88: Dancing with a Cane on My Head

88: Dancing with a Cane on My Head

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Dancing with a Cane on My Head

To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful.

~Agnes de Mille

I was in the Middle East in a room full of mirrors, dressed in a belly dancing outfit, surrounded by similarly dressed women. We were all carefully balancing a cane on our heads as we performed the camel, the shimmy, arm waves, and the duck.

I was forty-two years old. And I wasn’t even a dancer. One of my sisters is the dancer of the family. I’m the uncoordinated sister. Yet there I was hip lifting. Twirling. Stomach rolling. Figure eighting. We dropped the canes and executed elaborate moves with scarves of peacock blue and brilliant red, the fabric flying in the air and twisting around our bodies. Finally we danced in a circle with pleated Isis wings of gold and silver.

My family had spent three years in the Middle East for my husband’s work. Now the time had come for the first of my three children to leave the nest and return to Sydney, Australia for university. I was devastated and wasn’t sure how I would cope without her. Even though I was busy with my own job and our two boys, the house would seem so quiet without her.

Suddenly, I left my job and decided to look for something different to do. I saw an advertisement for belly dancing nearby. I thought it would be cool to do something with a Middle Eastern flavor, so I attended. With a simple scarf tied around my hips and sneakers on my feet, which I was quickly told to remove, I stood nervously in a roomful of women of all shapes, sizes and ages. They were all wearing sparkly belts around their hips that jangled with coins.

I was hooked from the first hip drop. After that very first class, I noticed a few women waiting. I asked them what they were doing and they told me they were taking part in teacher training for belly dance.

“Join us,” they said.

I laughed. “I have no dance background at all and this is my very first class.”

“So what?” they said.

I stayed and commenced teacher training for a dance I knew nothing about.

It wasn’t easy. My body wasn’t flexible. I wasn’t very good at first. In truth, I wasn’t very good for years. But I knew I wouldn’t be, and it was that acceptance that kept me going back week after week. That and the trust I placed in the women I danced with, a trust they, in turn, gave back to me along with encouragement.

I danced with that group of women for the remaining four years I stayed in the Middle East. I attended two of their weddings — one in Dubai and one in Sweden. I supported many of them in dance competitions, including one memorable competition held in the desert. With their encouragement, I danced in a competition myself. My dance teacher employed me as an instructor and a manager. I travelled to Istanbul and bought entire belly dance outfits from the Grand Bazaar.

My participation in belly dance started as a hobby with the side benefit of fitness. It became a passion. I believe it always was. How else could I fall in love with a dance with one hip drop?

More important than the actual dancing were the friendships I made that continued even when we eventually moved from the Middle East. These women were and are so inspirational to me that I cannot imagine my time in the United Arab Emirates without imagining their faces too.

When I left, my women friends gifted me with a beautiful necklace of gold, with my name in Arabic calligraphy. I treasure it always and I also treasure what else these friends gave me — a way to cope when the first of my children left home. I danced my way through it.

~Sue Mannering

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