(Photo provided by Laura Seymour)
Years ago in Edmonton I started something that’s literally changed my life – teaching belly dance. I’ve met a variety of women – most of them pretty dynamic. They’ve been interested in doing something with their body that doesn’t involve hearing: “and four more, three more, two and: eight more” (What happens to “one” more?).
My favourite story is of Amity, my best friend, who I met in one set of classes. She was a bubbly kid not even twenty, and she forgets my age to boot, so I’m forever saying “wrinkles come early in our family.” Amity has remembered and applied every lesson in the most creative ways imaginable: she won the highest price in history at a university auction after doing a Turkish Drop for the crowd (a killer move!). Amity has had more dates than any woman I know just by going to a bar, ignoring the men and doing some dancing! POW! “Hi my name is:” Every time.
In case some of you think all this attention was just because Amity was slim and young, think again. My next favourite story happened to a 15 year old, 300-pound girl who said she wanted to get into shape to dance at her cousin’s big, Italian wedding. She said her male cousins would be watching her slimmer relations and she wanted some of the spotlight. She had very little technique, but mammoth heart and determination. She attended that wedding only a few pounds lighter and wowed every man in there. No, she didn’t wear a dance costume, just a respectable gown (For some reason, everyone asks if they have to wear an I Dream of Jeannie costume while looking worried!). Egad! No.
Other women, such as my student who chose the name “?Masitah’, have told me of feeling called to this work – as if they have walked this path before. I relish having these women as my students. Masitah was energized and gifted. She picked up the steps in jig time and was geared toward practicing regularly. I’d get plenty of feedback from her if she didn’t figure out a move, and lord only knows that doesn’t happen all the time! She had the gift of a gorgeous body and always said that belly dancing is perfect for a diva!
Divas should find that this is indeed the best possible work for them. The crowd dribbles and drools, marriages perk up, weight comes off, and suddenly you have the waist you’ve wanted half your life! Masitah is the only student I’ve had who has decided to make dancing an occupation. My student has blossomed into a multicolour-costumed, creative dancer who wows!
The music I pick is usually traditionally based but kicked up into modern rhythms. Some of my students ignore my comment, “If you hear some music you like, just let me know.” Then three weeks later I hear, “What was that song you played the first week a little while in?” Yikes! Speak up when it hits you, me dearies! I always want to get them the artist they like or the style of music they want.
It’s important to say that I have had some baffling students as well, like a ninety-year-old, feisty woman who said her husband would sit at home and ask, “Are you going out again?“ She’d snap, “Yes I AM.” Then he’d ask where she was going: Well!
The reaction from Belly Dance class must have been priceless! She kept up with girls who were eighteen-years-old and left some of the forty-year-olds behind. Those girls said later that they idolized the woman! Everyone wanted to be her when they got to her age! She had no cane, hearing aids or grey curls. She wore modern, youthful clothes and had goals. We adored her.
A couple of other cases should be mentioned. A woman with seriously advanced arthritis and another with breast cancer attended. Both of them expressed interest in life. Both of them were suffering dreadfully. The woman with arthritis had her toes and fingers fused from the advanced stage of the disease. She was in pain when she walked. “I feel better after I exercise, though” she informed me. The breast cancer victim had gone through two surgeries and plenty of worry. I was glad she was attacking the disease from a number of fronts. She kept her blood moving with exercise (and also fought depression with it), did as her Oncologist told her and saw a naturopathic doctor for help. Both inspired me that those with imperfect health can also dance the “dance of life”.
The dance of life gets its name from the meanings behind the dance. It has many marked phases. There is life in general, sexual intercourse, birth, and death. Some dancers attempt to show each phase but many work with restrictions imposed on them by their heritage. For instance, in Egypt it is considered “wrong” for a dancer to do floor work: she is treated as a goddess and so she should not lower herself beneath the people.
Whenever I get down from life’s little stinky moments, I remind myself of these remarkable women, and some of the things they’ve commented to me. So many of them thought I made the “dance look so easy” or have remarked “it’s a more difficult move than I thought!”
Masitah is still the only one who has fully bloomed from student to dancer. She’s getting married in February. I wish her the best of happiness:and that her career is exceptional!
Laura Seymour first published herself, at age 8. She has since gone on to publish a cookbook for the medical condition of Candida. She is working toward her B.A. (Psyc).