This is a guest post written by Jennifer, one of Ishra’s Intro students.
My name is Jennifer and I just finished my first year of belly dancing with Ishra and Invoketress Dance. My experience with Ishra and belly dance has been quite life changing and full of personal and physical growth. Today I’m going to share with you my story.
I started belly dancing with Ishra and Invoketress Dance in September, 2014. I took 4 classes in the fall before I broke my ankle on a canoe trip in October 2014. It took me about 3 months to be able to walk normally again, and during that time I was pretty much homebound. The 6 weeks in a cast were especially limiting since my full-time job had been serving at a restaurant and my hobbies included dancing and yoga. It was quite difficult to go from being completely independent to being completely dependent. When I finally got my cast off, it was very slow going. In any case, I managed to keep myself somewhat occupied with my part-time job teaching Spanish twice a week, and I was determined to keep up dancing to some degree.
For the six weeks I was in a cast, I would practice the body isolations I had learned from Ishra. Every day I would sit on the coffee table and prop up a full length mirror on the back of a chair so I could see myself. I would practice arm isolations (shoulder-elbow-wrist, shoulder-elbow-wrist become my mantra). I would practice moving my neck side to side, chest circles, and I would also practice chest shimmies. One day I wanted to make sure my breasts were moving properly in the shimmies so I removed my shirt and recorded myself. Sure enough, they were moving! A while later, my sister stumbled across that recording and we had a good laugh about it. By the end of the six weeks there was a visible improvement in my arm, neck, and chest mobility. It was exciting!
Through physio twice a week and swimming regularly, I eventually learned how to walk again and by mid-January I was back dancing. I was determined to make up for lost time so I ambitiously joined three of Ishra’s classes. I discovered that my upper body isolations were on par with the other girls, so I was pretty happy about that. Belly dancing thrice a week also greatly helped me regain my ankle strength and mobility.
It also helped me gain confidence as a dancer and embrace my femininity. For the first time ever, I actually felt sexy and felt that I could move sensually. I was not used to looking at myself in a mirror with other people and at first I felt very shy about it (I still feel shy sometimes). In time, I got used to watching myself in the mirror, and I found it very interesting seeing the progression of the body isolations and the different moves Ishra was teaching us. I would be practicing something over and over again and it was so exciting when mind and body would click and I would see my body moving the way it was supposed to. I began looking at my body affectionately instead of critically and seeing myself as beautiful.
All year, Ishra was stressing the importance of facial expressions. She wanted us to bring out our flirty looks, our sexy looks, our cheeky looks, our “Xena” looks and our “boss lady” looks. This was one of the most difficult things for me…I felt so silly and embarrassed! It was one thing to look at my body moving, but now I had to consciously use different facial expressions while dancing. “Sexy look? What’s that? I don’t have a sexy look!”—I would think to myself. Slowly, my unknown-to-me sexy look began surfacing and eventually I was able to look at myself in the mirror with my sexy or my flirty or my Xena look and not feel embarrassed. I practiced smiling so much that in one of the classes Ishra actually told me to tone it down!
By the time June rolled around, most of the choreographies were pretty well finished, and all that was left to do was practice, practice, practice in preparation for the Belly Blush student recital. Having chosen to participate in 3 choreographies, I was somewhat unprepared for the amount of practice (during class and on my own) that would be required. I had never performed before so I was quite adamant about practicing at least three times a week for at least an hour and a half each time in preparation for the recital. I wanted to know those choreographies like the back of my hand just in case my nerves tried to get the best of me.
I also decided last minute (2 weeks before the recital) that I wanted to make my own bra for one of the performances. I had never been creatively or seamstressly inclined but I was about to become so and it ended up being a very fun experience! I actually ended up working until about 2pm on the day of the recital, so I was quite rushed to get ready for tech rehearsal and the recital itself. On top of that, my dad was visiting from New Brunswick and my Aunt and Uncle whom I hadn’t seen in about 5 years also came to visit as well. Needless to say, it was a bit of a crazy day for me!
The experience of the recital itself ended up being one of the most exciting and exhilarating things I have ever done in my life. I was a combination of excited and nervous as well as happy that my family and best friends were there to support me, all of which created an incredible feeling inside of me. The performances went flawlessly which made me even happier that my practice had paid off. I honestly couldn’t stop smiling the whole night…even after I went home. The crowd was amazing, the solidarity among the dancers was infectious, and being on stage was invigorating…I couldn’t wait to perform again! I did end up performing twice more during the summer at the Flying Dance Festival in July and August.
Now, I can’t wait for Ishra’s classes to start back up again in September and to continue learning and growing through dance. Belly dancing has helped me learn to love and appreciate myself and my body and be gentle with myself rather than critical. It is an ongoing process but with Ishra’s help and encouragement and the support of my fellow dancers, I think I’m off to a good start! I’m so glad I discovered and had the courage to explore, the art of belly dance.