THE DAWN OF BELLY DANCE, PT. 1: GODDESS WORSHIP
SO, WHEN AND WHERE DID BELLY DANCE ORIGINATE? This is a question that comes up quite frequently in our community. There are several different theories/origin myths. I am going to compile the ideas I have found on credible websites and books and for the next 5 weeks I will post 1 theory a week and you guys can decide for yourselves what you think!
1. Descended from religious/ceremonial dance – goddess worship
2. Came from fertility rituals and associated with childbirth
3. Derived from Ancient Egyptian social dances
4. Brought to the ME by gypsies from India.
5. Was born out of a dance of seduction
BEFORE WE GET STARTED
1.Disclaimer: *I am NOT an expert.*
2. When I was doing research, I came across a very popular paper by Andrea Deagon, “In Search of the Origins of Dance,” and I want to share this excerpt with you guys because I think this is important to keep in the back of your head as you do your own research/read TBB:
“When we are moved by something that is beautiful, or terrible, or vitally important to our souls, it is human nature to try to understand it. One of the ways we look for this meaning is to try to find or imagine its origins. We sense that, if we can find its ultimate beginning, perhaps we will also find its deepest truth — a truth that will open up the wellspring of our own creative power. Our search for origins has inspired some of our most brilliant insights. It inspires us to trace our genealogies, explore the intricacies of cell biology or evolution, and seek the ultimate source of all matter in the depths of space-time. It inspires our philosophy and religion, from the Navajo stories of Changing Woman to the seven days of Yahweh’s creation to the presocratic philosophers’ exploration of the elements of earth, air, water and fire. The search for the origins of what we hold to be precious and magnificent is fundamental to our way of understanding the world. So it is natural that those of us who treasure Middle Eastern dance and want to understand it more fully should seek out its origins.”
“…We tend to use the past as a justification for present views or practices — we want to see our own ideas and practices as correct and natural, so we are easily distracted from the wide, confusing perspective of real history and slip into historical myths. Only when we have come to terms with these tendencies in our thinking will we be able to explore the history of this dance, and form an accurate, respectful relationship with the women and men of the past whose dance was the precursor of our own.”
~~~ IDEA #1: GODDESS WORSHIP ~~~
” The first dances were an essential part of worship through which human beings felt they were able to establish their relationship with divinity and a unification of the earth with a higher, spiritual world.” ~Tina Hobin (Belly Dance: The Dance of Mother Earth – buy it here! it’s so interesting! )
Some of the earliest identifiable depictions of dance can be seen in the Chauvet cave paintings in France. They have been traced as far back as 15,000 years – ~13,000 bce. Just for some context that is when people first began domesticating animals and the wooly rhinoceros became extinct.
Further evidence of the significance of dance in early civilization can be found in the Bhimbetka rock shelters in India where there are images of men and women dancing with a drummer (some say from approx. the same time period as the Chauvet cave paintings, some say they’re older).
In later years, and by later I mean 1450 bce (3,465 years ago) images of a dancing goddess can be seen in this Mycenaean ring (and others like it) from the Tholos tomb of Vapheio.
So it’s pretty clear that dance was an important part of our ancestors social lives and ceremonies. Historians have speculated that the movements used in ritual/god/goddess worship dances came from the dancers observations of their surroundings: nature, animals, birds – they imitated their movements, mating rituals etc. The dances were performed for all occasions – birth and death, planting and harvesting, war, rain sun, and moon worship.
Dances were done in circles representing the movement of the moon and sun, in spirals representing death and re- birth and in lines.
Dance became an integral part of shamanic practices, magical and religious cults. They were performed at funerals as seen in the image below from the tomb of Nebamun. Goddesses associated with funeral rites are Isis, Nephthys, Neith and Serket.
Dances were also done as hunting rituals – there were several hunting goddesses: Cybele, Artemis, Hathor, and Isis.
This is “Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük“ c. 6,000 BCE. She is an Anatolian mother goddess who it is possible Cybele derived from. She is giving birth on her throne.
Worshiping the gods through dance was not just part of the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras. In Ancient Egypt there is evidence in graves of the cult of the mother goddess – Neith/Nit (which we will talk more about next week). Evidence of dance in general has been found in many paintings/heiroglyphs in Egypt and could be linked to goddess worship.
So is it possible that the belly dance we know today is based in goddess worship?
In my opinion – Absolutely! Why not?