We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars…
the stars form a circle, and in the center we dance.
-Rumi, 13th century
My first contact with Middle Eastern culture and dance was in my early teen years, when due to a series of unfortunate family events, I went to live with an Egyptian relative. As fate would have it, he became not only my guardian, but also my guide for a lifelong journey into ancient cultures and spiritual practices.
I quickly learned that every occasion in Egyptian culture presents an opportunity for dance and music. As the women spontaneously tied scarves around their hips and moved with obvious pride in their rounded femininity, I began to feel included in a sort of secret community, one of a shared power and presence requiring no words.
Dance had been a source of great joy all my life, but it was in experiencing Middle Eastern dance that I became thoroughly immersed in the magic. The enchantment was complete upon my first trip to Egypt when I saw a professional dance performance. From the moment the dancer entered, her regal elegance and powerful presence transformed the atmosphere, her joyous smile hinting at the mysteries of The Goddess expressing through her. The image of this dancer stayed with me for many years, as I attempted to find my place in the often-alien world of Western culture.
Upon giving birth, I glimpsed it again, this awesome power of the feminine experience that was so frequently feared and diminished. In the difficult years of a brief marriage, divorce and then raising my son alone, I would take refuge in playing the few Egyptian records from my teenage years, dancing alone into the night. As he grew, my son delightedly joined me in this ritual, as we cavorted laughing and spinning like dervishes through our small apartment. It was a free passage into another world, one that was rich and warm and beyond all the mundane chores and concerns of our lives.
In the ensuing 20+ years as a counselor, healer, medium and teacher, I was often questioned as to how I remained grounded while doing such esoteric and intense work. Most often, my honest answer was that raising a child required my full presence.
I found that revealing the Egyptian dancer self brought reactions ranging from embarrassment to outright judgment. Surprisingly, the most severe judgment came from other women, who seemed to view the dance as a personal threat and definitely not “spiritual.”
I was accustomed to not quite fitting in with the status quo, but it was another thing to become totally ostracized. Complementary therapies had become almost mainstream and I was being invited to address organizations that once would have scorned my work. Why risk what had taken so long to realize? Yet, how could I hide this wondrous spiritual practice from my clients and friends who could benefit so much from it?
I began teaching Egyptian dance based on my own spiritual and cultural perspective, including firsthand experiences from years of living in Egypt. I also teach my students the spoken and written language as it pertains to the dance. Both students and audience members have commented on the insights gained into an often-misunderstood culture as well as the role of Egyptian women, which is unlike that of women in Arab countries. I am often invited to teach in conjunction with lectures on topics ranging from eating disorders to intercultural understanding.
The rewards of my teaching the dance are many as I observe the transformations in women of all ages and body types. Recently, I watched one of my tiny preteens whose coin hip belt had repeatedly crashed to the floor during hip shimmies. She exclaimed loudly, “Oh, I can’t wait to have hips!” How often is this heard in our society? Why not rejoice as little girls become divine representatives of The Goddess, encouraging pride and respect in their developing bodies?
Middle Eastern dance in its pure form expresses the wide range of experiences in a woman’s life; the longer and more fully she lives, the richer and more interesting her story and her dance. It is a tradition kept alive for centuries by and for women.
In my groups, I strive to maintain a sense of community, of sisters supporting and encouraging one another to express their individual life stories. Long before the building of great temples and cathedrals, there was the original sacred space: the womb, where all life miraculously manifests itself from nothingness.
The miracle and mystery of birth is the basis of all mysteries; in ancient times we venerated The Goddess as the source of all life. She is inextricably linked to dance, sacred dance being the principal form of Goddess worship in every ancient culture.
The rhythm of the primal female, the heartbeat, is basic to all rhythms just as the divine feminine is basic to all life in the Universe. The heartbeat is the first rhythm each of us hears and moves to in utero. If we do not lose this rhythm, it can comfort and guide us through our lives.
Photos By K. Lawson Photography
By Katrina (Gannon) Valenzuela
Rev. Katrina (Gannon) Valenzuela, BFA, CHt, CIH, CTM, has been in private practice on Cape Cod since 1980. Katrina is certified as a hypnotherapist, medical intuitive & faculty member of Stillpoint School of Intuitive Healing. Her practice encompasses soul readings, mediumship, meridian therapy, past life therapy, dreams, art and sacred dance. She has a talent for teaching esoteric principles from a grounded and humorous perspective. For more information, contact Katrina Gannon (Khadija) at Transformations Center for Healing & Holistic Studies in Barnstable.