Everything changes; nothing remains the same. And although we know, deep in our soul, that change is the only constant thing in life, we struggle against it and live as if time were our enemy.
As a Professional Oriental Dancer (a.k.a. the infamous belly dancer) who has always lived from and to her body, I find change is an intimate matter.
Dancers are in deep contact with their bodies. They know their creative tool like nobody else; they’re aware that everything is connected: the physical, the mental, the emotional and the spiritual. They know cells die and are born at great speed—there’s no way to stop this perpetual Dance called Life. We can flow with it or die—our choice.
Seasons change; green leaves turn brown, and birds that once sang the loveliest tune will be silent dust by next winter. Human beings are no different. We are born, we mature and we leave our physical bodies behind, ready for the next chapter. That’s the only law, aside from Love, we cannot break.
I’ve often heard people criticizing their bodies, expressing their self-hate and fear of the future.
From here it’s all downhill!
From the age of 30, you start losing yourself, darling.
I hate my thighs, my arms, my nose, I hate.
This (useless) chatter never made sense to me. Why would people live in fear of tomorrow, torturing themselves with thoughts of doom, feeding the dread of one more year, one more wrinkle, one more inevitable change?
Although I’ve been trained to see my body as a creative tool, I am not immune to that mainstream self-destruction. I cried like a baby when I spotted a tiny vein on my leg, at the age of 11; once my body started to bloom in adolescence, I felt fat, awkward, unattractive, unlovable. Anorexia was no stranger to me.
It was Egyptian Dance, the language of the soul, that saved me from this trap. It keeps saving me every day.
While I was in Egypt—where I lived and performed for eight years—my curves were celebrated, my round tummy was considered sexy and my thighs were appreciated for what they were meant to be: healthy, strong, passionate, juicy, fierce. The fact that I didn’t fill my face and body with plastic surgery, a common procedure amongst dancers in Egypt, was a bonus. It gave me a wild look Egyptians found exotic—a novelty in a society where most people, women and men, are painfully domesticated.
I went on stage with a sense of worth and freedom—the same freedom that fascinates and scares people to their guts.
I noticed how my body remained connected with life events. The moon cycles expanded and contracted it; my emotions affected its shape and energy levels; love affairs moved cells and replaced connections in my brain. Year after year, my body expanded at the same pace and extent my life did. I loved every bit of it.
Freedom—absolute and unapologetic—is one of the things that terrifies people when they’re faced with Oriental Dancers; a shameless state of joy is another. I’ll add pleasure in one’s own skin—wrinkles, wobbly bits and all that jazz—as the cherry on top.
Oriental Dance reminded me that visuals are not the only aesthetic value. There are the aesthetics of emotion—how a dancing body reveals its beauty through the emotion it shares. The aesthetics of wisdom and alchemy, a journey through life where we celebrate every day as if it were the last, feeling thankful for changes instead of dreading them.
In the last couple of years, my body took me to even brighter levels of wonder. I gained weight and got healthier. My thighs grew wider, rounder, stronger, more demanding of my time, focus and respect. My breasts expanded in size and sensibility; my face changed—my eyes got wider and my cheekbones got higher.
Watching myself evolve (some would call it aging), exposed on stages around the world, is a gift I don’t take for granted. I call it growing up, because that’s exactly what change means to me. I’m the alchemist, and this blessed body is my stone—from rock to pure gold; from human to art.
I’ve never loved myself the way I do now.
I know changes, physical and otherwise, won’t stop—thankfully. It’s crazy to begin a war against an enemy that only exists in our heads.
I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned, I’ll keep watching the seasons come and go with gratitude and everlasting curiosity, just as I’ll watch myself change—grow up—into shapes that escape every dogma, prejudice, self-hatred and fear. Particularly the fear of freedom—our final destination.
I’m the alchemist’s stone, rejoicing in the fire, dancing around the bruises and cheering the ascension. I hope we meet on the way up.
Author: Joana Saahirah
Editor: Toby Israel
Images: Author’s Own