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Belly Dance

Inspiring Stories of Resilience and Solidarity

Charity hafla

I am writing this post, as I have recently come across some inspiring stories related to belly dancing, in which this dance is used to overcome adversities, to help in the healing process, or to help others. Ever since I have been involved in the belly dance community, I have become aware of how this dance has helped its practitioners become more confident as persons, as well as providing a diversion from life’s every day problems and been an opportunity also for camaraderie. Other dance forms (and other hobbies) can provide this outlet too, but I find that belly dancing provides a combination of confidence boosting feeling, camaraderie, positive energy and joy, which, put together, is typical of this dance genre.

There may be many reasons why this may be. Maybe because this dance originates as a social activity and is connected with happy events, such as weddings and celebrations. Maybe it has to do with the fact that belly dance is a pretty inclusive dance type, in terms of body shapes. Or perhaps it is the movements themselves that feel so natural, liberating and ‘healing’. Different people may give different explanations and I would love to hear from you, to know what you think about this and what this dance form has given you.

With regards to my own experience, I can tell you that practising this dance has given me a lot of confidence throughout my life. Bellydance has also helped me find motivation during hard times in my life. With this post, I hope to inspire you and show that there is a lot more to belly dancing than meets the eye!

Physical Limitations and Dance

In the belly dancing community, I have come across very inspiring stories of dancers who have kept on dancing, despite physical mobility issues. Belly dancers are not the only ones who challenge the established notion of what a dancer’s body can or cannot do. For example, the British contemporary dance company Candoco involves disabled and non-disabled dancers, dancing together. However, I have noticed that, in general, belly dancers are particularly strong minded people and this shows in the personal stories of some of them when dealing with physical disabilities.

A great example of resilience and strength is that of the British dancer Tracey Jones. Tracey is a very accomplished dancer, who has travelled to Egypt several times for training, has studied raqs sharqi for several years at high level and is a great teacher. As she mentions on her website, she lost her left leg below the knee in a road accident in 2007. However, since then, she has managed to return to dancing with a high ability level, using a prosthesis. Tracey is interested in the healing powers of dance and is currently studying for an MA in Dance Movement Psychotherapy with Dance Voice in Bristol.

Tracey Jones performing an oriental piece:

Another inspiring story is that of Angie Johnson, who underwent back surgery at Ipswich Hospital, in 2000 and, after rehabilitation, she joined belly dance classes in her 60s (it is never too late to take up dancing!), together with her daughters. This dance form has helped her in the rehabilitation process. Belly dancing also helped Angie raise money for Ipswich Hospital through a fund raising dance event. Angie felt that she wanted to give something back to the hospital, after the treatment she had received, so she organised a belly dancing night, which raised money for a new bladder scanner in A&E.

With regards to dancing in a wheelchair, I have found a blog post by Casey, from the USA, who was a semi professional belly dancer. Her blog post is about her experience of dancing on a wheel chair for the first time. I do not know if Casey is currently belly dancing, as this blog post is from 2012, but it is inspiring nevertheless.

Scoliosis and Back Pain

Another issue that I have come across a few times with regards to belly dancing is dealing with scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine to the side. The examples I give below are in no way meant to suggest that this dance genre can cure scoliosis and you should always refer to a doctor for advice. However, these are interesting stories and you may want to contact me or comment below, if you would like to share your experience.

I, for one, was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of ten and had to wear a corset for two years, after the diagnosis. I was lucky, as sometimes scoliosis is so serious that it requires surgery, but I think that the corset stopped the further development of the scoliosis. In any case the doctor, at the time, told me that  I would suffer from back pain later in life, in my thirties, and that it was inevitable. When I turned thirty, I started feeling stiffness in my lower back and a bit of soreness. However, as soon as I started belly dancing, when I was 31, any feeling of soreness and stiffness from my lower back disappeared and I was fine ever since. Before practising bellydance, I was already physically active and I was practising activities such as yoga and pilates (which I still practise). However, none of these activities helped with my lower back. It was only with belly dance that the lower back stiffness and soreness disappeared.

I have heard other stories of dancer with scoliosis, for whom belly dancing has helped and who have achieved high levels of fitness. For example, Aruna from Philadelphia, was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 12. She later became a fitness consultant and, eventually, a professional belly dancer after she discovered this dance. Fen Clarke, from Bristol, UK, is another dancer who was diagnosed with scoliosis as a teenager and who was initially in a lot of pain because of her condition. She says that, since she started belly dancing, the pain has gone and she has become much stronger. You can read the whole article about Fen in the Bristol Post website.

Fighting against Cancer

According to a scientific article about oncology (Szalai et al, 2015), belly dancing is a useful tool in the rehabilitation of female patients with malignancies. Certainly it has been useful for Yvette Cowles, a UK based belly dancer, who has been fighting against breast cancer for years and for whom dancing has been a medicine for her soul and who has found great support in her belly dancing friends. Yvette has written a book about her story (see in the resources section below) and she has helped others in various ways. From teaching belly dancing to cancer patients for Cancerkin, to organising shows for charity, such as Sequins on my Balcony, a show that has been on tour in many places, including Morocco, where it raised money for a Moroccan education charity.

Another dancer who has used belly dance as a tool for her fight against breast cancer is Joy Johnston, from Olympia, USA. Joy too has decided to help her community through dance, by organising a show for the Healing Garden planned for Providence St. Peter Hospital. This will be a garden on the rooftop of the hospital, for inpatients and staff to have a break and get in touch with nature.

Hafla for Tenovus

Charity

As already seen from the inspiring stories I have mentioned so far, raising money for charity and giving back to the community is a big part of being involved in belly dance. After all, many haflas all over the world are organised in order to raise money for charity. Charities of choice can be many, including cancer charities or charities for women.

Worth mentioning is the World Bellydance Day, founded by Lydia Tzigane in Dubai. The first instance took place in 2007 and it continued taking place every year since, on the second Sunday of May. During the World Bellydance Day, belly dancers anywhere around the world organise activities to raise money for a charity of their choice. It is a great excuse for all of you dance lovers to start planning exciting and inspiring events!

A particular charity that was started by belly dancers is Just Because. The idea started when Sara Farouk, a dancer from the UK but who has been living many years in Cairo, Egypt, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Other dancers raised money to pay for her cure and she eventually got better. This fund raising activity gave others the idea of continuing to raise money to help women in Egypt who fight against breast cancer. As Sara lives in Egypt, she came to realise how difficult it is to find good care in Egypt and many women there cannot afford to travel abroad. As Egypt is one of the countries of origin of belly dance, and certainly the country of origin of a style that many belly dancers love, it was only natural wanting to help women in that country. If you would like to organise an event for Just Because, you can contact them through the details available on the charity’s website.

As you can see, belly dancing can be very inspiring in a lot of ways and for many different reasons. I hope you enjoyed this post and I would love to hear from you if you have any ideas, or you would like to tell your stories, so please feel free to leave your comments!

Further Resources and Links

Academic References

Ehrich, Lisa. 2010. ” Shall We Dance? The Story of the Radiance Dance Project.”  Australian Journal of Adult Learning 50 (2):239-259.

Szalai, Márta, Bernadett Lévay, Anna Szirmai, István Papp, Viktória Prémusz, and József Bódis. “A clinical study to assess the efficacy of belly dancing as a tool for rehabilitation in female patients with malignancies.”  European Journal of Oncology Nursing 19 (1):60-65. doi: 10.1016/j.ejon.2014.07.009.

Whatley, Sarah. 2007. “Dance and disability: the dancer, the viewer and the presumption of difference.”  Research in Dance Education 8 (1):5-25. doi: 10.1080/14647890701272639.

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2 thoughts on “Inspiring Stories of Resilience and Solidarity

  1. Brooke Prim

    What a great article! I have also struggled with a lot of physical issues while continuing to belly dance as much as I am able. I have severe Crohn’s disease and have had many surgeries due to that. I have an ileostomy and a severe abdominal hernia (permanent!) but I keep dancing. I also deal with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, vertigo, pulmonary problems, and arthritis, all related to my auto-immune condition. Belly dance has helped keep me active, reduced stress, brought me joy, helped me heal after surgeries, and kept my muscles stronger so the hernia progresses more slowly. I hope I can inspire others to continue to do what brings them joy as well, because that in itself is healing. Thank you for the article and this opportunity to share! 🙂

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