Dancing has always been a huge part of my life. When I was around the age of 4, my Mum started learning how to belly dance and, after discovering her innate talent for it, began teaching small classes to the women in our neighbourhood. She enrolled me in ballet and I did a competition at the local Shedley theatre where I twirled about as a Christmas fairy and over-acted as I shook a present to see what was inside. In my mind it was the most glamorous thing imaginable. I didn’t realise I had lost the competition because a) I was only 4 or 5 years old and b) they gave me a Caramello Koala as a consolation prize, still my favourite treat to this day. I can still remember my first bellydance costume: a gold and cream baladi dress (kind of like a kaftan) with a coin belt that my Mum had lovingly crafted. I danced in it in front of her students and family in a small hall in Elizabeth. As I grew I continued to take classes and learn from my Mum, as well as begin teaching classes to the younger kids. It became a 20 year passion, leaving ballet in the dust with it’s tight buns, disapproving looks from other mothers and classical music that I found boring (I love watching ballet now – it was just never a good fit for me). The bellydance studio was a family affair with my sister, my Mum and myself dancing, performing and teaching classes and my Dad playing the Tabla (arabic drum). This is the first reason I love dancing: it is intrinsically linked to my family. I would go on to marry a dancer and build an extended family of dancers too.
In high school it seemed only natural that I would take dance as a subject. The dance style taught was loosely “contemporary”, often driven by the students’ tastes and interests. My particular class was a big fan of creating routines to Prodigy. While I loved the different movement opportunities these classes gave I was not particularly good at them. I could barely touch my toes and had rather a limited range of movement which meant I looked nothing like some of my classmates who could contort themselves this way and that. Still, I loved the classes and it was my favourite subject. My dance dreams came to a halt when I began to develop chronic back pain which was so debilitating I missed months of school and almost didn’t finish year 12. The pain became like an unwanted acquaintance constantly hanging around, and, oh yeah, stabbing me in the back with a handful of knives. It was not until many years later that I made the connection between the flare-up of this condition and the many daily hours spent cavorting on a hard, unforgiving floor without a proper warm up or cool down, and a lack of any kind of strengthening exercises. I don’t blame my teacher for this. I’m sure she tried, but I went to a public school with over 1000 students and a limited budget. Just getting students to attend class was a triumph. I still have chronic back pain today, although it is no longer debilitating and only flares up badly on occasion. I have learned how to be careful and take care of my body. This is the second reason I love dance: it has shown me both the strength and fragility of my body. When I treat it well I can do things I never imagined like flip upside down in the air, dance ridiculously fast and flail with abandon. I can shimmy like nobody’s business.
As I entered academic life at university I stopped dancing as much and did what most people my age were doing: drank beers at the Uni bar, dreamt and floundered with no real idea what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be. The bellydance studio was winding down with my Mum on the edge of retirement and my sister and I moving on to other things. It was at this time that I discovered swing dancing through a bellydance friend and I went along to my first lesson. It was somewhat of a revelation: dancing with another person! I was immediately hooked and, I’m embarrassed to admit, was that annoying person who asked to stay for the next level class on my first night. It’s not because I thought I was good enough, it’s because I just wanted more. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself these days. Swing dancing has brought me joy and friendship and family. There is something completely magical about sharing 3 minutes with someone, dancing to some of the most amazing music in the world, and creating something that has never happened before. Every dance with every person to every song is unique. And this is the third reason why I love dance: it is magic made flesh, joy given form and stupid amounts of fun.