Remembering the Journey

It has taken me a while to realize that just because I am taking a hiatus from dance at the moment, that doesn’t mean that I can’t still write here. For a while I thought that, because I am not focusing on dance right now, I was somehow unworthy to be writing on a dance blog. Then, I remembered the actual title of this page: Stories of the Unconventional Belly Dancer.  So for my story as it stands, I’m taking a break. That doesn’t make me a terrible person. Every time I’ve sat down to try and write this piece, it always morphed into a slew of excuses why I’m not dancing. The thing is, I don’t need to provide excuses for anyone. I have been so afraid that I would lose friendships over not dancing or not writing on this page, and it’s only now that I see how silly that is. Dance isn’t going anywhere and neither is my best friend.

Between finally moving into our own house and the financial chaos that comes with moving and repairs and whatnot, I’ve had to suspend going to classes for a while. Added to that is my anxiety surrounding performing. I’m not sure if I should be performing if I find it more nerve-wracking than fun. That being said, I’m taking some time to focus on my mental health and spirituality. Yeah, my body has paid the price for not exercising as vigorously as I was with a dance class every week, but taking time for introspection and meditation has been incredibly beneficial mentally and emotionally. I know that dance can be of the same benefit, when I’m ready to return to it. I’ll probably be doing more self-study for a while, and that’s okay.

The important thing is to remember –why- you dance. If you need a break to figure that out, take a break. If you’re burned out, stop for a while and don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s like that old saying, “The people who mind don’t matter and the people that matter don’t mind.”

Dance is a journey, so take it one step at a time.

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The mala I have made for my meditation practice, with a Nuumite heart and a book I’m currently reading.

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Dancing with a Disability

Cerebral Palsy manifests differently for almost every person that has it and everyone’s experiences and struggles with it are as individual as fingerprints. That being said, I can only speak for myself and my own personal experience. I don’t even see myself as fully disabled, really. I’m able to walk around just fine, albeit a tad more slowly. Honestly, the only physical signs that I am any different from the average person are that my right leg and foot turn inward, I have a noticeable limp when I walk, one of my eyes tends to go lazy when I’m tired, my right side is significantly weaker than most people’s non-dominant side, and it sometimes takes me a little longer to grasp certain concepts. That’s it. Other than those few things I am a typical twenty-seven-year-old housewife and dancer.

It has become increasingly clear to me through research for this post and personal experience that the four most common things that are desired most among the disabled community are acceptance, compassion (but not to the point of patronizing), independence and overall, simply to be treated like everyone else. However as I stated above, I can only truly speak for myself.  This is exactly the reason why when I encounter someone who is, say, slow of speech, I speak to them at normal tone and speed unless they tell me otherwise. If there is one thing that I ask of anyone that is reading this, it is this: never treat anyone as if they have a lower intelligence just because you expect them to have a lower intelligence. I cannot stress to you enough how damaging it is to be on the receiving end of this.

Along the same vein is the problem that I face as a disabled dancer with other people never seeing beyond how I walk, or how my leg looks on stage. There have been times where people have simplified their speech around me just because they saw me limp into the room. Trust me, I can keep up. There have been people in the audience that have come up to me simply to say how good a dancer I was “for someone like you, with your challenges.” Qualifiers like that completely decimate any recognition of true hard work or bravery, because apparently I will never be as good as a fully “able-bodied” dancer. That’s the sort of thing that needs to come to a grinding halt. I know I may sound bitter to some, but that little reminder every so often that I’ll never be as good as my classmates in the eyes of others slowly eats away at my self-confidence.

This is a battle cry for all dancers, regardless of ability: OWN YOUR DANCE. For those that are disabled, do you have a move that you just cannot master because of your disability’s constraints? Talk to your teacher! I have found in the year and a half that I’ve been in a studio environment that belly dance teachers in particular will bend over backwards (pun intended) to help you succeed.

Don’t call me an inspiration for simply existing.  I want to be an inspiration because I’ve done something to earn it. Don’t call me “brave” or “courageous” for getting up on stage just because my leg is a bit twisted. I’m battling heaps of anxiety in the minutes before the music starts just like every dancer around me. We are all together on the same stage, each with our own unique spin on this beautiful craft.

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My first performance, Aalim Spring Showcase 2017

My Journey to Belly Dance

Hello, my name is Evryn Amar. This is my first time writing anything for a public audience, so if things are a tad awkward, just bear with me! I’ll get the hang of this soon enough.

I guess I’ll get the elephant in the room out of the way. I have mild Cerebral Palsy. This has made my experience with Irish Dance – interesting, to say the least.  My disability is part of the reason why I left to pursue a different dance form, though jigs will always have my heart.

I actually began Irish Dance long ago, around the age of thirteen. My teacher at that time showed very little mercy to the girl with the wonky leg, and because my bones were young, I was actually able to force my feet into position. This was painful, and pressured by my teacher, even though she meant well and was very kind. Every week I sat there, legs as straight out as I could muster, while my feet were pressed down as close to the floor as I could bear. Over time, my training paid off and I went on to actually place in a county Feis, or Irish dance competition. Really, I only stopped because of the crazy commute from my hometown to the studio. I loved it very much, even though I looked very different from the average dancer onstage. It was through the support of my mother that I was able to rise above the self-consciousness so well. I missed it terribly.

Years later, my mother passed away. At twenty-four I got married and moved to Oklahoma, where I found the local Irish Dance Academy. I was so excited, after years and years I would be able to pick up where I left off and dance again! I would honor my mother’s memory by stepping onto the stage once more.

If only it had been that simple.

The perfect Irish Dancer keeps their back straight, arms to the sides, legs and feet working wonders against the floor. When one of your legs naturally turns inward, nailing those steps becomes an incredible challenge mentally, physically and emotionally. My heart was in the dance, but the body I saw dancing in the mirror didn’t match my classmate’s steps. I felt so graceful in my mind, but in the mirror I was all over the place. One can imagine how this messed with my head, being surrounded by classmates that had much more precise form. My teacher was very understanding, and let me fudge movements if absolutely necessary, but honestly, who would want to do that? I hated it. This wasn’t at all like how it had been when I was little. I felt alone, even though I had the full support of my husband. I felt very different. Imperfect. Finally, I had had enough, and stopped going all together, with only one recital under my belt.

Far before and during this time, my best friend Simina had been prodding me about trying out Bellydance. I was intrigued by the idea, but again, the old shadows of my wonky leg reared up. I still attended a few shows, watching, getting an idea of what this new world was all about. I watched my best friend shine on the dance floor, confident through any fear, embodying the music in ways I had never seen before. It was magical. I wanted to try it! During this time I had been struggling mentally for a while, fighting depression and terrible body dysmorphia. This didn’t stop me from attending my first workshop, though.

I was utterly mesmerized by the sheer variety of people at that workshop. People of all shapes, sizes, age and ability were there, dancing in their own skin. Pretty soon I came into contact with Aalim Bellydance Academy, and honestly my life took quite a turn. Suddenly I had the choice to hide my legs or show them off, depending on the costume. Suddenly, I could employ the rest of my body in the dance. I could feel the music again, this time with all of my being. I began to see myself as beautiful, for the first time in a long while. There would be other challenges to come with this new art, but I know that my mother would be proud as punch to see me where I am now. I would love to be able to return to Irish Dance at some point while I continue with Bellydance, but for now, my ghillie shoes sit patiently on the shelf, until the day I’m ready to return. With two showcases with Aalim down, I know that there will be many more to come.

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My well-loved ghillies together with my newest hipscarf.