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!