Dancing Around Fire – ALLAF 021
Improvising to live drums around a fire at a festival like Pennsic can turn a studio-trained belly dancer into a belly dancer who knows what’s up.
The second part of the belly dance history series is coming soon. But August is Pennsic time in the Northeast, and it’s time to dance around fire.
Belly dancing with fire will be a whole different show.
Even in our modern lives, we befriend fire. We light our gas stoves, our wood stoves, and candles. Flames dance at the bottom of our hot water heaters and furnaces. Flames dance in front of faces as cigarettes are lit.
If you have a candle and a lighter that are easy to find, you’ll want to get them now. A little lighter. Teeheehee. Sorry. I couldn’t help it.
Electricity has replaced fire in many ways, but it is different. Lighting candles on a birthday cake, or for another holiday or ritual always makes it more special. Making a bonfire outside on a summer night or a fire in the fireplace on a cold morning warms us in a way electricity can’t.
Look around you. Is there any fire where you are now? Is there something you can light safely? Did you find a lighter and a candle or something similar?
Before you light the candle, put the lighter in one hand and the candle in the other. Palms open and facing up, dance with your hands. Move them in a beautiful way, acknowledging the gift of fire and clearing your mind. Anything that helps you let go of any negative thoughts or concerns and prepares you to light this tiny fire. Maybe you doing the Chi Gong form called “separating the clouds. Crossing your wrists down near your belly, and raising them up to your forehead where your wrists separate and sweep out and down, separating the clouds and clearing your mind.
Gently set the candle down, and create a flame with the lighter. Look at the colors in the flame and take a deep breath, bringing the flame to the wick. When the candle is lit, set down the lighter, and set down the candle in a place where you can walk around it. Walk around the fire once going clockwise. Step inside the circle you just marked out and do flamenco style wrist circles, around the flame. When you turn your wrists away from the center of your body, in flamenco they call it fuego. Fire 🙂 You can smile. Do some candle hands, sweeping your hands in just above your hips and above your shoulders. One minute of dancing around this tiny flame can make you feel pretty good. Blow a kiss to the candle and extinguish the flame, fingers rippling up dancing with the smoke. The wick will stop glowing soon. Take another deep breath and mark out the same circle you did before lighting the candle, this time going counter clockwise.
You can do this little danceable ritual whenever you ignite a flame. Birthday candles. Candles you light before a relaxing bath. Lighting your gas stove. It’s a lovely idea, right?
Fire is a miracle that humans have been lighting for as far back as a million years according to history.com, and at some point our ancestors starting dancing around the fires they lit. Some people have preserved some very old dances. Some say there is a spirit in the fire…
There’s a beautiful article about titled “Keeping Fire at the Dance” by firekeeper “Cowboy Jeff Ward on the site danceforallpeople.com
Jeff writes “In our way, fire is a living being or beings. It is considered an aspect or relative of the sun, sometimes referred to as a “Ray of the Sun” — the People pray to “the One who lives beyond the Sun”, not to the sun itself. The Puha or Power of the sun resides in the fire, its Essence in the glowing coals, and so this very powerful force must be treated with great respect.
“Long ago, Spirit and the Native Americans of this continent (referring to North America) developed a reciprocal relationship and a language, a way of speaking, that both could understand. The Sacred Fire is a part of that language. In many cultures this relationship has been forgotten or lost. In Native American tradition it remains strong. For us the “conversation” between Spirit and Man is our Dance around the Tree of Life.
In Jeff’s tradition it looks like he is preserving and teaching a specific way to dance around fire that the spirits can understand. Dance steps that have been done in a similar way for the same spirits for many many years. I bet it’s beautiful.
In addition to communicating with spirits, dancing around fire has been used as medicine. The documentary series “Spirits of Africa” introduces the watcher to a San healer in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. He says “When I dance around the fire I can feel who is sick and start to heal people”. The healer dances for hours, entering a trance where his spirit leaves his body and gain power needed to return and heal. He has this smile of knowing. These eyes from another world. He says, “In a trance I can turn myself into a star and visit my friends in the sky.” Wow. You can watch the documentary on youtube and see more on spiritsofafrica.com .
A Huffington Post article titled “Paganism: An Overview Of One Of the Least Understood Modern Religions” by Antonia Blumberg states that “Fire may also be used in cleansing, divination, trance and ecstatic dancing,” and “Fire plays a prominent role in many pagan rituals and in personal practice (through candles and incense.) During some rituals pagans circle around a large fire, which is seen to hold transformative power.”
Ever since the year I camped with a sweet group of witches, I’ve been intrigued by pagan ritual and wisdom. It’s wonderful to consider that we can create a sacred space for rituals and dance where ever we are, and there are so many ways to do that. And dancing in that sacred space can heal. One example of this process is outlined on the site for the pagan community called “Reclaiming”. They begin with purification to clear their minds, then cast a clockwise circle like we did around the candle, calling to the 4 directions, and then invoke a deity. Sometimes the deity is invoked with movement and music. Then the healing and magic part comes, which can be ecstatic or peaceful dancing or even sewing. Whatever is needed for the desired transformation to take place. After the healing, food and drink is blessed and shared. The deity is invited to leave or stay, the circle is again marked out but is counter clockwise this time and the circle is opened. The participants may ask for peace to stay in their hearts.
Magic and peace dance inside the fire. Whether we are in need of gentle reflection or wild dancing, being near the fire can help us. The nights spent dancing in a circle with others, firelight painting our faces, sharing the heat in the center with our backs to the night chill have been precious nights of my life. That is where I became a dancer, dancing around the fires of Pennsic. I’ve been going to Pennsic for almost 20 years now, and this pilgrimage reinforces and deepens my dance each time.
Record a song at Pennsic and post it on Spotify
The giant cleansing burn at the end of Burning Man is impressive, but it’s not a big dance and the live music I heard at Burning Man was a bit disappointing.
That’s worth a mention. Live music seems to be disappearing from my town and from the planet. I was listening to Belly Dance Geek Clubhouse the other day, and an American dancer in Egypt was saying that there is less performance to live music there too. DJs are cheaper and easier for entertainment venues to host, audiences may be losing touch with the magic of live music. To me, that’s a bit scary.
DAMN SEXY DANCE MOVE
Fuego into candle hands
LIGHTEN MY BODY
Since we are loving on fire this show, let’s spotlight a fiery food. Spicy peppers! Thai chilli peppers are my favorite to work with. They’re skinny and about as long as a pinky finger. You can eat the seeds, and there’s just less fiery juice to get on your fingers. I cut spicy chilies without touching them. Especially because I wear contacts and it can be pretty painful to touch your eyes with that powerful juice on your fingers.
It can be hard to use all of the chilies that you buy before they get old. Some can be dried easily if they are in the right environment. You can grind fresh chili peppers in a blender and freeze them in an ice cube tray and pop them into your soups, sauces and stir fries. The recipe for Sweet and Sour Rainbow Fried Rice on my site goes great with a sprinkle of fresh or dried chilies on top. My Korean Sweet Potato Noodles with Bean Sprouts and Tofu recipe would be really lovely with chilies too. Yum. Someday I’ll post recipes inspired by May Kaidee, my vegan Thai chef friend who owns vegan Thai restaurants in Thailand and New York City. Her chili paste is phenomenal. If you have it, you will want to keep eating it. She also makes it so it’s not spicy.
MAKE YOU SHINE COSTUME TIP
Wear mirrors. They reflect fire and light beautifully. Mirror belts take more care than many belly dance belts because mirrors can break and pop out of belts, but they add a lot to a costume and they are worth it. The mirror belt I bought in India years ago is a great addition to so many of my costumes. I tie it into my hip scarf and layer it on different shaped belts. I made open side harem pants out of a scarf I bought in India. I would not have thought to add mirrors to harem pants if they were not already part of that fabric, and I love it.
A dancer named Shaheen whom I’ve always admired at Pennsic showed her mirror belt to me. She wanted oval mirrors. She’s tall and slender, and the oval mirrors really suit her. She searched for the right shape mirrors, found them at a craft store, and sewed them into a belt. So if you can’t find the right length mirror belt or the right shape for you, consider making one yourself.
Create fire in your life. Whether it is lighting a bonfire to dance around or lighting incense to clear your mind or enjoying lighting a gas stove when you’re about to cook, fire can rejuvenate us. Of course it can also destroy, but let’s do our best to get energy from the fire in our lives and not get burned or harm anything else.
SAINT OF TRUTH
I don’t know how to start a fire. It’s one of those things I’ve always just let someone else do for me. Part of me wants to learn how, but not enough to step up and do it. Maybe this winter I’ll start the fire in the woodstove and dance around it when I do!
If you go about 16 minutes in to this documentary called The Cure Women you will see Kurdish women dancing together around fire. There’s definitely some purification, trance and magic there. There’s also a woman making requests for her sick family member to be cured while looking at the fire. Almost as if the fire was giving her access to the ears of God.