I’m currently working on a solo routine to Tarek El Sheikh’s Shaabi song, Meya Meya. It’s a fun, upbeat tune that I have seen performed by one of my dance heroes, Tito Seif. It has taken some doing to get to the point where I’m bold enough to go beyond daydreaming about dancing, to actually turning the iPod on and piecing together a shimmy here and a hip drop there into a full choreography. My journey from activist to bellydancer to businesswoman was not an easy or natural transition. How did I get to this place in my life? Bellydance was the key.
Before bellydance, I lived my life very much in my head. I leaned heavily on my ability to maneuver around heated debates about race or to engage an audience of five or five hundred in solution-based thinking. What kept me going were the flashes of hope and the knowledge that there were meaningful local victories that never made the front page of the New York Times. But eventually, the years spent as a community organizer, policy analyst, racial justice trainer and writer left me heavy-hearted and soul-weary. As fulfilling as the work could be, there was clearly something missing. An important piece of me was being left out.
Then I discovered bellydancing. I would walk into class bone-tired and mentally drained from a day doing battle with data and dogma, and walk out with a smile on my hips called a shimmy. And in the decade that followed, dance helped me rediscover poetry, music, culture, painting and many old loves I had left for dead in my school girl journals. Bellydance introduced Tammy to Tammy. “These are your hips that do this and your tummy that does that. And that’s a good thing.” said bellydance. And I agreed! This was a body that craved to move so much that I started sitting on a yoga ball at work, because being immobile for hours was no longer an acceptable option. Bellydance got me out of my head, into my body, and eventually completely captured my heart.
The more I dance, the more I want to dance. Oh yes, the girly girl in me loves the bling, the makeup and the costumes. The applause is validating. I love how this dance makes me feel and how I have made others feel through it. That only happens because bellydance allows me to be fully present in my body, bringing my whole self (full chest, ample hips, wide smile and all) to the dance.
Now there is a growing balance among the mystical forces that dictate what I think, how I feel and what I do. So as I weave together this new routine, I do it with an awareness of the culture and the people who created the dance and the music. Muscle memory and musical sensibility tell my body what steps to take. And the dance would not be complete without the expression of joy that it gives me. Finally the head, heart and body are grooving to the same drumbeat. This is what my life’s work, Your Body Raks, is about. The YBR purpose statement makes it clear:
“Through bellydance we strive to inspire women and girls to live lives directed by a sense of agency about their health, well being and community.”
I am all about living a life fully present in my body so that I can mindfully engage the world around me. I want that for myself and for others. Together, we can make that happen. And we can start by celebrating the launch of Your Body Raks on Thursday, February 9th. I hope to see you there!