What Performing With a Belly Dancing Troupe Taught Me About Life

Try a dance class -- any dance class -- because everyone's a dancer, you just have to find the right music. You just might learn something about yourself in the process.
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There's something magical about dancing that makes us feel free. I always tell my friends who say they don't dance that everyone's a dancer, you just have to find the right music, because I definitely didn't dance until only a few years ago. It's the freedom to move in ways that we don't usually move in a social setting that makes it such a fun exercise as well as a journey of personal transformation for me.

After having practiced several partnered dance forms (swing, blues and Argentine tango) and more recently, the Middle Eastern belly dance, I think I may have found my dance -- the belly dance! What I love best about the bellydance is that it taps into our natural femininity and grace. My last few weeks have been a whirlwind of intense rehearsals in preparation for the annual Hips Against Hunger belly dance extravaganza that took place in New Haven, Connecticut at Yale. During my time with this troupe of amazing and talented moms, students and young professionals, I've learned a few key life lessons.

Every woman is beautiful.

The power of the dance is that it unlocks a woman's energy such that her natural beauty just shines through. I remember during one rehearsal, one of my fellow troupe members was experimenting with the fan veil, which is essentially a fan attached to a long silk veil. When fanned, the veil flutters in a river of ripples suspended in mid-air. As she was playing with the thing I noticed that her normally serious face was literally beaming and all in smiles and I remembered thinking to myself, "She looks so pretty like that!" She was pretty in a way I hadn't noticed before. There I realized that people are naturally beautiful, it's just hard to see that when they aren't in their element. The more you engage with the playfulness and novelty that is inherent in dance, the more you shine forth joy and beauty.

The more comfortable a woman is with her body, the more fun she has in life.

Performing half-naked on stage is definitely not for the faint of heart. As someone who was brought up by modest, conservative parents, I've overcome my tendencies to dress in only dark turtlenecks. Belly dancing further unlocked my sensuality and in the process of doing so, I've learned to embrace it. The more comfortable I am with myself, the less judgmental I am of myself and others and life is more fun that way.

Your body can do things that you didn't believe were possible.

When I first began taking belly dance classes at the gym, I'd watch the instructor demonstrating the moves and then think to myself, "You want my hips to do what?" After a year of consistent practice, I know that it's only a matter of time until I can move a certain way. And although I still struggle with holding a shoulder shimmy while doing hip drops, I know that with a little patience, I can train my muscles to do weird things that I never thought were possible and with that comes the attitude that anything in life is possible.

Release your inner ________.

One of our numbers was a belly dance hip-hop fusion dance to a 20-second bit of Jay-Z rapping in Justin Timberlake's "Suit and Tie." I wasn't really having trouble with the moves, but was finding it challenging to get the swag down. At one point, I said aloud in frustration, "I just don't have the gangsta swag!" to which one of my fellow troupe members replied, "Not with that attitude!" (She was from Brooklyn, no less). I took her comment to heart and for the rest of the rehearsals, I hung up my goody two-shoes and got in touch with my 'gangsta' side!

Sisterhood is the best thing a woman could have.

I'm so thankful to all the women in the troupe for being such supportive and caring people. I remember when I was stuck in New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy with no access to phone or Internet service, one of my fellow troupe members helped me buy a Greyhound ticket back to New Haven so that I could make an important rehearsal we had that week (she jokingly called it the "No Belly Dancer Left Behind" Act, which really touched me). I also remember the time during our New York City dance tour when we all sat on a single bed in our hotel room as one of the girls played matchmaker for all the single ladies in the troupe and passed around her iPhone to show photos of her husband's eligible groomsmen for us to ooh and ahh over. Looking out for each other made being in the troupe one of the most memorable experiences of my life and encourages me to do the same.

You don't need a partner to have a good time (yes, this applies to dating too).

Where other partnered forms of dance are enjoyable, sometimes, I don't want to rely on a partner to have a good dance. In belly dance, there's no need to wait and be asked by someone to dance! It's nice to be led, but it's also liberating to just move the way you want!

So what are you waiting for? Try a dance class -- any dance class -- because everyone's a dancer, you just have to find the right music. You just might learn something about yourself in the process.

Catherine Chen, Ph.D., is a Health Coach who loves to bellydance and supports high-octane women to achieve with ease, have time for what they love and live a balanced life. Prior to launching her wellness practice, she worked in the management consulting industry and at one of the leading cancer research biotechnology companies. Sign-up for work-life balance tips or a complimentary Stress Relief Session with her at www.catherinechenwellness.com

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