I was insanely busy when I was in college. I was studying two rigorous majors, teaching classes to support myself and for my own enjoyment, and studying one day a week at The Jewish Statesmanship Center just for fun. With whatever time was left, I went on dates and forged relationships, some of which lasted two weeks and some that disintegrated that same night in the freezing air of Mount Scopus. Those were hectic and wonderful years. It’s fun to be busy, fun to feel satisfaction and fill your day with dozens of tightly packed tasks that influence you and those around you.
There was one problem. Every Saturday afternoon, I would suddenly feel nauseous and get a headache that sent me straight to bed for the night, sometimes even for the day after too. At first, I didn’t realize that this repeated itself every week, but then I noticed that if I didn’t teach a class that week (meaning: I was too busy), it would hit me like clockwork right at the end of noontime nap time, even if I didn’t take a nap.
I understood that the whole thing was psychosomatic, and I tried to explain to my body that I didn’t have time for its shenanigans and that I can’t stand nausea. When that didn’t help, I contacted a well-known acupuncturist. “What do you do?” he asked me. “I’m in college, and I also work. Oh, and I also work at another place.” “Where?” he asked. “At the other school where I study on my day off.” The acupuncturist touched my perpetually stiff shoulders and said that if I wanted my body to stop crashing every time I gave it a moment to relax, I had to add to my schedule something just for me. Something to release the pressure of the school-work-dates cycle.
That’s how I got into Middle Eastern dance. Yes, belly dancing. I attended the first class apprehensively, watching the women dancing, their bodies loose and relaxed. I assumed that they must be dancing for at least five years already, because their movements were so beautiful and so far from anything I could do. Only after the class, I discovered that they were all first year participants at the studio. They promised me that if I opened myself up to it, I would also be able to dance like that pretty quickly. I danced at the studio on a regular basis for two years. Those were two years during which something in my mindset relaxed. I opened up; I released my shoulders and released my pressure regarding various tasks. I could look at the world through different eyes, which also affected my attitude toward the stressful world of dating and helped me find a partner who was very different than the picture I had in my head.
As someone who always takes a lot of weight onto her shoulders, whether they are loose or tense, I decided that I needed to share this treasure with others. Despite my advanced stage of pregnancy, I signed up for a dance teachers course, which I continued to attend even with a three week old baby in a carrycot at my side. The time went by. I studied a bit of anatomy, different dance styles, a bit about teaching and mainly, I simply learned to dance. I knew that one day I would do something with it, even though I didn’t know exactly what that would be. I wanted other women to experience what I had felt, even if they didn’t go to a studio every week to dance.
I didn’t always practice throughout the years. I didn’t dance on a regular basis. But all the same, as time went by and became filled with motherhood, married life and random thoughts and questions about life, my dancing improved. Every time I went back to it, I was amazed to find myself a bit freer, a bit less concerned about what I looked like to others and what people were thinking of me.
This year, while looking for work, I decided to do something with my dancing. Although I had taught classes in the past, they hadn’t been what I really had in mind. I sat and thought about the message that I wanted to convey to women and how to fit it into an hour of dancing. The goal that I placed before me was to convey to women that they are beautiful however they look, that they and their bodies are one, and that they should let their bodies do what it knows how to do. I wanted to tell each woman that if she lets herself dance in the middle of the circle, it’s not embarrassing – it’s fulfilling and empowering. I wanted to allow the other women to love the woman dancing in the middle without judging or criticizing her. I wanted to stop that self-criticism about how imperfect we are, inside or outside, and to simply love what we have. Most of all – I wanted to help women loosen up. To loosen up their arms, their hips and their shoulders. To understand that we’re made up of many different parts, and each part is separate from the others and needs to receive attention.
We can listen to our bodies. We can understand that every movement we make has a far-reaching impact on our bodies. We can control every movement we make and the more aware we are, the better our bodies will function. We can lift heavy things and hurt our backs, or we can strengthen our stomach muscles. We can remember that we are women whose bodies are constantly changing, and we can be attentive to this and to our bodies’ needs.
As I get older, I understand that these ideas are not a given in today’s hectic world, and I remind myself how important it is to talk about them. My pretty hip scarves shine with their inviting gold flashes, reminding me how beautiful and important our femininity is and how fortunate we are to be women. The rich eastern music beats with a rhythm that runs through my body and makes me feel happy about my lessons and about the chance to meet women and girls of all types. I’m grateful to the gypsy or Egyptian women who brought us Middle Eastern dance, and I am glad I can keep it going.