Dance to the Great Mother

a review by Gaby Oeftering

A few months ago, I looked again — after a period of eight years — at Delilah’s video Dance to the Great Mother and I was really overwhelmed by its archaic and timeless beauty. At the time when I had first watched it, I was on the search for practical examples of belly dancing for pregnant women and I was starting to work on my own video. There was nothing to be found in this sector, except Delilah`s work, but it was a piece of art and, apart from my appreciation of Delilah`s fantastic dances, I was not really taken by it - my focus was too far away from perfect - even if pregnant - stage dancing and there was nothing for me to “use”.

Now, many years later, after having finished my practical concept and work, and having gone far beyond it in my research in marriarchy and women`s life in Ancient Egypt, I`ve come back to this video and it was a blast. All that I have read, researched and imagined is visualized in what she does and dances. In the old Egyptian temples, there were so-called mamisi, birthchambers for the pharaonic queens. When seeing Delilah dance, I could well imagine a queen giving birth in this mamisi while other women were dancing in the temple: the dance of labour, pain, strength, ecstasy, birth and praise. The way she dances could have been exactly the way of dance presented in honour of the Great Mother, Isis, the portal to life.

Delilah is not only the head of Visionary Belly Dancing, she also gives us a vision from the past, beyond our times into the future, where we all hope womanhood, fertility and female life in all its cycles will regain the dignity and sublimity we once naturally had. Delilah also gives us the vision of the goddesslikeness of a pregnant woman with her fertile womb. When I show this video to my pregnancy class, some women exclaim right away: "My God, how beautiful a pregnant woman is!" This reminds me of a little episode in my growing experiences with belly dancing and pregnancy.

In 1993, I was sent to Paris to do a shooting with pregnant models. The photos were supposed to go with an article about my work. When I arrived, the photographer told me that the journal had asked for one photo with a naked belly. I was completely against this and told her that I would not contribute to the sexistic image of belly dancing by showing them a pregnant belly. The photographer was happy, she thought the same and we decided to neglect the demand. But, then I entered the cabin where the models changed and there was a tall woman shaped like a goddess, with that huge womb. I stared at her in complete admirement, turned back to the photographer and told her that I had changed my mind and that on the contrary I would like to show the world how beautiful and sacred a pregnant womb is. . . .

By the time Delilah produced her video she was going quite far — and she was right. We should dare to confront the public with our fertility and not be ashamed of it, hiding it away under huge tents. For me, birth is the last taboo in our western societies. We can see death in all its varieties every day and night on TV, but birth? Which of you has ever attended one? We give birth, but it is hidden away from our eyes. I act as a doula (a woman that accompanies a woman giving birth and I`m not the midwife) and again and again, with tears in my eyes, I`m overwhelmed by the existential beauty and force of a birth. In the times of the harem, birth was never a lonely act, but rather a social act. We have become or have made ourselves poor by isolating ourselves. A video like Delilah`s should be shown to groups of pregnant women, and should give them the feeling of pride and of joy. They should join her in her cheerful dance (the last on the video), clapping their hands, shouting, singing the sanscrit and dancing themselves as would have been the case in ancient times, and still is in the Arabic countries even today.

With Delilah`s vision in mind, I’d like to see pregnant women go to classes like the one I have introduced and learn for themselves how to become an autonomous woman in order to create an autonomous birth. Belly dancing is a wonderful means to this end, because throughout the world, women who are allowed to move freely during childbirth instinctively start moving their pelvis in hip circles. They dance the ancient movements of fertility like the hip circle, the hip-rocking or the hip-eight, to which I give emotional names like the full moon, the crescent moon (or cradle) and the sign of infinity (with the pregnant woman standing in the infinite line of life). These emotional pictures show women their way to their feminine roots. Belly dancing helps a woman in many ways:

  1. To accept her growing womb (not every woman looks forward to this) and even to celebrate it;
  2. To strengthen the muscles of the pelvis, the legs and the whole body and to prepare her in the best way for a childbirth in an upright position;
  3. To release tension (through shoulder movements) that results from the weight of growing breasts and to get extra space (through chest movements) if the baby is in a high position. (Chest movements are also useful against heartburn.);
  4. To contact the baby by soothing it through continuous hip circles, resulting in a kind of massage through the waters;
  5. To stimulate the uterus under childbirth when necessary by doing what I call the birth movements. These are the vertical movements of the pelvis which excite the pelvis, contrary to the horizontal ones which relax it.

The ummy is one of these stimulating movements and should never be danced, just instructed and kept in mind to be recalled during childbirth. During the births I have assisted, I was very much impressed by the power of these birth movements — they definitely work and accelerate labour which is too slow or weak. But, remember: Here, I don`t speak of pregnant women who have been belly dancing for years or even professional dancers; their bodies are accustomed to the movements and don`t react so heavily. Most of the professional dancers have danced till the last moment without any trouble. For them, Delilah`s video is one they will particularly appreciate during their pregnancy because she lives and dances the vision we all have in us. The “normal” pregnant woman with no belly dancing experience can admire Delilah`s dances as a piece of art and then learn from my video how to move without doing any damage to her health and to the baby; on the contrary: she will enjoy the benefits of belly dancing and - with close contact to her baby — arrive at a new and cheering sensuality.

Gaby Mardshana Oeftering
Producer and director of Belly Dancing During Pregnancy

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