I wrote this probably a year ago. I’ve been lazy and I miss belly dancing so much. Hopefully, I’ll find something in the area soon as online classes are really not the real deal!
“Sometimes in life confusion tends to arise and only dialogue of dance seems to make sense.” – Shah Asad Riz
An Arab party is the kind of gathering where old and young come together to celebrate. It can be a wedding, a graduation or some kind of religious celebration. My family usually tried to make me dance to their Arab tunes which never ended very well. Back then I felt embarrassed to dance in front of random people to music that I didn’t really enjoy. Also – belly dancing – the way that a lot of Arabs dance, didn’t feel quite right to me. I had no access to it yet – really, I just felt embarrassed.
Then something mysterious happened. It was at another wedding. One of the traditional kind where women and men celebrate separately. A lady – big and curvy – danced, completely immersed in herself. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. She was shimmying and swaying her hips intensely. Not to flirt or in any way coquette. There were moments when she had her eyes shut, and she seemed to dance on clouds. It felt therapeutic and out-of-worldly. This touched my inner strings and resonated with me in so many ways. Completely consumed by the music and dancing for yourself, which felt absolutely right.
First came Salsa. Salsa is a form of social dance, and as such, involves a dance partner. It is a lot of fun and I really love the music. It was difficult to get used to being led by a partner. It trains the ability of physical communication. You learn to read where your partner is going and where they want you to go. In response, you apply specific steps to follow them to the rhythm of the music. It is divine to watch couples who have grown up with the rhythm, making it their own. Even though I enjoyed it, I felt like I couldn’t break free within its framework. How can you break free when you are being led?
In 2014, I started my journey with Melissa Bellydance. She is one of the few teachers – if not the only – in London who offers free tasters. Having done acting, dancing and other sports classes, I knew how important the connection to a teacher was for one’s self-development, and to have fun! Melissa is supportive, always positive and encouraging. Belly dancing is sensual. It can be snaky, mind-boggling and it’s always hard work. You use tummy muscles, back muscles and your glutes, but really your whole body is involved. It trains your flexibility, refinement of movement and your mind. Learning with Melissa is always accompanied by learning a routine which is amazing for your brain!
You discover your own beauty, your strength and what makes you stand out as a dancer compared to others. You learn different, isolated motions and repeat them until your body translates them into your own language. No belly dancer looks exactly the same when they perform the same techniques. You learn to push yourself and realise that by repetition your body learns movements that can feel very wrong at the beginning. Change in general feels wrong at the beginning.
In 2015, I joined the Mahira Girls as well – Melissa’s semi-professional dance group. They are strong, positive and supportive women. I felt blessed to be part of it, because it gave me confidence, taught me endurance and a sense of what female support can mean to other women. It was my shelter in a chaotic London where I could completely focus on my own development and beauty. I’m still a student, and after trying so many different things, I feel that the female support is a big contributor to me sticking to it and not giving up. Seeing each other as companions and not competition is the most wonderful experience of unlearning misogyny.