In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

Belly Dancing

Many people are surprised to learn that I have a mad love for Arabic music. I don’t think it should really be that surprising, considering that I pray to a Deity who first revealed Himself to a North African/Middle Eastern culture. (But then again, many people don’t seem to realize that even Christianity began in the Middle East.) Since most of my favorite music is comprised of heavy metal and horror film soundtracks, it’s not uncommon for jaws to drop and heads to shake whenever I pull out some George Abdo and his Flames of Araby Orchestra. But did you know that 1960s surf rock was partially inspired by Arabic music? And surf rock led to garage rock and psychedelic rock, which both led to the development of heavy metal in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So remember that the next time you listen to a Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin record!

In the pre-Islamic Arab world, it was believed that the jinn provided musical inspiration for musicians. After the advent of Islam in the medieval era, artists like Al-Kindi incorporated numerous influences from the Greeks to improve their native music. Many of the instruments that are commonly used in Western music were later developed from traditional Arab instruments, such as the oud (which is an ancestor to the guitar) and the rebab (which is related to the violin). As for belly dancing itself, nobody really knows for sure about its precise origins, but some have theorized that it began as part of a fertility ritual that might have been performed by temple priestesses in ancient Sumer, Egypt, Babylon and Persia. I find this completely believable myself, and this connotation of polytheistic Goddess worship (as well as just the sensual nature of belly dancing in and of itself) has led numerous Islamic groups to try and get it banned from their countries (sometimes successfully).

Things occasionally get a little uncomfortable when I admit that I enjoy watching belly dancers; some people react to this knowledge as if I had just confessed to spending all my free time in strip joints or brothels. I can understand where this attitude comes from, especially when it’s voiced by women. Some of the women I know feel that belly dancing is no better than stripping or even prostitution, and that it only encourages men to objectify women. I can’t really say anything against their feelings on this issue, because I’m not a woman and I don’t really know what it’s like to be one. But I do know lots of other women who enjoy belly dancing, and even some men who do as well. (You don’t see it as often, but Johnny Depp did it in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, so it must be okay for other dudes to do it too!) I fully admit that when I see scantily clad women dancing in a sensual fashion, I can’t resist taking a look. But for me, there’s a huge difference between (1) enjoying a performance that’s designed to be sexually titillating and (2) making women feel like they can’t leave their homes. I don’t really have any moral issues with stripping or prostitution either (though I think the culture of strip clubs is frightening – due largely to the men who frequent such places – and I wish prostitution would be legalized so it could also be unionized). But in line with its ancient origins, I feel that belly dancing is really both an art and a genuine spiritual experience.

When I watch someone like Didem Kinali perform, I feel like I’m watching the ancient Akkadian equivalent to when Lwa possess or “ride” Their worshipers during Vodun ceremonies. It’s like Ishtar Herself is taking possession of this woman and performing a sensuous dance through her body. I can’t speak for how Kinali (who is a Muslim) might feel about this statement herself, and I certainly don’t mean to downplay her own athleticism and talent. But for me, there really is something ethereal and mystical about watching this sort of thing. It really feels as if there’s an ancient Goddess coming down from heaven and zapping these women with a primal magic that just isn’t directly accessible to most of the straight cisgender men I know (myself included). So for me, watching belly dancers is the closest I can ever get to actually seeing my beloved Lady Ishtar in the flesh. It’s much more than just an excuse to look at pretty ladies in scanty apparel (though I’m certainly not denying that this is part of its appeal for me). It’s also interesting to me that evangelical Christians will insist that pop divas like Madonna are channeling “the demon Ishtar” in their art as part of a plot concocted by “the Illuminati.” The part about Satan-worshiping Jewish bankers is crap, of course, but I do agree that there is something of the Queen of Heaven to be found in Madonna’s work. However, as much as I respect Madonna for what she does, she just doesn’t draw down the Goddess like Didem Kinali does. If there’s a bit of Ishtar in “Like a Virgin,” there’s a whole damn ziggurat’s worth of Her in your local belly dance troupe! I mean come on, just take a look at this:

I should clarify that I’m not an expert on Arabic music, and I certainly don’t claim to be one. This post began as an attempt at reviewing some of George Abdo’s albums from the 1970s, and I’ve actually been struggling with doing this since Thanksgiving. (Yes, this post has been sitting in my post archives as a draft for that long.) The trouble is, I can’t speak to what any of these songs are about because I don’t speak Arabic. And it’s hard for me to say anything about music without commenting on the lyrics; that’s why when I want to discuss instrumental music, I just post a video instead of actually discussing the music too much. All I can say is that if you like belly dancing music, I think you should investigate George Abdo’s material. I have no way of evaluating it in comparison to traditional Arabic music, but I will say that it’s much more acoustic and traditional sounding than what you’ll find from groups like Bellyhaus and Beats Antique. (Mind you, I don’t have anything against those groups; they’re quite good, and if you haven’t already, you should investigate them as well. I just don’t care as much for belly dance music with hip hop beats; I prefer the kind of stuff that Indiana Jones might have heard while searching for the Ark of the Covenant.)

Anyhoo, George Abdo’s albums are available on Amazon MP3, and I recommend checking them out. Here’s a track from his 1975 album, The Joy of Belly Dancing. (Just listen to that percussion, man!)


7 responses to “Belly Dancing

  1. ChildofRa May 23, 2015 at 3:25 am

    As a dancer, i enjoy all forms of dance and I got into bellydancing when I was in 9th grade. Its truly a beautiful work of art.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Isa May 23, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    lol, I totally agree with what in you say in paragraph 3. And I too love Arabic music (… Maurice Jarre’s Lawrence of Arabia theme -that’s where it all started for me ), and I love watching belly dancing. I find it beautiful and powerful πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jen May 25, 2015 at 10:08 am

    There is a big difference between sensual & sexual. Belly dancing is definitely a sensual experience, both for dancer & spectators. Rather the same how I feel about burlesque. Neither are stripping, they’re sensual dance, celebrating the music, the body, & it’s ability to move & interpret that music.

    I have a huge love of eastern music, Araby, Hindi, “Bollywood” style, Chinese & Japanese. I don’t know just what it is about these different genres that strike a chord with me, but there it is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • G. B. Marian June 12, 2015 at 8:10 pm

      Aw man, I love Bollywood music too. I actually enjoy watching a lot of Bollywood films. I don’t understand a lot of them, but I totally dig the crazy upbeat energy they usually have in those flicks. My favorite one that I saw was called Goddess here in the States, though I think it’s Devi in the original Hindi. It’s all about these groovy snake Goddess who takes pity on the family of this dude who sacrifices himself to save a cobra, and She helps protect them from demons and stuff. (In between catchy songs, of course.) If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it; a must-see for Pagans.

      Liked by 1 person

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