The Origins of the Prostitute in Sacred Dance

by The Mad Maiden on November 27, 2012

Spirituality, sexuality, physical expression- separately none of these concepts seemed complete to me. I couldn’t explore sexual topics from a therapeutic perspective without considering movement as part of that experience. And both sexuality and physical expression seemed soulless without the need to explore spirituality. I was stubborn in my investigation of the metaphorical dance taking place between movement, sex, and spirituality; even if the principles of one resource seemed highly esteemed by its followers, it meant nothing if it couldn’t resonate with me. Dancing has proven to open up a connection between the energy that lays beyond our reality (i.e. spirits or animals). In turn, I feel like that energy has helped me during those solitary moments when I’m working at my hardest – training both on and off the fabric – and need something to give me a push.

My research and improving rhythmic movements have led me to the origins of the prostitute. Before the manipulation of her disposition, she was an example of how movement, sex, and spirituality all comes together.

I’ve fallen in love with the book Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance: Awakening Spirituality Through Movement and Ritual by Iris J. Stewart. It has helped me better understand the direction I’m taking with aerial dance. The author dedicates a section of her book to the origins of prostitution. When I discovered that its roots were in dance, I was surprised and yet, not so much. While certain styles of dance have been appropriated into society, the area of dance has historically been censored and/or condemned by the religious order. In fact, it is who dances and how they dance that is of great contempt.

According to Sacred Women, Sacred Dance, our spiritual livelihood is deeply rooted in dance. And the significant contributions women make to humanity are celebrated through sacred dance. The presence of sacred dance spans different cultures and generations. The priestess’s role also varied, but Stewart mentions that generally speaking, her role was not one that elevated her to deific status. We are reminded of how patriarchal rulers try and enhance their stations by likening their identity with that of the gods. Priestesses, instead, were instruments of the gods during times of dance and worship. Otherwise, they worked in the community as healers, midwives, and other important roles. Keep in mind this concept of the priestess as an instrument or a vessel. She becomes filled with this spiritual energy. The priestess expresses this reception through her movement.

Many times, priestesses would lead or participate in female sacred dance. These dances often celebrated the rites of passage for women in the community. The book describes the different activities that occurred during these events: ”…dances, songs, sometimes ritual baths…” (Stewart)

Stewart cites Romanian historian Mircea Eliade regarding an important part of these initiatory rites, during which the female displays her new womanhood to the community: ”To show something ceremonially-a sign, an object, an animal, a human- is to declare a sacred presence, in acclaim the miracle of a hierophany.”

As mentioned above, during dance the priestesses were filled with spirits. Stewart illustrates this concept by describing the presence of goddesses in Tantric Buddhism. They were known as “lightning conductors,” agents that “…diverted human energy currents straight to the World Soul.” When the belief that the path to nirvana is through sexual gratification blends with the concept of the energy-filled goddess, the notion of harlot is born: “…Legends evolved of the Goddess who revealed herself through the priestess as the sacred harlot to attract men for the purpose of transformation.”

The origin of prostitution comes from the practice of sacred dance and public revelation. It is an exclusively female act, which might explain why even today the image of a male prostitute is not as popular or seen as being equal to that of a female prostitute. And yet, even the modern concept of prostitution is distorted when you consider where it actually comes from. As with most ritual dance, these female practices were suppressed under religious regime. Instead of being an austere expression of spiritual ecstasy, dances were reduced to performance for wealthy, primarily male patrons. Because of the nature of these dances, they were considered exotic, which eventually leads to sexualizing the power of female movement. The outcome of this transformation can begin to explain why adult entertainment so strongly arouses society as well as the presence of censorship, whether its a government enforced law or socially acceptable practice.

I know it may sound like a controversial endeavor, but when I dance in public I want to evoke the original concept of prostitute. I want to express my ecstasy in public and fortify my sacred space in front of them. As the original meaning implies, I want to remain devotedly open to the embrace of the spirits that surround me. I want them to use my body. And I want you to become inspired by the sight of me in such a spiritually rewarding process. Maybe such inspiration will leave you yearning to dance, to become a conductor of ethereal energy.

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