When dusk falls and we make our way to the drum circle, my energy is like a curl of excitement waiting to unfold at the base of my spine. Already the fire keepers have built a framework of wood that houses young flames. The drummers are finding their places on the outer ring of the circle, sitting down with their drums before them, drumskins vibrating with the energy about to unfurl. They test a rhythm, simple like a heartbeat. Someone slides in with a more complicated layer. Suddenly, there is a solid round of beats that fly in circles low to the earth then spiral up like the smoke from the fire. My hips begin to move in a figure eight, drawing the infinity symbol in the air as I stand on the outer ring of the circle near the drummers.My body knows when the drummers have found their collective beat and I couldn’t sit down even if I wanted to. The energy in my stomach is unwinding like a snake and traveling along the curves of my body, slow at first then to a shimmy. I make my way to the fire.
Dancing the Spirit is dancing around the fire at a drum circle, dancing in your living room with the lights dimmed or dancing outside under the bright blue sky. It is a way to communicate without words and it is ritual. Some drum circles raise ecstatic energy. They are a complicated weave of passionate energy spinning out among dancers, drummers and revelers. The drumbeats inspire, carry me forward and swirl the rainbow energy inside until it spills out into dance.
I’ve been dancing my whole life, haven’t we all? But the drum circle was different, to take that first step from the safety of the outer circle was a challenge. Drumming next to my talented husband who was already in the zone with his drumming, I felt my body being called to join the other brave dancers circling around the fire. So, I stepped out. Although I was self conscious and hyper aware of my movements, I got my first taste of Dancing the Spirit. It has been an evolution…those first few times, afterward I would ask my husband, so how did I look? Did I look stupid? My moments of inspiration and creativity were shot through with insecurity and fear.
There were two pivotal moments that stand out for me and both happened at one festival. The first was dancing in the woods while my husband and some friends drummed. I looked up at the moon and felt the Goddess pour herself into me. My dance became her dance and I knew that this was my path, another way to her. The second happened at the drum circle. There was a beautiful dancer circled by a group of dijeridoo players, their didges pointed inward and down as they circled her. I thought, I want to be brave enough and good enough to dance like that. So, I began to dance more and I took personal chances, that is I danced to music when others were just swaying, I put myself out there and I began to take dance lessons.
Learning traditional moves helped to strengthen my dance as well as my confidence. The first thing my instructor taught me was the bellydance stance-knees bent slightly, hips and butt tucked in. This frees up the body to circle, sway and shimmy. Standing this way the dancer is strong in her flexibility, fluid and agile. Next is the concept of Isolations, moving one part of your body while the other is still. And finally, putting the moves together into a dance that is expressive of your personal style. The dancer can use accents to frame particular movements, the veil to express her flowing energy, outward projecting movements and inward contemplative movements.
As I learned and practiced I became more confident and slowly my identity began to shift and gently reform. I began to think of myself as a bellydancer. This accomplishment was thrilling and profoundly satisfying. I began to mix what I had learned, to soften the edges and blend styles together until something new was created-my own style of dancing in which I let my spirit express itself through whatever movements felt right: Dancing the Spirit. I’ve danced the sacred shapes, the elements, the Goddess, the God. I’ve danced from sundown to sunup, my legs shaking and my ears ringing with the pound of the drums and I’ve even sat on the sidelines waiting for the energy to call me. Now, I dance a little here and there, mostly while chasing my toddler around the circle, but it’s still dance and soon she’ll be out there with me!
When the drummers find their beat and the snake that is curled up at the base of my spine begins to unfold, I am calling forth the Goddess inside of me and I am calling out to those around to join in this dance of energy. We connect into the universal life force, we dance the flame and the spirits sing love songs in our ears. These movements were passed down to us from our ancestors through a spiritual lineage unobserved by time and culture. When we dance, letting our creativity guide us, we are dancing to the rhythms of life, of the goddess, of the ancestors. We dance for the same reasons that our ancestors did-to celebrate, to honor, to give thanks, to heal, to connect. Like them, we adorn our bodies with coins and bells, scarves and shells and we step out, up on our toes reaching to the sky or flat footed, grounded to the earth and we dance to the rhythms of the ancients. We dance to the rhythms of the Spirit.