My teacher has allowed me to demonstrate the veil dance over the last 20 years at his workshops. It has given me an opportunity to experience a very unique relationship to dancing with the silk veil. My teacher is from Iraq and the music he plays for veil dancing is a piece by Mohammad Abdel Wahab, one of the most renowned composers and musicians in the 50s in Egypt. The piece is called Cleopatra and my teacher has extended it to last sometimes up to an hour for dancing. I dance for about 10 or 15 minutes depending if I am tired or inspired, Adnan seems to know when to end it.
I dance with my whole breath. It takes me with the music. I don't do much yoga but sometimes I can go into deep back bends dancing with the veil and return to standing after I have completely exhaled and draw myself up with the inhale. The breath and the music support the flow. I have never been injured in my dance. My latest fascination with the dance is being able to whirl with my head fully tilted back and my shoulders relaxed while I hold the veil in outstretched arms. It teaches me about the value of surrender.
Amongst people who make movement their life work it is generally known that the body holds on to emotional memories long after the mind has found ways to deflect or repress it. And this physical holding can also apply to conditioning and belief, habits and ideas. And then we form a movement that is our signature, our way of holding ourselves. Grief is one example of an emotion the body can hold onto with great tenacity, and if not dealt with it strikes out unconsciously in petty, destructive and negative ways even throughout a person’s day making it unbearable for the ones around them. In conscious dance the person who is grieving can close their eyes, experience the pain in the limbs, in their bodies, in their emotional being and use the breath, the music and the motion to release it, whether it be gradual or intense. It is found in the body, felt in the emotions and expelled through the breath and the movement as the music draws them into a more positive flow of emotional energy and physical freedom.
Music is crucial here. Much of the modern music does not give time for such processes. Adnan has introduced me to the long drawn out hours of one song repeated and re-interpreted and though it acquires getting used to it, is an extremely honest expression of subtle feeling and intricate melodies that expand the emotion and draw us in till we are in it completely. Some western music can enforce the negative and it is unwise to use this for any process that opens the heart to be so vulnerable and in process.
Breath when breathed consciously erodes these holding patterns in the muscles, in the joints, in the fascia, in the emotions like water erodes stone. What we call the fight or flight syndrome is the body’s response to maintaining a structure of beliefs that lock into our physical form. And we respond to the world through its filter.
It can be so negative, so deep that we only are aware of it when we are placed in a situation where we are triggered, agitated to such an extent as to feel in danger or destructive.
When I dance the breath somehow connects with my focus to concentrate on a certain area in my body that is closed or disconnected to the whole moving flow of the movement. The music Cleopatra is amazing how it supports this. It suspends, peaks, collapses upon itself like a huge ocean wave coming into shore. My breath has to follow it first then the torso, the limbs and the emotions. My body releases, my emotions release and visa versa. The fulfillment in this experience leaves you feeling very complete. You experience contentment. It always frees you from attachment to negative things.
Some yoga classes I have been to recently. There is talk of breath, of the moment, of surrender but it is always sacrificed to the timing of a 90 min class and how many asanas must be done. And the talk about it does not infiltrate into experience. And so breath is never fully breathed but jostled into the next asana before it has time to complete itself in the present one.
Pausing breath can be a powerful antidote to the compulsion of the body and the mind to rush. That moment in time, where inhale and exhale meet is like the integer zero, the place of nothingness. The pause where, if taken consciously, opposes the mind’s compulsion to rush, to distract, to avoid.
I play with this when I dance with the veil. I use this when I have an uncomfortable feeling. I try it out when my whole system is slipping into fight or flight mode. This means surrender to me. It is the hardest place to be at times but the most full of potent change if used consciously.
This surrender comes with that wonderful effect of deep breathing; that anything so hard to encounter, in oneself, is transformed to calmness, even after just a few concentrated moments of deep breathing. And in the case of dancing with the veil, the slower the veil becomes the more likely you are to encounter that pause effect, the zero effect, the stopping of time. I find when I have found that place in my dancing the afterglow is a phenomenal transcendence. I fall into the present as if I have been meditating for a month.
So surrender to me is an act of yielding, a yin kind of energy when the body seeks repose, seeks a renewal, a rest from action from force and time keeping. Both help each other to feel the full healing value of moving and breathing as a conscious act.
Like water it can yield and yet by yielding it becomes a powerful force, a tsunami through the blockages imposed by things unnatural. It yields to the inhale and exhale of tidal motion, being part of a universal breath that keeps the life force in a constant eternal dance.
When done in the right atmosphere dance can elicit such freedom and joy that it becomes a grace, a blessing, and that is a good thing all around, particularly when it serves to release us from the unreal.
Tamsin Murray studies with Sufi teacher Adnan Sarhan. She has written “Inside The Time; A Sufi Path.She teaches occasionally, and dances as part of her spiritual practice.