Saturday, May 2, 2009

Arab Woman Talking (and dancing)

Photo by Baskar Banerji

In 2006 when I was in Berkeley preparing masks for the Spiral Dance, i met Lana Nassar, and enjoyed long talks with this inspiring sacred dancer, visionary, and truly compassionate artist in Cafe Trieste. We spoke about the Sacred Feminine as she manifests throughout the Middle East. Since that time Lana has taken her performance "Arab Woman Talking" to not only California, but to Boston and Virginia. Lana was born in Jordan, and has a home in both the U.S. and her native Middle East. Remembering her recently, I am pleased to include the following article she sent me in my book "The Masks of the Goddess". (It's also my intention soon to write about the meanings of sacred dance, which Lana embodies. For those interested, also read about Prema Dasara and the 21 Praises to Tara.)

For information about Lana's play "Arab Woman Talking", her dance performances, as well as tours she leads to the Middle East, visit her website:

When we remember the sacred feminine, it remembers itself. The Goddess lives through us and is brought into the world through our creative expression.

From a young age, I knew that when I danced I connected with something much larger than myself. I did not know what it was and had no name for it. I was never officially trained as a dancer, I grew up in Jordan and simply watched my mother and followed suite. At sixteen, I came to the US and learnt new dances. I studied psychology and consciousness, and I danced. With time, dance became my spiritual practice; it opened me to new ways of expression and set me on my path.

For a long time, I had reservations about the term ‘belly dance’: it was a Western term used to describe a dance I simply knew as raqs; I felt objectified and exotic-ized by it. But I also had reservations about my womanhood and my power. I revisited the "belly" during my graduate research-through indirect means. I was writing my thesis on the jinn, fire spirits from Arabic lore, accredited for inspiring poets, but also blamed for possession. Spirit is said to dwell "in the belly". I learned that when blocked, creativity caused depression, but dance could release it. I learned about ritual dances of healing. “Dance du ventre” is ancient; the belly is the seat of passion and fear. The womb: the creative center.

I "delved into the belly" to discover the Goddess. I experienced her through my body - a most ecstatic feeling! I danced with her stories, from tales of Inanna and Isis, to Al-Lat, Ishtar, and Aphrodite. In the process I gained insight into myself as well as my relationships; and I began to dialogue with dreams - with my personal myths.

At that time I had a dream in which an old woman handed me a scarf. I was going to wrap it around my hips, but she stopped me, saying: "Tie it around your head." I realize this dream mirrored my waking questions about academia or art. I did not know which career to choose. I danced the dream to explore its meaning, and this led to my first solo piece. I continued to perform at schools, museums, and conferences for the study of Dreams. With time “Arab Woman Talking” was born, my one-woman show, a synthesis of both my research and artistic expression, providing me a platform on which to reconcile dual aspects of myself: mind and body, masculine and feminine. By performing I discovered my own story.

I began giving workshops, sharing my process of working with symbols from both myths and dreams. My methods developed though personal exploration, as well as from teachers who inspired me. They were women who embodied this sacred energy: artists and educators, drummers and dreamers, my own mother. I worked with women from diverse backgrounds, young and old. When we danced together, all barriers dissolved, and we spoke a common language. To witnessing the Goddess awaken always rewarded me.

As I continued to explore lore of the Goddess, I learned about the Shekinah-Sakina. Sakina literally means "indwelling". I had never heard of her before, although she was the feminine divine in both Judaism and Islam. To me, discovering the Sakina felt like coming home. I remember reading a quote by an Israili artist, Dorit Bat Shalom, who wrote that the Sakina hadDorit Bat Shalom, who wrote that the Sakina had been driven out of the holy land.....and that there could be no lasting peace without Her. I felt this to be true.
In a dream, I heard:

"Travel around the world and teach about the Goddess"

- and that dream inspired a vision of dancing barefoot - around the world - for peace. I imagined dancing with other women at special places, celebrating the Goddess, celebrating the earth.

That's where my concept for the “Journey to Jordan” emerged, and I scheduled my first trip this coming spring. I hope it will extend to other countries and sacred sites, connecting people, creating harmony, restoring balance.

Lana Nasser, 2007

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