The healing power of bellydance

Trigger warning: In this article I write about some hard and violent experiences that might be triggering for you.

 

“I’ve been raped!”

“I’ve been raped”. When I was 14 years old, a good friend of mine wrote this in a note and passed it to me. Her pain, shame and feelings of guilt were bigger than her capacity to speak out loud.

“My husband hits me but just the right amount”. This is the sad testimonial I once read in a newspaper. She was the victim of an abusive relationship. There are many other women in similar situations.

“I have cancer. They are going to remove my breasts”. A very common sentence that is heard in any home, across the world.

These are just three examples of very hard and traumatic situations that women all over the world suffer from, just for the mere fact of being women.

The healing power of bellydance

For a reason that has not been scientifically proven yet (I so wish someone could do the research!) bellydance has enormous power to bring back a woman’s self esteem, even when she was not aware she had lost it.

Bellydance for me was also of great help in the past, and it’s still helping me now in the present.

In my 15 year long career as a belly dance teacher, I’ve witnessed amazing transformations in my students:

  • Women that couldn’t even look at themselves in the mirror, who end up proudly showing their bellies in class.
  • Women with agoraphobia who excitedly perform on a stage after years of not being able to get out of their houses.
  • Women who approach me after class to tell me how belly dance has helped them to work on their self-esteem or helped them in their therapeutic process.
  • Women who decided to not kill themselves because they had made a committment to perform with their class mates.

These were women experiencing dreadful traumas who found in belly dance a source of strength, and resources to help them cope with their problems.

After all these years teaching the “general public” and seeing such big transformations, I found Charlotte Desorgher (or she found me, I still don’t know) and I was offered to work on this beautiful project, which is what I wanted to write about today.

Offering free belly dance lessons to women who are recovering from trauma.

We call it Bellydance for Joy!

 

Yes, once a week I go and teach belly dance to women who have recently escaped from abusive ex-partners and violent, life-threatening situations .

According to the professionals  who work with the women, belly dance helps them reconcile with their bodies and with the present moment. A major issue for victims of trauma in general, is the difficulty in staying present: they are usually very worried about the uncertain future or stuck in harrowing memories of the past.

Many of us still need to be reminded that we have the right to enjoy our bodies – to move our bodies with freedom. And this is part of my job, to offer women the chance to enjoy their bodies by teaching them how to belly dance.

Since July 2017, I’ve been involved as a belly dance teacher in this inspirational project, and to this day I wouldn’t trade it for anything else: the satisfaction I feel when I see the women smile, when they giggle learning how to shimmy or to isolate a chest movement, is immense!

This is why I wrote this article and why I always spread the word about this project. I’m convinced that these classes are a breath of fresh air for these women.

Because a world with happy women is a fairer and better world. More dance equals less suffering, that’s simply how it is.

PS If you are curious about my personal story, you can read about it here: How to be a good dancer even if you don’t look like one.

Zahida Palma is a belly dance teacher and dancer, founder of dancepandemic.com, a blog where she shares her visions, articles and tutorials about this beautiful dance form.

 

Please help us continue this inspirational and much needed work by making a donation to Bellydance for Joy – even the smallest amount really does make a difference. Click on the logo to donate

Shimmying up Mount Snowdon!

This week, London bellydancers Saffron Tisserand and Sophia Furber are taking on an amazing feat – they’re climbing Mount Snowdon in bellydance outfits to raise funds for our work! Here Sophia tells us about this remarkable challenge, what inspired her to take it on, how dance can contribute in the recovery from trauma and how YOU can make a difference!

Mount Snowdon: beautiful and majestic Welsh landmark. World famous, thanks to Arthurian legends, its strong winds and for being the second-highest peak in the UK!

What’s that got to do with me or Company of Dreams, you may ask? Well in case you’ve missed the memo, on September 23rd fellow dancer Saffron and I will be braving whatever the Welsh weather throws at us to hike, scramble and shimmy up 1085 metres to the summit of Mount Snowdon. Did I mention we’ll be doing the whole thing in full bellydance costume?!

Go ahead, you can say it: how bonkers?! But the purpose of this sparkly and muddy adventure is to raise funds for Company of Dreams’ project to provide free dance classes for women who have survived slavery and domestic abuse. These lessons aim to bring moments of joy to these women, and to help them with their recovery process. Classes are already running in a women’s refuge, and Company of Dreams aims to start providing them at other locations in the near future. So when I was asked if I’d like to do this rather bonkers challenge, my immediate reaction was a resounding ‘YES’.

And now, we’ll not only be putting on our most glamorous costumes and make-up, plus hiking boots, to make our journey up the misty slopes of Snowdon. We will also be delighting fellow trekkers (and maybe a few surprised sheep) by giving a performance when we get to the summit (also a good way to keep warm!) And since every diva needs her entourage, we’ll have company (and maybe the odd piggyback) from a few friends, including Sean the Sheep, Zorro and a Bavarian maiden.  Check out our GoFundMe page and sponsor our journey.  (THANKS IN ADVANCE!!!)

The sad reality that spurred me to get involved

Some months ago, Charlotte Desorgher, founder and artistic director of Company of Dreams, had told me about her goal to bring bellydance to women recovering from traumatic experiences as part of their healing process, and I felt very strongly that I wanted to get involved in some way.

As we are all increasingly aware, even in 2017, modern-day slavery still exists in the U.K., and according to a report earlier in August from the National Crime Agency (NCA), can be found in virtually every town and city across the country. Previous estimates of 10,000 – 13,000 victims of slavery were “just the tip of the iceberg” according to the NCA, and it could be happening in a street near you. Women are often tricked into coming to this country in the hope of better employment opportunities, but end up being forced to work as prostitutes. Others have been brought over at a young age and put to work as domestic labour, hidden away for years in private homes with never a day off or a kind word.

Domestic abuse is also shockingly widespread in this country, and an estimated one in four women will experience it at one time or other in their lives.

For women who have been through the trauma of slavery and domestic abuse, getting their lives back together and rebuilding their shattered confidence must seem like an almost insurmountable task.

But here’s where dance can play a role. Dance, music, movement and performing arts have all been used extensively to help people to recover from trauma, and studies have shown that (alongside other appropriate medical and social support), these activities can really play an important role in the healing process. Dance is also a fun activity that can help women to take their minds off their troubles, even if only for an hour or two.

 

But why bellydance in particular?

“Firstly, it’s a solo female dance, and that makes it particularly empowering,” Charlotte explained to me. “Secondly, it’s rooted in the body. You’re not trying to escape your body in the same way that you are with ballet, and people of all body types can participate.”

The fact that bellydance is a predominantly female activity tends to create a supportive environment too, according to Charlotte.

Bellydance can also be a particularly powerful way to rebuild self-confidence and a positive body image in women who have suffered abuse:

“In situations of domestic abuse, it’s not just the violence, it’s cruel words. Abusers will often focus on physical characteristics to denigrate their victim. Bellydance can help women to realise that they are still lovely,” Charlotte told me.

I’ve recently become curious about the ways that dance can be used to help people dealing with abuse, trauma and chronic mental and physical health problems, and have been reading a brilliant book called The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, a Dutch psychiatrist known for his work with patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He started out working extensively with Vietnam war veterans in the U.S., who were still plagued by flashbacks, emotional numbness (or difficulty regulating emotions) and deep depression many years after their experiences on the battlefield. He has also worked extensively with people who have been abused as children or had survived sexual abuse and horrendous accidents.

On numerous occasions in the book, Van der Kolk talks about how physical activities such as yoga, pilates, horse-riding, massage and yes – dance – had been beneficial for people who have suffered trauma. These activities can help them to re-connect with their bodies, rebuild confidence and begin the process of breaking the grip that traumatic events still have over their everyday lives.

Bellydance isn’t going to be a magic solution for women who have come through ordeals such as violence at the hands of a partner or trafficking. But it can offer them the satisfaction of picking up a new skill, the joy of moving to upbeat music and the opportunity to let their hair down in a safe environment with other women who have gone through similar experiences.

I’m sure those of us who are bellydancers can remember how good it felt when we first started taking classes. How it made us feel feminine, energised and confident. And I’m sure a good many of us can think of tough moments in our own lives, maybe a bereavement, an illness or troubles with work, when bellydance has given us joy and solace. I know I can and it is for this reason that I want this joy that I feel whenever I bellydance to be shared with women who have suffered such terrible trauma.

Would you like vulnerable women to be able to share that feeling? If the answer is YES, then please help spread some bellydance joy by sponsoring us!

Will you help us bring joy to victims of trauma?

Today I’m asking a direct and maybe difficult question. Would YOU personally be prepared to make a donation to help fund our work giving the joy of bellydance to victims of slavery, domestic violence, rape and terminal cancer?
 
Over the past few weeks, as we’ve told the bellydance community on Facebook about our work with women affected by trauma, and about the fund we’ve set up in Yvette Cowle’s memory, we’ve received literally hundreds of Facebook likes, loads of shares and lots of supportive messages. All this is really lovely, but honestly, without any money, we can’t do anything!!!

We’ve really, truly appreciated all the likes, shares and supportive messages and we’re incredibly grateful, but without actual donations we can’t deliver even one class for women with terminal cancer in a hospice. No-one fleeing from the terror of their violent partners, and not even one woman who has escaped from horror and misery of slavery will be able to experience the healing power of bellydance.

On 11th September we’ll be launching a major crowdfunding challenge with international foundation Global Giving because we need to raise serious money to help us do this genuinely valuable and inspiring work. We are also applying to local authorities, trusts, foundations, the lottery etc, but we desperately need the support of the community.
 
Will you make a donation to actually make this work happen? If every person reading this post donated just £10 we could raise a significant amount of money to enable us to continue and expand our programme. We’ll be sharing more about our campaign in the run up to September 11th, and we really, really hope you will help us by making a donation later this month, however small.
Charlotte x

Bellydance For Joy!

Can you imagine what it’s like to be in fear of your life from your partner? To be hit, burned, punched and told you’re ugly and worthless on a regular basis.

Can you even begin to imagine how it must be to have been sold into slavery as a child, brought to the UK as a domestic slave and never to have had a day off work in your life? Can you imagine never having had a moment of fun for yourself, to have only slept on the kitchen floor, and to be beaten if you raise your eyes when spoken to by your ‘owner’?

Maybe you can imagine the trauma of being told you have terminal cancer, and how it might feel to lose your breasts, your hair and your dignity as you’re poked and prodded and put into machines.

Now imagine you can help to give women who have suffered such trauma some fun in their lives – dancing to lively music, shaking their shoulders, swinging their hips and laughing as they shimmy and sway in the company of other women just like them.

We are truly thrilled to announce that in July 2017 Company of Dreams began taking free bellydance classes into women’s refuges, hospices, and organisations supporting victims of slavery, trafficking and sexual violence.

The response has been amazing!

The women are so excited and so happy to be bellydancing. And the managers have told us that what we’re doing is totally unique – that they’ve been looking for something like this for years, but there’s nothing out there. They say that just to bring even an hour’s joy to women who have suffered so much will make an enormous difference to their lives.

But we need your help!

We desperately need funds to help us do this vital work. In June we held our first fundraiser – a gala dinner in Charlotte’s home village in Kent. We raised £2,000 to help us start the work, but if we are to continue we have a major fundraising job to do! This is why, in September we will be joining a global fundraising challenge with charities around the world to raise funds for our work through international charity platform Global Giving. And, during August and September, bellydancers will be doing some wonderful things to raise money for our fundraising challenge.

  • On 23 September, London bellydancers Saffron and Sophia will climb Mount Snowdon in bellydance outfits to raise sponsorship for our fund! (sponsor them here)
  • On 17th September, we’re planning a sponsored shimmy relay in Regent’s Park (exactly at Marylebone Green) at 12.30pm
  • On 17th September, we’re also holding a glamourous Cocktails and Rhinestones event at the Mezcaleria bar in Wahaca restaurant, 19-23 Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1RL at 2.30pm. We will be asking bellydancers to donate costumes and props to be auctioned in aid of the charity. Come along, meet your friends and pick up a designer bargain!
  • watch out for our hashtag #bellydanceforjoy on social media

We’re going to have fun and we’d love you to join us!

Please support these fabulous challenges and events, or why not hold a fundraising event of your own? If would like to help, please email charlotte@companyofdreams.net or leave a comment below.

Check out all the info on our Bellydance For Joy page

#bellydanceforjoy

YVETTE COWLES MEMORIAL FUND

And in memory of the wonderful Yvette Cowles, today we are also launching a very special fund, specifically to take bellydancing classes into hospices. This was a project that was very dear to Yvette’s heart and she was really looking forward to being involved. Please read more here

A new beginning

We’re launching our new website at a really exciting time for Company of Dreams and, we hope, for British belly dance. Here in London the belly dance scene is thriving again after a very difficult and unhappy time a few years ago. Teachers are seeing more new students coming to classes and our regular showcases like Arabesque Nights and the Arab Quarterly are attracting exciting new performers and enthusiastic audiences. Best of all there is a truly marvellous spirit of collaboration among the leaders in our community and a real desire to make belly dance the very best it can be.

Making history
And here at Company of Dreams we’re making history. We’ve just premiered our new theatrical dance production of Scheherazade, and the response was so overwhelmingly positive that in a few months time we’re taking it to Sadlers Wells, the home of British ballet and the most prestigious dance venue in the country.

That’s the public face of our work, but behind the scenes things are even more exciting. Firstly I’m proud to say that the company paid its professional dancers, not only for the performance, but for the full development process – over several months of rehearsals. This meant that we were able to create work of a far higher standard than is usually possible. We have nine professional dancers and it cost a lot of money, but that’s the way it should be – if dancers are to work to the highest professional standards they need to be paid!

company rehearsal

It was made possible by a lot of very hard work fundraising and through the generosity of the Arts Council and over 70 people who generously gave to our successful Kickstarter campaign. The fundraising took more than six months out of my life but it was worth every moment of that time to see the standard of the result. If you haven’t seen Scheherazade yet, you must. My aim was to create something that I would be proud to put alongside professional productions from the mainstream dance sectors and I believe we did just that.

Taking bellydance out into the world
But it’s not just in our productions that we’re breaking new ground, we are in the process of creating a proper, formal company to take British bellydance into completely new territory – beyond the bellydance niche and out into the wider world.

Company of Dreams is now a Company Limited by Guarantee, with a Board of Directors. Our directors are senior figures in the world of the arts, education, the law and business. In a couple of weeks time we will have our first AGM where we will resolve to approve our memorandum and articles of association and then submit them to the Charities Commission. If our application is approved then Company of Dreams will become a registered charity and our directors will become our trustees, responsible for supporting me in my work, ensuring we keep to the highest standards of probity, keeping us to our vision (see About Us page) and helping us make our way in the big wide world of the arts.

We’re on a very exciting journey and one which we hope will make a real difference to the dance we all love so much. We look forward to sharing our journey with you along the way.