Healing through belly dance
I’ve been wrestling with whether or not I want to write about this topic for a while now. Several things have happened in the last month or so that have helped me realize I don’t want to write about this, but I absolutely need to write about this. This series of domino topples started with a fairly ordinary question posed to me by a friend: “What do you like best about belly dance?” I’ve been asked that before and my answer varies sometimes, but is usually along the lines of: “It helps with my body image,” “I love the sisterhood of it,” “It’s so much fun.” And all those things are true. But this time, for reasons only the universe knows, a different answer bubbled to the surface. An answer that’s more true for me than any of the other reasons–I just never realized it before. Until that moment, I don’t think I had the words to articulate a feeling that had been there all along.
What do I like best about belly dance? It has helped me feel more whole, more healed, and more my true self than I have felt at any point since being sexually assaulted.
I don’t say that out loud very often: I’m a sexual assault survivor. I’ve talked around it. I’ve made an experimental film about it. I’ve channeled the grief and guilt and pain of it into acting performances, dance performances and screenplays. But words are powerful and somehow saying it out loud makes it more…real. I’ve thrown myself into things that are supposed to help in the healing process: activism, counseling, prayer. And those things have helped and I don’t want to minimize that, but in terms of reclaiming my body and the positivity I deserve to feel about it, nothing has helped me more than belly dance. Nothing else connected with my soul in such a way that I felt permission to not just move past the blame I placed on myself, but to be proud of myself for getting through it. I’ve spent many years beating myself up for the way I handled things. Hating myself for feeling guilty. Hating myself for not picking up on signs I felt I should have noticed. Hating myself for not reporting the crime. Hating myself for not telling anyone for so damn long. Hating myself for hating myself. All this negativity centered on me. Some days it wasn’t so bad. Other days it was oppressive. But even on days when I felt like I was fine, I really wasn’t fine. I knew in my head what I was supposed to feel and think about what was done to me. But the fact was, I blamed myself anyway. And, until recently, I wasn’t able to let that go.
I don’t know if I could explain why belly dance has acted as a balm to my soul. I don’t know if it would be as helpful to other sexual assault survivors. But the act of learning to dance in a way that is so wholly feminine has triggered a healing process that began so very long ago but could never quite reach completion. I still have hard days. I don’t think that will ever go away. But I don’t blame myself anymore. And, as I write this, I realize it’s because belly dance has helped me love myself again. And because of that, I can heal. Because of that, I can be whole.