Moving from Strength to Strength
Most of my clients won't be aware of this; I am a certified American Tribal Style® (ATS®) Bellydance Instructor. As a child, I used to dream of growing up to be a ballet dancer. For various reasons, childhood classes didn't really happen but as I approached the end of my 20s I intuitively knew I would one day learn to bellydance. I patiently waited until the right time and when I moved house in my mid-30s, lo and behold, there was a bellydance studio right down the road. Chronically shy and socially awkward as a result of incessant bullying through most of primary school, I thought this would help me to come out of hiding a little and so it was that with both eagerness & trepidation, I signed up for my first term. The teacher was great but I really had a huge amount of trouble moving my body. I felt as if I had about as much grace and elegance as a giraffe on rollerskates! I felt so uncoordinated but I persevered.
By mid-term I'd reached the disappointing conclusion that bellydance just wasn't for me. As beautiful as accomplished bellydancers are, I felt far too vulnerable to be so seductive in public, even in the safety of a class. And as gorgeous as bellydance costumes can be, alas, I'm really not into shiny things or chiffon. I decided to finish the term anyway so I could at least feel I'd given it a decent go, only to find out that as an end of term kind of 'graduation' we were to perform at a Hafla; a public performance where beginner students from a variety of different bellydance studios and classes could perform in a supportive environment.
Excruciatingly self-conscious and scared out of my wits though I was, I felt I needed to do it. Our make-shift costumes only reinforced my self-consciousness and exacerbated my self-doubt and my feelings of embarrassment and shame over who I was and how I looked. I have no other memory of what happened that night except for one thing; that was the night I first saw a Tribal Style Bellydance Tribe and I knew, before they'd even walked out onto the stage, that it was what I wanted to be doing. They were so strong and empowered in a completely different way to other bellydancers I'd seen and not a sequin in sight! Their costuming made them look like warriors! And when they did dance, it was an entirely different experience. I was hooked! A few weeks later I commenced the term with an enthusiasm I'd never had before. I was aching to be able to look and feel that strong and beautiful, to have that amount of empowerment, confidence and self-esteem and eventually, to have the courage to perform. So with dedication and commitment to myself I decided it was time to stop hiding and began to use the dance as a way to encourage myself in developing some confidence. I used the postures and other elements to strengthen myself from the inside out and to chip away at the negative self-perceptions I held that served to undermine myself. In this way, I increased my sense self-esteem, my confidence, my trust in myself and my sense of empowerment. In the process, I taught myself to love and respect myself, replacing my body image issues (skinny girls have issues too) my embarrassment over how I looked and shame over particular body parts and features.
Fast forward to a few years later and I had become a member of the performance group, my passion for this dance lead me to want to teach it to others (which I did with my teacher's blessing and support) and I attended trainings with the creator of this dance to become a certified instructor. In my teaching practice I have endeavoured to support people with self-esteem, body image, age or other negative self-perception issues as they arose. I have done my best to nurture self-esteem and confidence development, creating opportunities through dance for greater self-love, self-acceptance, self-expression and creativity.
My involvement in the bellydance community as a teacher and as a Director of a couple of performance groups has meant I have needed to step out and be empowered. I still have my moments of self-doubt on occasion but I know my self-worth. My self-love and self-esteem are also humbly intact. Opportunities come along to increase all of these qualities in lots of ways and I continue to use dance in that way for myself, as well as for my students if they want support in that. I have been passionate about teaching ATS® and the healing work I do because I believe we can learn to create the life that we want and we can choose to shape ourselves into who we want to be. We can choose to step out of old ways of thinking or being and learn to love ourselves wholly and completely. As well as this, I get to have good fun with people I love and value; I have the honour and pleasure of teaching beautiful people and I love watching their evolution and their dedication in developing themselves in whatever ways they choose. Some people want to dress up and perform, some just want to learn, some have had their creativity inspired, some have become more creative. Members of my performance group, Azwahn tell me their levels of self-esteem have all been increased as a result of learning ATS. I am both moved and encouraged as I proudly watch my students go from strength to glorious strength in this way.