Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Belly-Dancing as a Vehicle for Spiritual Exploration

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Belly-Dancing as a Vehicle for Spiritual Exploration

Article excerpt

Middle Eastern music plays softly as the dancers gracefully raise their hands from their sides and lift them high, ending with their palms together above their heads.

The movements of the women, short and tall, young and old, thin and not-so-thin, have a meditative quality. Their expressions are peaceful, some are almost beatific.

Now that's belly-dancing.

Not the Hollywood kind in which barely clothed women in sequins and pushup bras dance seductively until even James Bond raises an eyebrow, but the kind in which women fill classes at gyms, YMCAs, recreation centers and places such as the Visions of the Nile Belly Dance School in Akron, Ohio.

Belly-dancing has exploded in popularity. What began as a fun way to exercise has for many women turned into a spiritual practice that empowers them to explore their physical and artistic selves free from male judgment.

Rachel Kraus, an assistant professor of sociology at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., surveyed 74 women ages 18 to 65 in 15 belly-dancing groups in the South and the Midwest and found three-quarters considered it a spiritual experience.

She told a joint meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Religious Research Association that belly-dancing is meeting a spiritual need for many U.S. women, particularly those not affiliated with organized religion.

"Several people talked about communing with God, thanking God, worshiping God" during the ritualistic dance, she said.

The findings resonate with many dancers.

"I just feel divine," said Toni Kearns, founder of the Visions of the Nile school. "The spirits are happy you're doing this."

Dance for centuries has been part of religious worship, but the skewed image of belly-dancing presented in American popular culture does not immediately bring to mind a path to spiritual growth. …

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