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Beginning To Belly Dance Again After a Hip Replacement

by Anthea Kawakib Poole
Zaghareet! Magazine (Jan/Feb 2011)

How I Began... again 

Recently I had the good fortune to “begin again” in my life a couple of different ways and it’s given me a better understanding of how being a “Beginner” feels--very useful to me as a dance teacher.

One way this happened for me was as a novice horseback rider. After I retired from being a soloist or career solo performer (I still perform with my PRISM Dance group), I felt free to pursue a lifelong dream of learning to ride horses. There were two reasons why I felt free to do this: I no longer had to worry about possible injuries causing me to lose my performing jobs and income. And I had a lot more energy and free time!

You’d think body control from belly dancing would cross over into horseback riding, yes? Not so much!  Imagine my surprise at being - or at least feeling like - the worst rider in my class! It’s really quite funny sometimes. My empathy for dance students who struggle increased dramatically! I know what it’s like to try, try, TRY - and still fail.

Poor Body Control, Nerves, and Getting Left Behind

How am I failing? Well, you see, my technique sucks!

This is a real “different kettle of fish” for me, since I’ve been used to having good technique in dancing. But I’m blessed with a lot of flexibility - if you’re a dancer with a flexible body that’s great, but the trade off is that you find it harder to be precise, sharp, and hold a steady position than other dancers. So I have difficulty keeping my body in the correct riding position on top of a moving horse.

I also experience frequent bouts of “stage fright” in class, that is, anxiety and fear while riding, since I’ve hit the ground four times in less than three years. I’m also often pretty confused--trying to keep all the various instructions in mind at the same time that I’m trying to keep my (very flexible) body in the saddle correctly (and not fall off!). This really helped me understand how all the different styles, techniques, and methods one might see, hear, or read about can all get in the way during class and make you even more confused. Of course I already knew that as a belly dance teacher, but I got to experience it myself as a student. Very “helpful”!   

I’ve also been fortunate enough to be left behind in class when my more proficient classmates moved up to the next level. Now if I get to the school early enough, I can watch them (albeit wistfully) during their class. I see them in the riding arena doing their fun, exciting, advanced activities, keeping their positions well and handling their horses competently...  yes, it’s all very inspiring! Meanwhile, I’m still struggling with the basics - it’s been a great experience all around! (I guess this is what you call making lemonade out of lemons?)

Teaching the New Hip to Belly Dance

This is another way I’ve “begun again.” I don’t mean a “hip new style” of belly dance, I mean I’m teaching my new hip joint how to dance!  It’s so rewarding to move again without pain, but I can tell I have a lot of strengthening and stretching to do to bring my hip movements back to the level they used to be. I have a “new and improved” hip joint, but the same old muscles–and the old muscles have become weak, stiff, and short.  When I teach now, I feel like I’m almost learning over again how to do the moves correctly, and I realize that it had become something I took for granted during my professional career. I can feel imbalances in my body when I’m in different dance positions so I have to think through them with more attention. I often feel like I’m struggling right along with my students!  It’s as if I have “new eyes” for dancing now.

When it was time for my annual student recital this past summer (2011), I felt good enough to get onstage in a short solo, but I knew my dancing was very weak and “beginner-ish” – even so, I put it on YouTube because I wanted to share not only that exciting moment of solo dancing once again, but just as importantly, I wanted to share with my students the fact that you don’t have to BE PERFECT to dance for yourself and others - even on video. And of course I hoped to inspire other dancers who go through surgery like that.

I think my overall gift from these experiences has been the chance to share them. How sad  that so many dancers feel they must wait until everything is “perfect” before sharing it!  When the young dance stars of today age, their dancing will change–the older belly dance generation has watched their dance stars - of the 1960's, 70's, and even 80's - change and grow through the years–and we still find them inspiring and engaging. We love seeing them dance even though they’re “not what they used to be.” It must be that unique spark inside everyone that we know and love, and that individuality is what we want to see and experience - not just technical perfection.

So being a Beginner again has reaffirmed my belief that no one’s perfect, and that when we try our best to do something, our intention and motivation are as important as whether we win or lose, or whether we reach our goal or fail to do so. At least we are humble enough to have tried, even when we knew it was not going to blow everyone’s socks off! And there’s no shame in that.

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