From Caterpillar to Butterfly.
My journey with dance has been a life altering one, to say the least.
I began to dance when I was 20 years old, after having lived abroad for nearly a year in the sub-continent of India. The return to my homeland (California, USA) was one wrought with intense reverse culture shock. I had become accustomed to facing another kind of life day after day the return to western civilization left me unable to relate to people with a deep sense of loneliness, hence ensued a period of prolonged depression.
Immersion in dance is not only what pulled me out of that depression, but also what began to propel me forward in life. My physical body started to transform in ways it never had before, I was becoming strong, fit, and dare I say – sexy! More than that though, my psyche, my heart and my overall being had evolved into something entirely new. For the first time in my life I felt, well, fulfilled.
I know I am not alone in this experience. Having moved from the stages of student to novice dancer to professional dancer and teacher, I’ve bore witness to a full spectrum of experiences within myself and also with others. Time and time again students have told me how dance has changed their lives in the most positive ways. I suppose inquiring minds might like to know – how?
Dance isn’t merely a sequencing of steps and technique, although that is an important part of the process. Learning to dance is challenging and rewarding. Going from being “pato” as they like to say in Spanish (literally from moving like a duck) to cleanly isolating distinct body parts (an important process in Bellydance) is rewarding. But beyond that, there is a sense of community that exists, that I believe is especially strong in Bellydance. Individual dancers who are coming together to learn, to sweat, struggle, expand and perform are all sharing in the euphoria of expression through movement.
Bellydance in the dictionary is defined as: a sensuous and provocative dance of Middle Eastern origin, performed by women, with undulating movements of the hips and abdomen. Ok, yes, this is true in short. However if you ask me what Bellydance means to me on a personal level my answer would be something more like the freedom of self-expression through movement set to music. This is not to take away the cultural significance of the Middle Eastern origins of the dance. As an Arab American, the cultural context of the art and music is indeed vital to the interpretation of the art. What I mean to say with my broader definition is that the love for Bellydance as an art is universal. Anyone who is embedded in the dance knows that we are a global community and Bellydance knows no boarders, physical or cultural. Beyond the sequencing of steps and technique, dance is an expression of feeling and of life itself. As Martha Graham said “The body says what words cannot”.
Joy, Love, Pain, Loss, Sorrow are all sentiments that can be digested and processed through the medium of dance and therefore it has become a vehicle for many to move through the motions of life.
I think of my own experience in dance as that of a caterpillar who has morphed into a butterfly. It is Bellydance that helped me find my inner beauty and shed the layers of doubt, insecurity and self loathing that plagued me to evolve into a being that freely expresses it’s beauty and glory. There’s no “it’s too late for me to start dancing now” – we are divine beings and it is our birthright to be creative, expressive and happy. I encourage anyone intrigued by dance to dive headfirst into its waters. There will be rough currents as you go through the motions of understanding your body and it’s stubbornness in acquiring certain skills, but as you make your way deeper into the waters you will find a vast ocean filled with life and endless discovery!