Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance:
Awakening Spirituality Through Movement and Ritual
A Book by Iris J. Stewart

Habibi, A Journal for Lovers of Middle Eastern Dance & Arts
Shareen el Safy, editor/publisher

Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance
A book review by Anne Apynys, Ph.D

Hundreds of books about the Goddess, goddess worship, women's spirituality, feminist interpretations of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinuism, and other patriarchal religions have appeared in bookstores, yet few of those books discuss the role of dance in religiou's rituals. Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance by Iris J.Stewart fills in this gap by exploring the role of women and dance, in diferent religious experiences through out history and into the present. Stewart examines the use of dance as a tool for women's spiritual expression and how that role has evolved over time.

Stewart begins her book by decribing her own personal journey beginning with belly dance classes, which led her, to her surprise, to tap into her own powerful feminine and spiritual path. She soon realized "that the two subjects, dance and spirituality, shared an important connection. I wanted to know more."(p.3). Thus she set out to search for
this ancient connection. Taking a broad, but not necessarily deep, look, Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance is part history, part, archaeology, part anthropology, part linguistics, part religious studies, part dance chronology, part ethomusicology, and part personal pilgrimage.

Stewart divided the book into two sections: a historical review of sacred dance and contemporary sacred dance. In the first section, Stewart describes her reactions to what she saw when visiting several archaeological sites. For the bulk of her research, however, she relied on the already existing available data and secondary works. She describes the known research about goddess worship and the role of sacred dance in the several ancient cultures including Babylonia, Greece, Rome, and India. She discusses the position of priestesses and the sacred prostitutes. She reviews the role of dancers in the Bible ? both Old and New Testaments. She looks at the connections between childbirth and dance. She briefly discusses the Ghawazi and the Ouled Nail. She quickly reviews flamenco and belly dance. She also investigates dance costume: the girdle, the veil, the jewelry and the amulets. Stewart uses all this as a vehicle to explore,what she calls "WomanDance," the traditional and private dance of women.

For the second section Stewart reviews the histories of the important dancers who contributed to modern sacred dance - Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Mata Hari, and Ruth St. Denis. She then discusses a variety of sacred dances which, even though performed today, have ancient -roots: the moon dance, the, sacred circle dance, the serpent dance the lamentation dance, the drum dance, the ecstatic dance, and the elemental dances: earth, water, air, fire. She ends the book with words of guidance and recommendations to encourage the growth of sacred dance.

Stewart has provided a multitude of lovely pictures and illustrations to underscore her discovery of the existence of earlier sacred dance and her aspiration to encourage its growth. Although all of what she describes is available elsewhere, she has performed a valuable service by bringing it together under a single cover. For the person investigating the topic of sacred dance, this book is a starting point-but certainly not an end point. By covering such a vast subject Stewart could not comprehensively discuss the history of sacred dance or the variety of dances she introduces to the reader. . .For those beginning their exploration of sacred dance, Stewart's book will provide many interesting suggestions for further inquiry, Stewart includes some simple sacred dance choreographies'to stimulate the reader into pursuing her own discovery of the sacred feminine
through dance. For those drawn to that path, Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance can be the first step of the journey.

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Copyright © 2000 Iris Stewart (All Rights Reserved)