Dancing In the Darkness
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You can still be a fun and great performer with a mental illness. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
On the cover:
The Snake Charmer
The Snake Charmer by Daniel Romanovsky: Form Language Studio. "I was going for the Orientalist look with this one." Snake charming is the practice of pretending to hypnotize a snake by playing an instrument called pungi or bansuri. A typical performance may also include handling the snakes or performing other seemingly dangerous acts, as well as other street performance staples, like juggling and sleight of hand. (Link) ©2016 Form Language Studio
Bellydance and Mental Illness
Oh, and I am Bipolar. I actually have Bipolar II, which is more depression than mania. I also have a severe anxiety disorder.
Why am I telling you this when I could be telling you about the fun adventures I have had as a traveling Snake Charmer and Belly Dancer? It’s simple really; you can still be a fun and great performer with a mental illness. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. And, well, the struggle is real.
I have had depression and anxiety since I was in my teens, but I did not get diagnosed with Bipolar until this year. It explained A LOT!
For starters, it explained the almost overpowering feeling of anxiety ALL THE TIME. Naturally, I get nervous before shows. I don’t think there is a dancer out there who doesn’t. But my anxiety would be much worse. Sometimes it was even hard to perform. And unfortunately, there were times when I was supposed to perform at local hafli’s and I couldn’t even walk out the door. It was embarrassing. The hardest part was explaining to the event coordinator that I couldn’t perform because I was having anxiety. I am sure some of them thought it was a cop out. Or even worse, that I was full of it!
There were also times, when I would be booked for a private event, and I would be in such a dark depression that I would have to put on the most fake of smiles and “pretend” that I was the happiest person in the world. My act was so good the audience never noticed. They never felt the darkness flooding my soul. Behind the glitter and makeup and behind the pretty costume – I was dying inside.
My snakes were my buffer during those times. They were my slithering barriers between me and my audience. It made chatting after shows easier. It was never “talk about Zehara”---it was “talk about Zehara’s snakes.” That was fine by me. If I didn’t perform with them I would go back to the dressing room and change out of costume faster than Clark Kent. Anything to avoid staying longer than I needed-----than I wanted.
Of course my close friends in the community knew my struggle and understood. The ones that didn’t just assumed that I was either a snob or making up excuses about things. In any case, I pushed on.
But Bipolar isn’t all bad. In fact, when I do have those fleeting moments of mania—the part where your brain is firing off so many neurons that you feel like you can conquer the world---it’s when I am the most creative. I see things and hear things so differently. Without my illness, I wouldn’t be who I am. I wouldn’t be able to create the choreography I do, or produce the types of events I do. My illness makes me a better dancer. It makes me more creative and it makes me push myself. At the end of every performance or event-I can say "I did it," even when I thought it would be impossible.
Being in therapy and getting a proper diagnosis does make a major difference. Yes, I will always have horrible bouts of depression and my anxiety will never go away. My illness will always be with me. But I am a better person for it. I am also a better performer and most of all a better teacher. I have several students in the past who have a mental illness but always felt they had to be ashamed or hide it. Belly Dance helped them channel their illness into something creative. I am very open about being Bipolar, and because of that my students who have a mental illness are comfortable being around me.
It’s okay to have a mental illness. And it’s okay to be a professional dancer with one. Sure there will be times when its struggle to toss of your costume and make yourself feel pretty—even though you feel far from it. You don’t always have to be on your game. The fact that you got yourself all dolled up and gave it your best—even when you aren’t feeling your best—that’s the most important part. You got this!
Zehara Nachash, Contributor: Originally from Boston, MA and now residing in Flagstaff, AZ, Zehara Nachash is a celebrated performer, teacher and choreographer. For over ten years, Zehara performed in New England as "Boston's Resident Snake Charmer (Boston Globe 2005) with her snakes Kaala, Pleiades, Salkaiyera, Bella, Wynter and Denali. Zehara has studied Turkish and Egyptian styles of Belly Dance as well as other dance styles ranging from Russian Romany dance to African. Zehara performed in countless shows in a wide array... (more...)