The body remembers: Belly dancing after trauma
I began belly dancing at the age of sixteen. My mother brought me along to her class; I was thrilled to be welcomed into a group of women united by the joy of belly dance. Truthfully, I was in awe of my classmates from the sassy rebels the glamorous cabaret types. It did me a lot of good to see beauty and self acceptance modeled in my classmates. My teacher taught us to remember how beautiful we were with every step. I was a young woman then, battling depression as I came to terms with my teenage hormones. I thought it was a phase I had no idea that just three years later, I’d have what was termed a psychotic breakdown and hospitalized.
I didn’t dance during my twenties. The freedom of twirling with a veil soaring in the breeze, the shimmering of coins on a hip belt, I could remember how that felt. But years of hospital admissions and psychiatric medication caused my body to balloon. The side effects made me lose my hair, lactate, acne covered my back. In three months I gained three dress sizes. I was too busy mourning my hopes and dreams to think about how I looked. I was angry with my body, with my mind; the last thing I wanted to do was be kind to myself. I put the coin belts away and sold my beledi dress. I wasn’t the beauty I thought I’d become.
I made a recovery. Fortunately, therapists helped me untangle the roots of my illness; I had endured abuse as a child. It took patience with myself. The pain softened as I began to find safety in my own skin. Gradually I could reduce the medication, working on fitness and nutrition helped to stabilize my mood. My body is thirty-something now and it has been through so much suffering. The cute beledi dress I wore as a teen wouldn’t fit me now. I still struggle with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yet when I found the courage last year to take a belly dance class, my feet found the familiar steps that had stayed with me all along. I felt free. I felt beautiful.
These days I dance every day. It is healing for me. I am not alone when I cry, Umm Kulthoum songs soothing me. My teacher encourages me to dance through my emotions rather than putting on a happy face. When I get on stage in rainbow circle skirts with my fan veils; I send the audience joy, my joy at being alive to dance for them. I want to say, hey I survived, we can do this, life is so good when you are free! I’d be lying if I wasn’t self conscious of being overweight–though I am fit and healthy, I am not the slender shape I often see around me. I haven’t shed the medication weight. Somehow that self consciousness is fading. The more I dance, the more I feel connected to my body as it is and as it was, when I was a young girl just discovering a shimmy inside herself. I believe that the body remembers our joy as well as our pain. The body can do miraculous things in the midst of horror and loss. It has so much to tell us if we are willing to be kind to ourselves. I believe that our bodies remain beautiful no matter what happens to us.
Heather Jayne is a dancer from West Yorkshire, England. An enthusiastic and eternal beginner who loves to dance Oriental Egyptian choreography, cover costumes with sequins, cheer on her friends and dance with giggling gusto!