Below is an article I wrote for the now-defunct Caravan Trails quarterly newsletter which used to be produced by Paulette Rees-Denis of Gypsy Caravan. I was author of a regular column called “Of the Tribe”, for which I wrote short articles focused on the topic Paulette had chosen. This was for the Fall 2002 edition, with a theme of Dance as Healing, and I thought I would share it with you all.
Dance as Healing – There Are No Words
I have made repeated attempts to write this installment of “Of The Tribe” for this issue, and keep getting stuck. It is because there truly are no words to share how I feel. Recently, a dear member of our Seattle dance community, Indira (Melissa), lost her 14 month old girl. Maya Ione Lily had been born into a body that was riddled with complex heart problems. She was a beautiful, strong little girl, but following a long surgery that was attempting to correct her issues once and for all, she did not recover as they had hoped. She passed from this life only a week ago as of this writing.
If you can believe it, the column I am attempting to write is one of great hope and joy. For only three days following Maya’s passing, there was a gathering to celebrate her life and to support Maya’s family in her absence. As you might imagine, there were dancers at the wake, but never in our wildest dream did we imagine how many were touched by Maya in her short time here, and by their friendship with Melissa through the dance. The room was filled with beautiful dancers, come to show their love and share their sorrow. A community gathered that night in a way I have not had the opportunity to be a part of before. How did we come to be so blessed?
The highlight of the evening was three lovely tribal dancers from the local troupe Raqs Halim, of whom Melissa has been a member, dancing to live music in honor of Maya and her family. I know these women and knew how hard it was for them to prepare to dance for this occasion. Our dance is most often practiced in joy, so to have it be a memorial to a devastating event was a new experience. I can’t imagine what it must feel like, to dance when sick at heart, though I might compare it to a Guedra, or trance dance of the Tuareg. Morocco describes the Guedra in her article “Dance As Community Identity in Selected Berber Nations of Morocco” (http://www.casbahdance.org/cordconf.html)
“The Guedra’s aim is NOT to exorcise a person or place of evil spirits, but envelop all present with “good energy”, peace and spiritual love…Guedra is a nighttime ritual, around a fire under the light of the moon or inside one of the larger tents. When done for real, as versus for an audience, it’s most often in a circle… (The Tuareg) consider Guedra their direct contact with the elements, spirits and universe, the deepest expression of their souls and protection against a hostile environment and evil spirits.”
While the dance that was performed was not specifically a Guedra, but in fact tribal bellydance, the same energies flowed from the dancers and the witnesses. The feeling that their dance was meant to surround us all with a warm light of love and connectedness, and to express the emotions of our deepest soul. We stood in a circle around the dancers as they performed their ritual movement. They danced in unison, and then in turn they came forward and danced alone for Melissa. They looked her square in the eye, tears brimming, and danced their love for her. We were all witness to a selfless giving of their deepest hearts to a beloved friend. And though the mood was one of sorrow and loss, there was also a feeling of joy at being so very blessed just to BE THERE and be a part of that night; a sense of family, even among relative strangers. To be able to add our thoughts, prayers, and/or positive energies to the giant swirling pot that is our community. To be honored to witness the exchange of friendship at its deepest level, and to see it unfold within the context of our beautiful dance. It was breathtaking, and we all wept openly.
Following this dance, the band struck up a new tune–an upbeat song many of us know and love to dance to. The performers came forth into the audience, pulling us from our chairs, and pulling us from our sadness. As we took to the floor in a spinning mass of energetic dance, some of us wiped away our tears of sadness only to have them replaced with tears of great joy. Though we all knew why we had come, somehow the dance carried us away in brief snatches of forgetfulness where for a moment we were simply celebrating with our friends. Smiles and laughter spread like wildfire. Whereas moments before we experienced dance as a twisting of sorrow and compassion, through the same dance we were now finding healing within ourselves. I want a wake like this one, I kept thinking to myself.
I left that night so full of love and an indescribable feeling of connectedness with the world around me. A sense of closure and at the same time a new openness. Never have I experienced anything like it, and words still escape me. All I can say is that it is quite perfect that I should be writing this at the Thanksgiving holiday. I find myself incredibly thankful for this dance, for this community, and the beauty it has brought my life. May it bring the same to you and your community.
Thank you, Maya, for the unique connection you created among us by your presence and light. Thank you for the gift of reminding us of the loving dance family we are so very lucky to be a part of. How blessed are we.
With Love for Maya Ione Lily
August 31, 2001 – November 19, 2002