A long time ago, in a hair colour far, far away, I began what is likely one of my life’s great passions – belly dance. I started this hobby, like everything in my life…by accident. My friend and I wanted to take Latin Dance and I called around, and ended up on the phone with my beloved dance teacher Samia. She explained that all Latin dances come from Belly Dance and I should come and check out a beginner class. My friend agreed and off we went.
I didn’t love it right away. I had an instructor that was a little bit of a snooze for me, but we got to watch the advanced classes. These ladies were amazing and turned me into a little wannabe. One day, we were told that we were going to be in a recital, and I thought FAT CHANCE, NO WAY JOSE, NOT HAPPENING, so yup, you guessed, it, I got suckered into buying my first skirt and belt and practiced my little heart out. As we practiced, Samia came into the room, with her French/Lebanese accent, and her watchful eye, she made me soooo nervous. She always had a couple of corrections, then did a quick sweep around the room, and then left as quickly as she came in. I was hooked, and hoped that one day, I’d learn from this master and literally, right after the recital, I joined her Wednesday class.
Samia was an amazing teacher. When she taught us new choreography, she would dance a section for us, and when you watched her, it was magic. Something swept over her – it was like she was performing on a stage in some distant land, not in our little dance studio. She was tough, don’t get me wrong, but once you got to know her, she became your dance mother. She wanted to know about your life, and she learned so much about you. There were no secrets with her, she just knew us so well, that it was impossible to not spill your guts.
Once you started performing, she would select a dance name for you. I wondered what exotic name awaited me, as my fellow students walked away with monikers like Najwa (meaning secret conversation), Aisha (alive) or some other names that implied strength. I walked in and Samia smiled at me, and told me that my name would be Shams. Ugh, I thought in my inside voice, it’s doesn’t end in a cute sounding vowel. When I asked her what it meant, she told me, it means “The Sun”. She then humiliated me, unintentionally, by telling me that it was because my cheeks are so cute when I smile, it charmed her so much that it reminded her of the sun. Yup, tough girl, that’s me. Eventually, it grew on me.
One day, Samia asked me to join her troupe as a performer. The goal was to create shows, not recitals and that we would all pitch in with the hope of earning money just for doing what we all loved to do. It was fun, but a lot of hard work practicing 3 days a week. There was nothing better though, than performing with the troupe and seeing what choreography Samia would dream up. Everything was amazing, until one day, our beloved teacher told us all some devastating news – she had to retire because of issues with her feet. It’s hard to explain what it was like to hear that news. She was a safety net for all of us, and we all fell apart that day. I tried to stick with the school that she had built, but after less than a year, I gave up. It just wasn’t the same. I tried other places, but some people are irreplaceable, so after ten years, I put my costumes away and moved on. Then, life happened and I got completely distracted by other things.
Late in August, over dinner, someone who knew that I used to dance asked very briefly why I didn’t do it anymore and my answer was lame. I don’t even remember what it was, but I started thinking and thinking and thinking some more about it. Within a few days, I was Googling belly dance schools all over Toronto trying to figure out which could be “the one”. I had my first class tonight, deciding on a beginner course since it’s been so long. It was GREAT. The second song the instructor played was one of my old solos, so I knew that this was the right place. It wasn’t easy at first, but once I started moving again, it just felt right. It may not be the same as it was, but that’s OK, it doesn’t need to be.