This was my first trip to the rain forest. To say I was excited is an understatement. My husband and I stayed for a total of four enchanting days, in the rustic "Tortuguero Laguna Lodge" set in the middle of this mysterious Costa Rican rain forest with no phones, no television sets, no VCR's and no air conditioning. For me, this was paradise! Free from civilized distractions, I relished the healing songs of the exotic jungle birds, the loud howls of the wild monkeys, the incessant chirping of the Cicada bugs and especially the thrill of running freely through the torrential jungle rain. The jungle was cleansing me of all the noise and pollution I had carried with me from the civilized world. I wholeheartedly relished its power and beauty.
We bravely rode through narrow jungle canals by boat, hiked through primary rain forests observing the shy spider monkeys, saw sleeping vampires hanging upside down in their cozy caves, were captivated by exotic and rare birds, and gasped at the sight of HUGE crocodiles. We were careful to tiptoe under the infamous Killer Bee nests; we did not wish to disturb their peaceful slumber.
The highlight of my jungle adventure was dancing with Isabo and Javier. Eight-year-old Isabo was a beautiful native of the jungle whose family lived in the nearby Tortuguero Village, named appropriately after the thousands of Green Sea Turtles who lay their eggs here by the sea. Her bright-eyed innocence refreshed me like a ray of sunshine breaking through dark clouds. Her vibrant energy was contagious.
Javier possessed an enticing smile, the charismatic charm of a prince and the looks of a film star. He was SHORT, dark and handsome; Javier was only nine years old. How did I meet these two wonderful children?
After hours hiking through the rough jungle, and a refreshing swim at the lodge's pool (that was one civilized commodity I was grateful to still have), we decided to top the day off with a photo shoot. Our surroundings were so beautiful we couldn't resist. Nestled between two flowering, exotic trees, almost in a semi hypnotic trance, I danced my double veil dance to mysterious Middle Eastern music with the wild sounds of the Costa Rican jungle cheering me on. I was the queen of the jungle!
After only five minutes, I worked up a tremendous sweat. The humidity in the jungle was 98 percent! I paused for a moment and noticed a group of native jungle children earnestly observing my dance. I smiled invitingly at them. After the shoot, they begged me to teach them "El baile del serpiente", "The dance of the serpent". I happily obliged.
There were two children in particular that I felt instantly drawn to, Isabo and Javier. Isabo's fluidity, her ability to grasp the movements and her muscular control were amazing. She was a natural. She danced from her little heart, the way this dance was meant to be danced, and with a natural understanding of the esoteric aspects of belly dance. The belly dance is first and foremost an improvisational dance meant to connect a woman to her feminine power and spirituality. Isabo captured the beauty and healing power of this dance as if she had been dancing for many years. I was impressed and had grand visions of taking her back with me to the U.S. as my prodigy.
Javier was as enthusiastic as the female participants were. Although, he did not move his hips, I believe he was shy being the only male in the group, he nonetheless cheered us on with his warm smile. We danced until the heat became unbearable. Before parting, they asked when we could dance again. I had heard there was going to be a party for international travel agents that evening so I told them we could possibly dance together at that party, provided their parents let her go.
It was refreshing dancing with these enthusiastic children with "Mother Nature" as our dance studio. They possessed a raw, pure understanding of belly dance, not tempered by the many sexual stereotypes some adults superimpose on the dance.
Later that evening, the children found me and insisted I change into my costume because, "They want you to perform tonight". I thought the children were playing some sort of game in an effort to be sure I would be at the party. Realizing, I was not taking them seriously, Javier rushed to the boat dock and returned with a tall, smiling woman in her 50's. She asked if I was Daleela and then proceeded to invite me to perform that evening for their big event at the lodge. She explained that her son Javier and the other children were so enticed by this type of dance they couldn't stop talking about it. I had no idea I had a nine-year-old manager, I joked.
Dancing that night, in the middle of the rain forest, in a screened in lodge, to keep the mosquitoes out, overlooking the beautiful Tortuguero River was one of the most invigorating experiences of my life. Though shy, this Latin American audience was very appreciative. I spotted Javier several times, and each time he cheered me on with his charming smile. The other children were standing outside watching through the screen, moving their little bodies to the enchanting Mid East rhythms. I smiled at the humor in the situation. I was dancing Middle Eastern Dance for a Latin American audience in the middle of the rain forest! But, sadly, I could not find Isabo. Nonetheless, the evening ended as beautifully as it had begun with Javier's mother bestowing my husband and I with several nice gifts to demonstrate her appreciation.
The next day was our last, I looked for Isabo but to no avail. I finally found Javier. He told me her father had angrily pulled her away just as I had begun my dance, and then had dragged her back crying to their village. Saddened, I asked Javier to give Isabo the message that I thought she had danced with heart and had much talent. I asked him to bid her farewell for me. He promised he would and we hugged goodbye.
I can only surmise that Isabo's father, lacking the understanding of the dance his daughter possesses had disapproved of her strong attraction to belly dancing. I remembered my own father's disapproval. Maybe one day this dance will be understood as the art form it is. But whether this ever comes to pass, I will continue to joyfully dance in any jungle, desert, cave or mountain where this mysterious dance is honored by others. I hope in my heart little Isabo will one day do the same.