and completely
vulnerable can we express the raw potency of our womanhood. If
we consciously choose this initiation then we must be prepared
to lose everything, to stand in our bare essence, and in doing
so then reclaim our powerful masculine side.
In the Greek tradition this same initiation was taken by Demeter
a mother goddess of the grain. In one version of the myth Demeter
like Ishtar also descends into the underworld but this time the
descent is made to save her child not her husband. Her maiden
daughter Persephone is abducted to the underworld by Hades. Demeters'
motherly instincts drive her to unbridled grief over her loss
and during this time the earth becomes barren. Nothing grows,
nothing is reborn.
Eventually the father god Zeuss forces Hades to release Persephone
and the earth's abundance is finally restored. Once again there
is the suggestion that it is only through this descent into the
darkness that the lost child/maiden aspect of ourselves can be
Corruption of Feminine Myths
The myth of the seven veils can be traced to many cultures, as
it has been rehashed time and time again, and each culture has
created a different ending to the story reflecing their psyche
and mythology at that time. However it is only in the bible version
that the unveiling of the feminine leads to a decapitation of
the masculine. This is revealed in the story of the exotic dancer
Salome`s mother was very calculating so she manipulates the beauty
of her daughter for her own ends. Herods lust for Salome` was
so strong that he agrees to present Salome`s mother with the
head of John the Baptist if Salome` will dance for him. The
dance of seduction that Salome performs for Herod is the revealing
dance of the seven veils. However the unveiling of the feminine
power in this instance leads to the symbolic death and Freudian
castration of the male.
Each mythic version of the dance of the seven veils has a different
ending however this story ends with a separation rather than a
reunion. Keti believes that much the of the Islamic and Christian
philosophy relating to women and sexuality reflects the fear surrounding
the rehashing of this particular myth. She believes many men have
been subconsciously afraid of the sexual power of the feminine
and so a millennia of patriarchal cultures have dominated.
The Suppression of the Feminine
In the east, belly dancing traditionally has been one of the
few outlets in which women could express their feminine power
- that which has been continually denied. The Koran has a sura
or chapter on Women which relates directly to suppressing feminine
sexuality and also to belly dancing as well. It states that women
"should cast down their eyes and guard their private parts"....and
they should never "reveal their adornments". Women were to "cast
their veils over their bosoms" and they should never be allowed
"to stomp their feet". Veils of course are common place in that
society, so are the downcast eyes. However the obvious relevance
to dancing has only been partly subverted. In fact it is during
belly dancing that a woman's 'adornments' become most exposed
even if just for other woman.
However it is not just in eastern society where belly dancing
has been frowned upon. In the early 1900's Oscar Wilde produced
a play based on the myth of Salome`. The star of the play was
Maude Allen. Because Maude Allen performed some belly dancing
movements on stage she was accused of various crimes and had to
go to court. Her major crime was that she was seen to stimulate
herself without the aid of a man. This was viewed as a most heinous
act and one newspaper titled its lead article about her "The Cult
of the Clitoris". Such was the fear in those times about the power
of feminine sexuality.
Invaders of the Heart
With this sort of paranoia surrounding female sexuality it is
not surprising that in even in the countries where belly dancing
originated, it was not a respected dance. Belly dancing was mostly
done in private by local women and only made its mark publicly
via a band of gypsies called the Ghawazee.
These people were known as "invaders of the heart". They were
wandering Indian, Turkish and Jewish nomads who had no shame about
their bodies and they did not hold to social conventions, celebrating
the dance whenever they pleased. When a belly dancer was required
for a social function the local women of respect were overlooked
and the Ghawazee were hired. Being nomads they carried little
and would in fact wear their wealth on their bodies. The coin
belts so popular in the belly dancing costume today harken back
to the days of the wandering Ghawazee.
Because of the social conventions surrounding belly dancing in
its traditional home countries, the dance eventually became a
game, the dance of oriental allure and suggestion. The Egyptians
say every girl is born a dancer but if asked to dance, no matter
how experienced, Egyptian girls respond with "Oh I can't dance."
Eventually the girl gets up and shyly begins to move so the beginning
of the dance is always slow, subtle and alluring, hinting at what
was to come. Then the dance gets faster and in the end the dancer
reveals her true potency through a tantalising and climatic finish.
This style of dance tells a story of the unveiling of femininity.
Its slow build up enraptures the audience. Baladi movements are
designed to both give and take energy from the audience. Some
belly dancing connoisseurs believe the most beautiful dancers
are those fully in tune with their own inner energies. These are
the dancers who appear to be dancing for no one but themselves.
This type of outward expression of the inner experience is what
transforms the dance from a sexy girlish display into something
more profoundly sacred.
Reclaiming the Goddess
Keti believes that it is opportune now for women
to go deep within themselves to reclaim their femininity through
such tools as belly dancing. It is time to explore all the powerful
faces of the Goddess that reside within. However she believes
it is also time to revamp the old myths of descent, and to create
new endings for our own personal stories. Society needs to start
equating the dance and the potency of feminine sexual power
with a new outcome rather than with the old myths of the evil
seductress, the corrupted mother, the death and castration of
the male and the loss of innocence. She believes that every
time women enact a new mythology through the dance in a way
that is meaningful to them, that this then makes a huge shift
in the collective consciousness of women globally.
In 1997 Keti co-ordinated a concert entitled `The Exotic Journey'
which explored all the feminine roles associated with belly dancing
in the last 5000 years. Women from her classes danced the mythical
stories of Salome` and the dance of the seven veils, the descent
of Ishtar, the priestesses in the temple of Artemis, the unveiling
of Isis and even the story of the Houri - the holy haws of Babylon.
Over 20 faces of the Goddess were explored and given a voice,
and their energies were thanked and released in the dance. She
believes the energy from these old myths have finally been put
to rest so that the women of today can write themselves a new
myth and create a new paradigm for the sexes.
We can all assist the birthing of a new paradigm that reflects
harmonious relations between men and woman. Both men and woman
can stand in thier full power but still stand together as equals.
Using the dance to rewrite the myths is one way of doing this.
Some of the women in Keti's classes have been examining their
lives in relation to their own suppression in today's society.
They have been performing their own stories to reclaim lost aspects
of themselves. Keti is attempting to use belly dancing as a medium
to rewrite some of the old myths so as to unveil the power of
the feminine for both personal and planetary healing.
Dance into Ecstatic Health
Eastern woman, who have traditionally belly danced in community
groups as part of their day to day lives, are said to be more
content as they have a secure sense of identity and connection
to other woman. Belly dancing both stimulates and soothes the
reproductive system and so many woman who regularly dance suffer
little or no menstrual or menopausal difficulties. Keti said that
in Turkey most women don't know what pre-menstrual tension is
and iassert that they feel very good during menstruation. Their
society even supports them during this powerful time of renewal,
as women are excused from both prayers and household chores for
a couple of days, if they choose.
These women often gather in groups to drink tea and to dance
and some will dance by themselves in their homes every day. Keti
says that these women do not get menopause as early as western
women and that cervical cancer, w one of the highest killers in
women, is almost unheard of. This may be because many of the movements
in belly dancing are concentrated in the belly region and assist
lymph and blood flow to and from the area thereby both increasing
circulation and reducing possible congestion. The health benefits
for women who belly dance are then quite obvious. Keti said some
GP's and gynaecologists are already referring some of their cases
Reclaiming the Body
From a metaphysical or bodywork perspective many women hold suppressed
emotions in their sacral or belly areas especially guilt and sexual
shame. Keti's research has found a direct link to incest victims
who still carry emotional residue and pre-menstrual tension. Many
woman who have taken up belly dancing have gone through profound
emotional breakthroughs with accompanying physical changes. Often
they have less pain and congestion around the time of menses and
many neck and back problems are corrected.
Belly dancing has significant healing value for incest survivors
and also for individuals who have had negative sexual experiences.
Keti has worked with a lot of woman in their forties. Belly dancing
is healing for them because it gives them an outlet to be sensual
and sexual in a situation that its free from sexual obligation.
The dance is an invitation to express the feminine power of the
self instead of being an invitation to another. This safe environment
then assists women in reconsecrating the sacredness of their bodies.
Their primary relationship is with themselves and then secondly
with the other women present in the class. In this nurturing atmosphere
a woman can explore how her body moves and so find new ways to
Belly dancing has only been a focus in the west for the last
1000 years. It initially reflected an oriental fantasy for western
minds, something that had the same hidden allure as the mysteries
of the harem. This is why it came to be identified as simply a
dance of seduction and associated with stripping. From a traditional
view men were seen to lose some of their power in the face of
this unashamed feminine sensuality and they called this `The Little
Death'. So often such dances were ridiculed out of fear. It is
now time to change that old fashioned view of this powerful exotic
dance and to fully embrace belly dancing as a sacred expression
of the divine feminine. In reclaiming the power of women in this
way we move one step closer towards healing the rift between the
sexes and also assist to create a peaceful new world.
If you would like more information about Keti's work and bellydancing
in general then check out her
website. If you are keen to take up bellydancing in your own
area then just look up the local paper. With the popularity of
bellydancing growing so fast you are bound to find a dance teacher
love and happy shimmying - Astoria
image - Mohani, belly dance teacher in Byron Bay