Photograph taken at Dia de los Muertos LA 10/11.
I can still remember her words as they cut like a knife though my young soul. "You're my best dancer but you'll never be a professional ballerina. You won't have the right body for it." I was crushed. How could Miss Shirley, the mother of my dance, say such a thing? I think I was around twelve and had been dancing since I was six, two years on point. I had loved going to class at Phil Gracia's Dance studio in New Jersey. It was the one place that I felt beautiful, lovable and complete. Miss Shirley was a goddess, hour glass figure, always in black tights and leotard, long black nails...the Morticia Addams of dance. Se had always encouraged me, pushed me, made me strive to be the best that I could be. So why now was she taking my dreams and pulling them out from under me? I had her up on a pedestal and I knew that she must be right and that there was something deeply and innately wrong with me. And the battle was begun.
Maybe my body was trying to betray me, but I couldn't let it win. 'Don't think you can try to rob me of my dreams and I won't put up a fight.' With the same strength and tenacity that I put into my classes and practicing, I was now using those same traits to wage a war on my body that I was determined to win.
At first I just started eating less. 'Take that you hips and breasts. I'll make you wish you never showed up.' Then I started to obsess over any morsel that I put into my mouth. Since my mother started to notice that I wasn't eating much, I tried to eat 'normal' amounts of food and then throw it up after. Sometimes when it seemed like I was losing the battle I would gorge myself on copious amount of junk food and then immediately throw it up. This went on for several years causing some serious health issues. At the end, before I was hospitalized, I was eating a baby carrot and three saltines and was down to 106 pounds. My period had stopped the year before and I was quite frail and certainly unable to dance. I was diagnosed with a myriad of illnesses including some damage to my heart. My physical world reality was certainly mirroring my inner world reality at this point. My heart was damaged. It took years of building healthy habits along with counseling to overcome this period in my life. Once in a while I can still hear those old tapes starting to play in my head. Now I am able to silence them.
Flash forward fourteen years. My love of dance never died and I tried different dance forms through my college days but never found something that resonated with my soul until I was nearly 30 years old. I had been going to this event called the Long Beach Woman Spirit Solstice Fair twice yearly for a few years when I was drawn to a performance of belly dance. The main dancer was more mature and certainly much rounder than I was, but when she danced she was the most lovely, sensual, radiant being I had ever seen. I couldn't take my eyes off her. Each movement was like poetry to my aching soul. I fell immediately in love with the dance. I started driving out to Orange County one night a week for classes. Sometimes the drive could be up to 2 hours each way with traffic. I didn't care. I used the time to listen to soul stirring Arabic music and to practice the choreography in my head. I made new friends. and learned to love my body in a whole new way. I was amazed at what my body could do. I had respect for my hips as they moved through space. Through them I felt connected to all women throughout time and space. I was experienced myself as connecting to Spirit and the Divine Feminine through the movements of my wonderful body. I was awakened. The music was like a balm. It got into my being and moved me, not only physically, but emotionally. I allowed it to transform me. Through the marriage of music and movement, I was channeling the Divine. What a gift this was. And I wanted to share it with the world.
I began performing and teaching after the first few years. In performance I experienced myself as not only an entertainer but as a healer and guide to realms of deeper acceptance and self compassion. As a teacher my biggest joy is recognizing that moment in my student when I see her consciousness shift from doing the steps into becoming a dancer. The awareness can be subtle but miraculous. I've watched my students use dance as a way to recover from divorce as they feel empowered to experience joy. I've witnessed them recover from sexual abuse as they take dominion over their own sexuality. And I've mirrored their own radiance back to them when they've been unable to recognize it in themselves. What a blessing. Dance is my souls journey to self acceptance, self love and self realization.
I am so grateful for these hips that have cradled and brought forth life, entertained and brought joy to many and have helped me to birth my own Self into authentic being. These hips, that I once damned for betraying me and my dreams, have been the source of my rebirth.
Blessings of self compassion,Saahira Ruhi