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The Arts

Dance to connect the mind and the body

‘Goddess Rising’ showcases the healing art of belly dance

Goddess Rising takes place on Saturday, Jan. 24, with the workshop from 2 to 4 p.m. and the performance at 7 p.m. at the Stone Church, 210 Main St., Brattleboro. Admission is by donation ($10-$14 suggested for the performance; $25, for the workshop). For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page at

BRATTLEBORO—With a theme of “Myth, Lore, and Legend,” the Goddess Rising belly dance performance returns for its second year to the Stone Church.

The fundraiser on Saturday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m., will offer attendees “Cabaret, Egyptian, Turkish, American Tribal Style, and many other forms of bellydance,” say event organizers Shanta L.E., Cyndal Ellis, and Kelsey Captolia Indziniak.

Preceding the event, from 2-4 p.m., organizers invite the community to learn some belly-dance moves in “Body and Earth: An Ecofeminist Introduction to Tribal Bellydance” with Susanne Dawn Claxton, also at the Stone Church.

All proceeds from both the performance and the afternoon dance lesson will benefit the Women’s Freedom Center, an organization focused on ending domestic violence and abuse against women.

L.E. says the 2{1/2}-hour main event includes “around 22” performances, some new and others returning from last year’s event.

Although she and her co-organizers tried to book fewer dances than last year’s Goddess Rising, “that didn’t work,” L.E. says, adding, “people are excited to participate and they are coming from all over New England to perform.”

The event features an emcee, Ezlerh Oreste, whom L.E. describes as “an artist who has done one-man shows” and has a “funny, engaging” approach. Breaks and some performances feature live music provided by Navab Bigelow on violin and Gray Zabriskie on drums.

L.E. and Ellis say that all ages and genders are welcome and the event is family-friendly. Ellis says the performance is “a culturally-educational experience,“ and L.E. says many of the dances incorporate “universal themes of lost love, or trying to get back lost love.”

Ellis, who also serves as manager and dance instructor at Brattleboro’s SoBo Studio, will perform in one of the evening’s two Swan Lake performances, combining elements of ballet and belly dance.

Not just costumes and exposed midriffs

“Belly dance and ballet have been communicating from the beginning. There’s a direct draw from the Arabesque,” Ellis says.

L.E. says that belly dance “is an oversimplified term: it’s not just glitzy costumes with the midriff showing.”

Ellis notes the term “belly dance” refers to a style of dance borrowing from Eastern European traditions, especially Romani, North African, and Middle Eastern.

She says the term originated from the description of Egyptian dancers’ performances at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Ellis says the dancers caused a scene because they “shook their hips, which was unheard of in this country in the Victorian era.”

Ellis adds, with mock-indignation: “Move your torso? Never!”

Ellis says that although the women were completely covered (because “Egyptians never bared their skin”), she reports the popular press at that time portrayed the dance as sexualized, and newspaper cartoons “depicted drooling men” gawking at the dancing women.

From there, Ellis says, belly dance caught on.

“Burlesque borrowed from it,” she says, noting the “racism and Orientalism of the time” provided an ideal platform to “sexualize women and villainize men.”

L.E. believes, however, that belly dance is “sensual without being pornographic. It draws us to the divine feminine.”

She says the movements involved in the dance “speak to us, and celebrate a woman’s body without being sexually solicitous.”

Ellis and L.E. have each been incorporating belly dance into their practice for about a decade.

L.E. says the dance “forces you to consciously think about all different parts of the body, and how and why they move.”

Ellis adds, “You can just shake it, or you can go deeper into these moves. Belly dance is rooted in the core.”

She says it’s not just surface muscles a bellydancer needs to use, but “deep muscles in the pelvic bowl. It’s also our emotional-spiritual center. It does more than just hold you upright, but that itself is huge. Belly dance connects the mind and body, which shouldn’t be considered as disconnected.”

Ellis adds that “in belly dance, older women can be leaders, and in this sophisticated and intelligent art form, older women, and women with different body types, are more respected in the industry” than they are in other established dance forms.

L.E. says belly dance “put me in touch with my femininity. My mom didn’t teach me how to be a woman.”

Both she and Ellis agree “there’s nothing in our culture to celebrate being women.”

Ellis and L.E. say that Indziniak came up with the idea for the festival as a fundraiser for the Women’s Freedom Center, approaching the two as fellow dancers. It just so happened they both serve on the center’s board.

‘A beautiful fit’

L.E. says last year’s Goddess Rising event raised just over $1,000 for the center.

“It’s a beautiful fit,” L.E. says of the event promoting and benefitting the Center, explaining Goddess Rising “is empowering, it’s by women for women, it’s about community, and support.”

Ellis says “women sent us many emails explaining why they want to perform and participate, and how it’s meaningful for them. We hear these stories again and again: women recovering from violence and trauma through belly dance.”

L.E. says that last year, some women who participated came from abusive situations, and belly dance helped reconnect the women to their power through their femininity.

Ellis notes bellydance is “a draw for men” to also participate because “they have the feminine in them, too.”

Regarding the inclusion of men, Ellis says, “when we say bellydance is a ‘women’s space,’ we have to be careful. Although it’s sacred as a mother/goddess space, all genders are welcome: transgender dancers and male dancers.”

Although “it’s healing for women to have sacred space,” Ellis says, they don’t want to exclude other genders because “we don’t want to become the oppressors, we don’t want to become what we’re healing from.”

“Everyone needs to heal from patriarchal oppression, including men,” she says. “Cultural images of men — tough, not emotional, certain body types — are damaging to men, too.”

Belly dance, Ellis says, “is a goddess-centered space, but all genders can identify with it, because we all have the mother within us,” asserting “we need to rediscover what it means to be a woman, the mother, the goddess. We’re healing as a society, and belly dance helps.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #289 (Wednesday, January 21, 2015).

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