As a trained Broadcast Journalist I used to be laughed at in the media industry for my bellydancing past (and little did they know my bellydance present and future) because why would such a serious career in journalism be associated with someone who earned most of their living by shimmying on a Saturday night?
But little did they know that this laughable bellydancer-cum-budding-journalist had discovered a power far beyond any news agenda… a hidden weapon… a real passion for women, community and movement. And ironically, it was my career as a bellydancer that got me into journalism in the first place as it allowed me to experience people, places and most of all access communities with seldom heard voices. It also financially enabled me to study, bring up a baby at the start of my career and most of all bellydancing eased some of my symptoms of living with a range of mental health problems.
Why start to bellydance?
I started bellydancing aged 14 when I spotted a group of women dancing at my local park’s multicultural festival in Pitsmoor, Sheffield. I had tried lots of dance and drama classes and struggled to “fit in” especially in the dance world of prima ballerina types. I was curvy, mixed race, from a poor area and as someone who is dyspraxic I struggle to pick up dance routines. But what I did have was a passion for moving, dancing and performing. And when I was allowed to lose myself in music without the constraints of learning lines or complex choreography… I could be free.
So I plucked up the courage to join the group at bellydance classes in my local church hall. It was so welcoming with all ages, all backgrounds and all abilities… just women dancing together. Some wore shimmy belts with bra coin encrusted tops whilst others turned up in baggy trouser or gym wear. Everyone could just dress and be who they were. There was no ‘one size’ or ‘one type’ of person that looked ‘most ideal.’
The beauty of dance is when it comes from the heart and the energy of the music and movement flows through you. That’s true power. True beauty.
How does bellydance help your mental health?
Not only has bellydance helped how I view my body over the years. Don’t get me wrong, I have struggled from eating disorders and low self esteem from childhood, so bellydance hasn’t evaporated everything but it does help me to have periods of time and moments where I am free from all those shackles put on me by my mental illness or by society.
Obviously any exercise and movement is great for your physical and mental wellbeing by releasing endorphins and helping ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. But dance, and for me bellydance, goes even further. It helps me to express myself, it has healing powers and comes from the heart. It thrives off individuality. There are no right or wrongs, just a freedom in this art form.
Also, I truly believe in the Five Ways to Wellbeing which are; Connect, Be Active, Keep Learning, Give To Others and Be Mindful. And for me bellydance touches on every step. It gives you a community of women to dance/socialise with, it keeps you active, you are always learning and growing in dance, you give by teaching and performing and I am mindful when I am moving.
I am not saying bellydance has ‘cured’ my Anxiety and Depression but it can ease a lot of the symptoms and make things more manageable. Especially on days where I really don’t feel like dancing. Even if I just do a little bit, I feel so much better in myself.
Bellydancing has also helped me to become even more comfortable in my own skin. It has stuck with me through bouts of illness, it helped me during labour/giving birth, it has been with me when I have had my happiest times and my most challenging times. It gives me a real sense of power as a woman.
So as International Women’s Day 2020 is coming up… I am chuffed to be leading a bellydance workshop for women in a #LiveYourBestLife afternoon which is part of #SheFest2020.
SheFest is a not-for-profit organisation made up of volunteers which champions women’s rights and gender equality through a range of inclusive events, activities, workshops, film screenings and more across South Yorkshire.
With a feminist fringe festival made up of ten days of inclusive events in celebration of International Women’s Day (March 8th).
I will be bellydancing alongside the fabulos #LiveYourBestLife creators for a special afternoon to celebrate IWD in Barnsley.
Author and award winning blogger Katie Portman and renowned life coach Lisa Walker are hosting three hours of workshops designed to make you feel fantastic and inspired. From yoga to me leading belly dancing, confidence building to learning to love yourself, there will be something for everyone.
A special interactive exhibition will celebrate local women, there will be a market place to browse at your leisure and even an exciting visit from the UK’s first body positivity bus, The Anti Diet Riot Club.
You can book your tickets here: https://events.ticketsforgood.co.uk/events/1778-shefest-2020-liveyourbestlife-an-iwd-celebration
The Ticket price includes access to all workshops.
And here’s the full SheFest brochure: