I'm going to focus on belly dance; it will be nice to see more information and experiences of other forms of dance relating them to healing.
Healing Through Belly Dancing
by Nadiyah Vahdahty
Life’s many experiences can produce unsavory effects on the body. Some ailments, like muscular and joint pain, intestinal disorders, and headaches, may be quickly curtailed by following a strict diet and taking vitamins, minerals, and herbs. Others ailments, however, such as carpal tunnel and pinched nerves, have been known to vanish once one regularly practices the art of Belly Dancing.
How it is possible that something as pleasurable as belly dancing could provide us with such a healing touch? Here are a few possibilities of how Belly Dancing restores the mind, body, and spirit:
* By focusing on specific moves in relation to the music, we forget about our everyday life stresses. Thus, our mind takes a mini-vacation while we dance.
* By becoming an expression of the music, we absorb the natural healing qualities of sound.
* By creating new neurological connections to perform particular moves, like a hand undulation, we strengthen our brain and its ability to communicate with the body.
* By exercising regularly, our body is more conditioned and the immune system is stimulated. The health benefits increase when our practices include twenty minutes of fast-faced movements.
* By working areas we normally hold tension, such as the shoulders, lower back, and hips, we are releasing the tensions of the day. By performing snake arms, shoulder slides, hip slides, and other applicable moves, the previously tensed-up areas are more able to function as originally designed.
* By dancing with our arms, our different energy centers (also known as chakras) are attuned. Similar to Tai Chi, Belly Dance offers a balancing benefit to the body’s overall energy system. Circling arm movements pull energy into our body while linear arm movements sweep excesses out of the overflowing areas. By balancing the uneven energy flows, the body is more able to replenish itself.
* By practicing an ancient art, we tune into and learn about other cultures. Our increased knowledge enables us to be more accepting of the diverse belief systems and ways of life. By being more accepting of others,’ potential conflicts are minimized or even eliminated.
* By dancing with others, our spirit is replenished. We develop a sense of belonging to a supportive community. In turn, we become a support system for others.
* By dancing with other women, we become more accepting of other women and enjoy who they are. In turn, we relax and enjoy who we are as well. What had been previously held as threatening – feminity -- has now become a true blessing.
Be aware of the great blessings in your life and how Belly Dancing has assisted in the creation and/or developments of these blessings. And by all means, share them with your fellow dancers. If you like, share them with me as well.
Healing through Belly Dance
Healing Through Oriental Dance:
Part 2, Emotional Healing
People first sample Oriental dance (often called belly dancing) for a variety of reasons: new friends, a new hobby, a new way to exercise, a chance to explore their sensuous side, etc. But they often stay for other reasons. And one of the reasons that some people stay with it is because it brings them healing. We all occasionally need healing of one kind or another: sometimes it's emotional, sometimes it's physical. Oriental dance is a unique pursuit that can bring both kinds of healing to those who embrace it. This 2-part series explores how Oriental dance can contribute to the healing process:
1. Part 1 of Healing Through Oriental Dance, explores how the dance form can help eliminate pain, speed recovery from injuries, and contribute to overall physical health.Healing Through Oriental Dance: Part 1, Physical Healing
2. This article, Part 2, addresses how Oriental dance can promote emotional healing from such deep-rooted issues as bulimia, breast cancer's psychic scars, and rape or sexual abuse.
There's a limit to what psychiatrists and counselors can do when working with patients who have deep emotional issues. Although drug therapy and talk therapy can be very helpful, these professionals are most effective when they can help patients unlock inner tools to heal themselves.
Movement, particularly if repetitive, can sometimes help release inner tensions. The zar is an ancient ritual from the Middle East that is used to perform a cathartic sort of emotional healing or "exorcism" on behalf of someone, usually a woman, who has been possessed. Although technically forbidden by Islam, it continues to be an essential part of some cultures. It appears mostly in Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia. In Tunisia, it is called stambali. The accompaniment to the zar consists of strong drum rhythms, each being specific to a certain spirit. A critical part of the zar is finding the rhythm required to drive out the particular spirit possessing the individual. Sometimes the zar leader sacrifices a chicken, pigeon, sheep, or other animal as part of the ritual.
Of course, most of us don't have access to zar experts or sacrificial sheep, so we need to seek alternative ways of using movement to heal. Just plain belly dancing can play a role in releasing our barriers to emotional health. Dancers have reported that their art form has helped them to either recover or prevent relapses from emotional struggles tied to:
* Breast cancer surgery
* Rape and/or sexual abuse
So far as I know, there has not been any academic research on the subject of Oriental dance in particular as a tool for emotional healing, although the counseling profession does recognize dance therapy (not specifically tied to Oriental dance) as a valid area of specialty. Still, you generally don't have to look very far to hear anecdotal stories about how specific individuals have found healing through Oriental dance.
Real People, Real Benefits
Rape & Sexual Abuse
Lucy Lipschitz, whose web site addresses how belly dancing has helped her emotional recovery from rape and threatened murder, reports, "Over the years, as I have danced, I am slowly getting over basic issues about having a woman’s body." She had been stalked by a man who found her "irresistible", and afterward she was shocked to find she wasn't believed because she was a female. The horror of that experience led her to self-destructive behavior such as drugs and illicit sex.
She initially took up belly dancing when still a teen-ager, and at the same time fell into a wild lifestyle. The dance became her passion, her only reason to live. In fact, she made it through some suicidal episodes by clinging to her classes and the occasional performance opportunity. Life then took her in other directions for a time, but 20 years after wandering away from belly dancing, she came back to it. By then, she had managed to overcome her self-destructive lifestyle through the help of a 12-step program, and was successfully embracing a new life of sobriety. The dance taught her to love her body, and helped her understand that every size is a good size. She now reports, "The more I dance, the more centered I am."
Cheryl (not her real name) was sexually abused as a child. She started belly dancing around age 20. Although she started dancing because she loved dancing, she found it helped her recover from the need to hide her body from attack, from the terrible vulnerability she felt whenever she was at all attractive.
Mary (not her real name) struggled with bulimia for 4 years as a teen-ager. Although she began doing Oriental dance after her recovery, she has found that the dance has helped her maintain her healthy attitude through a number of ways. She found it eye-opening to see many beautiful, full-figured, over-40 women at home in their curvaceous bodies, and realized the media's standard of beauty isn't the only legitimate one. Dance has put her in touch with what her body wants. It also serves as a meditation for her, exorcising the demons and stress of everyday living. The dance has also helped her discover a social network of women who accept different cultures and possess an inner strength. She summarizes what the dance has done for her as follows: "In short, Middle Eastern dance makes me happy. And when I am happy, engaging in self-destructive behavior is the furthest thing from my mind.I am more content with my body image now than I've ever been in my life. Discovering this dance form has been a true blessing."
A video from Filmakers Library titled Belly: Overcoming Bulimia tells the story of Katherine Bruce Laing's struggle with bulimia. Eventually, she joined a belly dancing class and through watching her classmates discovered that even a full-figured body can be beautiful through the sensuous moves of this dance form. While performing for friends and family in her first belly dance recital, she experienced an epiphany and discovered that she could love her own body.
Coping With Breast Cancer
Carol originally started to belly dance just for recreation. Some years later, she suffered botched reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy for breast cancer. She observed, "Dancing for myself only and listening to and really feeling the music made me feel so much a woman again. The rhythm and the movements are so feminine that they couldn't help but help me heal. I was even able to make my now-ex think of me as sexy once again." Then severe injuries from a bad car accident forced three years of surgeries and inactivity on her. She started belly dancing again for exercise and weight loss. Again, it helped her heal. She said, "It is almost inexplicable - unless to others like you who share the joy and love of the dance and music - how it makes you feel a oneness, a wholeness, almost a completeness that is so therapeutic and so self-healing to both the mind and soul, and therefore also the body."
In the Belly Dancer Breast Cancer Survey on her web site, Diana DeMille reports that 85% of the respondents said yes to the question, "Do you feel belly dancing is healing?" One of the people who responded said, "Belly dancing restores physical, emotional and spiritual health to the cancer survivor. It has great exercise value, gets those 'feel good' endomorphines stirring, enhances the results of the range of motion exercises. It helps you feel better about yourself. In most cases it brings you a special bond with other dancers whether they are cancer survivors or not. And it expresses your joy, gratefulness and celebration that you are alive!"
Inner Strength For Physical Recovery
Natasya suffered a horrible back injury at work. She used yoga to regain her range of motion, but it was her love of dance that gave her a reason to work toward a full recovery. Sometimes she would even lie flat on her back on the floor and practice finger cymbals! Despite her doctor's predictions, she recovered to the point where once again she can perform professionally.
Before Dunya's whiplash injury, she was very athletic. In addition to dancing, she worked out at the gym 4-5 times per week. The injury robbed her of these activities that were an important part of her life. She was still able to play Middle Eastern music with her band, but her activity level was curtailed. A few weeks later, her band played for a troupe performance, then moved on to music for everyone to get up and dance. Dunya reports, "I slipped onto the floor to move a bit, and found myself surrounded by beautiful, undulating women with soft smiles and shining eyes. They were obviously sending me their love and support for my healing. I was very touched by the experience, and I will always remember the fantastic feeling of being in the center of that circle of dancers."
Gamila in Brazil says, "Last year I was very depressed, went to the hospital, had to take medicines, but dancing was the main thing that made me become healthy again."
Scylla from Oregon emerged from childhood with such low self-esteem that she avoided most social interactions. Eventually depression led her to the brink of suicide. One evening, while doing ceramics at a local art center, she heard wonderful music coming from elsewhere in the building and followed the sound. Upon finding the belly dancing class in progress, she was enthralled by the music, the costumes, and the personalities of the three teachers, all named Judy.
Scylla recalled, "The dance class helped me to explore physically the places in myself my psychologist (another wonderful woman) led me to explore emotionally. In therapy I was learning that I had to love myself, and to listen to my own needs and feelings and value them. In trying to dance I discovered I did not love myself, and much of my pain came from my own anger towards, and dislike for, myself. Slowly, painfully I began to enjoy moving to the music. I allowed myself to move and discovered I could like my body in movement; that it was strong and limber and could "fly" when I did not freeze up with rejection of self. The dance was a place where I had no history to haunt me. It was entirely new, and gave me a chance at beginning all over again to grow up and explore and learn who I was; just like a child just starting out. Dance is a gift that I received from from three women which literally saved my life." For Scylla, the "three Judys" brought to mind the triple goddess of ancient tradition who presided over her initiation into a new and joyous life.
Maintaining Well Being
Mishaal, a dancer in Japan, reports, "I certainly feel that dancing contributes to my physical, psychological, and spiritual health. At times it's been for healing, but mostly I think of it more as ongoing preventive health care. I can say for certain, when I don't take some time away for myself to dance, I do start to feel sick. I don't mean performing, or even 'practicing'. I mean taking a little time each day to dance for 'me'. It's not that I do it 'for my health', but because it does feel so good! When I'm in need of answers, psychological or spiritual, I dance, and I feel the healthy answers come to me from, I can say, a higher source."
Healing Through Oriental Dance: Part 2, Emotional Healing
Belly dance helped women to heal from grief reaction to miscarriage
Belly Dancing As Healing Dance: Archives
Belly Dance and Healing from Sexual Trauma
Lucy writes about sexual trauma for the Gilded Serpent
Tribal Belly Dance: Body Power for women. Documentary with Robin Johnson of Troupe Melangees, Marjhani and Oojahm about Tribal belly dance and how empowering it is for women of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages and cultures. Part 1 introduces you to the dancers and their love of the dance, and with comments on body-size issues and how belly dance is powerfully dealing with sexualization, objectification, and body image issues for women.
YouTube - Troupe Melangees LoveBellydance1
YouTube - Troupe Melangees LoveBellydance2