Why I Love Bellydance
– by Lilla Varese
Dance is the first thing I can remember feeling passionate about. My most vivid memory of being five years old is of dancing. When I danced, it felt like everything was right with the world. Dance felt like the ideal expression of beauty, grace and life. In my best childhood dreams, I was always dancing.
I began formal ballet lessons around age seven. As I got older, I studied Modern dance, and then Jazz. Then I started hearing people say that dance is not a sensible career choice, so while I kept up with my dance classes, I turned my focus to my academics so that I could get serious and “make something” of myself. While in college, I continued to dance as my creative outlet.
After college I went to work in the garment business as a clothing designer, my “sensible” alternative to pursuing dance as my art form. I found myself commuting, working about 50 to 60 hours a week, skipping lunch breaks most days, and generally driving myself into the ground. It took only two years for my body to say “enough”, and I became very ill.
After making the rounds of many doctors, the consensus seemed to be that at age 24, I would probably be weak for the rest of my life due to my physical condition. I tried to accept this, and spent my days conserving my energy. Yet in my dreams, I danced, and danced, and danced.
In 1991 a friend took me to see a dance performance. It was a troupe called the Neri Senti, led by Jo Ellen Larsen. That night, while watching the performance, it was as if my original spark was re-awakened, and I was on fire with determination to dance again. The music and movement vocabulary spoke to me like no other had before. As we drove home, my friend chitchatted but I heard not a word, as my focus was only on how I was going to go about learning this wondrous dance form, Belly Dance.
As if it were pre-determined, a few weeks later I was invited to join rehearsals for that same group. As I began to learn the undulations, hip work and Arabic rhythms, gradually I felt my life energy coming back to me. I began to dance in performances with the troupe. Later I took up study with Angelika Nemeth, and then Sahra Saeeda, performing with their troupes, respectively.
As my dance skills developed, I made a seamless transition into a career as a dancer. Though I worked hard at the dance, there was no “effort” involved. Belly Dance was energizing. I felt I had found the dance I was meant to do all along. I could not put my finger on when exactly it happened, but one day I looked back and realized I was healthy again.
I love Belly Dance because for me, it is the ultimate expression of life.