We all find ourselves on a unique dance path, and we all find ourselves here for different reasons. Personally, I grew up wide-eyed, watching my mom practice for her gigs. I played with her veils and coin belts, twirled and copied her moves. I would try on her costumes to see if they would finally fit. I was also a bunhead, a lover of dance in all forms. My favorite way to amuse myself as a young child was to get out my Nutcracker or Riverdance VHS tape and dance just like them. Of course, I was really just running in circles at first. But from the time I could walk, I was in gymnastics, ballet, swimming, you name it. Dance has always been part of my life, and a huge defining point of who I am.
But for many, bellydance is a passion discovered later in life. I love to ask all of my students why they decided to take a class. Many say they saw a dancer at a party 20 years ago and always wanted to try. Some say they want to exercise doing something more fun than running on a treadmill. Others want a community and sisterhood.
But regardless of the reasons why, almost unanimously, at some point or another bellydance will lead you to a personal awakening.
It’s impossible to say exactly why this is, after all, everyone’s experiences are different. I think the mind and body are one and the same. We harbor so much negative emotion in our bodies; offhanded comments hit us in the gut, every discouraging day makes the shoulder slump a little more, every broken heart gets locked away inside the ribcage.
People who move, whether it be ballet, tai chi, or yoga, seem to be more at peace, and more able to let go of the past. But bellydance, in particular, seems to have an amazing ability to help people through emotional issues as a side effect.
I personally think movement allows us to release the pent up emotions, fears, and frustrations. Bellydance moves through such a unique pathway in the body, and the movements are so internalized. To create the movements, dancers must at once be strong and incredibly fluid and relaxed. Tension through the deepest core muscles restricts the motions. Letting go of the control of those muscles, I believe opens a floodgate.
Once we start opening the chest and rolling the shoulders back, confidence can shine through. Working in the hips and pelvic muscles for women is especially emotional. Not only are these muscles pretty neglected through everyday life, but we push down so many feelings, especially those pertaining to sexuality or abuse. Working through the hips can unlock these feelings, and allow us to deal with them. In a way, this may all seem very metaphorical, but I feel that our language is an indication to how our emotions affect our bodies. Expressions like “Push it down,” “lock it away,” “gut feelings,” or “stabbed in the back” are all physical representations of emotional responses. There is more scientific evidence coming out now pertaining to the effects of stress, emotion and abuse on the body. The connection flows both ways too – the mind affects the body and vice-versa. Scientists found that smiling actually improves mood. “Fake it till you make it” seems to actually work. And I think in dance, standing tall and opening the body has a profound effect on the mind and heart.
Sometimes people hit a wall of emotion they didn’t know was there. As a teacher, I often end up being a counselor as well. On more occasions than I can count, especially in private lessons, I’ve had students tear up about something that happened years ago, or experience a revelation about themselves. Dancers will often work through these issues, and then let go. This is an incredibly powerful transformation and one I’m honored to witness and assist with. Dancers can literally blossom in class; they stand taller, their eyes are brighter. Some go on to find the strength to make hard decisions, let go of negative relationships, or take a risk that leads them to a better path. Some transformations are not as dramatic, but I’m proud to say that I see nearly every person who comes through my studio doors leave feeling more confident, feminine, and empowered.
Have you experienced transformaiton through studying dance? How do you use dance to work through hard times in your life? Share with me in the comments!