A while back, I casually mentioned that I belly danced. It’s one of those things, like running, or this blog, that keep me sane amidst the craziness of the day-to-day. But in a way different from running or writing this blog, dancing has been a mainstay throughout my life, and something about the music, the movement of the body, the challenge and difficulty of certain choreographies, that has always kept my mind engaged, my blood circulating, and my heart happy.
Despite all that I love about dance, I’ve been out of the studio lately. I think all that happened a few months ago became an overarching excuse to not do things that I normally made me happy. It’s an odd human quirk that we like to stay unhappy, even if for a little while, while we mend our hearts. For that matter, I haven’t run in a couple of months, either. But last night i jumped right back into it and I am so glad that I did. I came home with a sense of elation that I had not felt in a long time. I felt just a little more back to myself.
Now let me rewind a bit and tell you about how the unlikely activity of belly dancing just about saved my life. All of us, from time to time, face some pretty tough challenges, and sometimes these can even seem insurmountable. That was where I was at three years ago. Without getting into too much detail, in just one short year I nearly lost my daughter to illness, endured an untenable home life where constant intimidation was the norm, and after finally separating, spent months quite literally fearing for my life. I had lost the strength that I though I always had, and was on the precipice of becoming an angry and bitter woman, afraid and completely unable to trust. I realized just how easy it was to carry anger around like a dead weight, and how quickly things like fear and bitterness became excuses to stop living. I focused singularly on my daughter, and really risked losing everything else that I was.
Thankfully, I realized this was happening and I made a conscious attempt to fight against the easiness of anger. It was a decidedly slow process that often felt like an exercise in futility, but at least simply trying made me feel as if I wasn’t drowning anymore. I began running, and the sheer physicality of the act helped enormously. I went from being someone who couldn’t run ten feet to running six races that first year. I was stronger, and it was helping, but there was one thing that was not changing, and that was my alienation from my body, from seeing myself as someone with a physical nature and desires. I think when we go through such traumatic experiences, our brain somehow short-circuits and, at least in my case, I was left completely incapable of expressing or receiving physical affection with another adult, and I have to admit that I had no idea how to fix it. Then one day, while running, I decided to go back to dancing.
I’d danced most of my life, at least through my childhood and adolescence. It was mostly ballet, and at 38 I was clearly too old to re-attempt that, and then it hit me, I’d belly dance! I’d always loved the dance, and the music was always so mesmerizing and beautiful, and the dancers always appeared so in control and in possession of their bodies, of their femininity, of their sexuality. It turned out to be the right decision.
Two days later I attended my first class. I walked in a nervous wreck, feeling out of place and way too old and tired, but as soon as the music started and the drills began, I can say with no hyperbole that the change was nearly instantaneous. There was a nearly audible “click” as my mind reconnected with my body, and over the days and weeks of dancing, I really started feeling like my old self, maybe even better. That strength that I thought that I had lost, I found again, the anger and bitterness melted away in the hours in the studio, and that happiness that I had remained elusive came back in full force with the music. I felt like a woman again; a strong, happy, woman, back in control of myself and my life.
After two years of really being numb to the beauty and magic in the world around me, I stepped out of the studio that first day with my eyes and heart open again, and it hasn’t abated since. And last night as I walked out into the parking lot with my daughter holding my hand, those feelings were renewed; I felt unstoppable. The stars seemed brighter, that just-passed-quarter moon looked breathtaking, and I felt like anything was possible.
So here’s to dance, to music, and to movement… and to never forgetting about all the joy and beauty that the world offers us. Keep dancing!