Senta Duffield - Principal and Director

Healing through belly dance

The coins on my hips make music as I move, my bare stomach undulates in time to the music and my feet are connected deep to mother earth as they dance the ancient dance of the gypsies. As I dance, I express myself, my freedom, femininity, vulnerability and strength – I am a Belly Dancer, I am a Goddess.

But it wasn’t always like this, 7 years ago I was an insecure girl who had been taken advantage of one too many times. I had allowed a relationship of nearly 4 years to completely strip me of who I was and wanted to be. I was terrified of men, of love and of myself. Slowly over the 4 years I realised that this man was on his own life path and would never change, and all the unconditional love and care I was pouring into the relationship was being met with only disrespect, secrets and lies. Everytime I forgave him, I made it easier for him to hurt me again. The boundaries around me closed in slowly until they were gone, and my heart and soul were left naked and completely vulnerable.

Somewhere deep inside the gypsies of the past were already speaking to me and giving me the strength to end the relationship and embrace freedom. Despite the threats and fear I was strong enough to stand firm in my decision. I had neglected myself, my friends and my family. I don’t regret the relationship, I learnt many lessons and I can now use my experiences to recognise pain and fear in another woman’s eyes, and to help her heal too.

I spent many hours quietly alone, grieving for the loss of the relationship I had wanted, and all that I lost with it. I was suddenly attracted to all things feminine, I changed my bedding to white and lavender, and made sure I always had fresh flowers in my home – all nurturing and loving. But I still felt incomplete; there was a part of me that still needed healing.

That’s when I met Wendy Beato, my first Belly Dance teacher. She was Latin-American fire and passion, mixed with gracefulness and fun. I was desperate to start classes with her! Wendy and I formed a wonderful friendship as well as a student-teacher relationship. I went to all her classes- and as I danced I realised that I was being given the most profound healing.

Dancing barefoot anchored me to mother earth, I felt safe for the first time in ages. I drew strength from the earth, I found balance and support. I watched amazed at the transformation of the woman that was my reflection, in the studio mirror. She wasn’t ‘me’? So who was she? I embarked on a journey to discover and welcome her into my life.

As I moved my hips, I found the core of my feminity, slowly they loosened to form figure of eights and shimmies, and the more I shimmied the more the restrictive armour around them broke off, I started wearing reds and oranges, the colours associated with the chakras in the hip area. I felt feminine, I felt sensual. In the same way as I isolated my chest and shoulders, I broke free of the shield over my heart. I was allowed to love the woman in my reflection, and so were other people!

I planned my first Belly Dancing outfit in the brightest cerise I could find! Hiding my big hips under slimming black clothes was a thing of the past, I loved my feminine, curvy body and had finally found a way to show it off! Having been on endless diets my entire life, I was now comfortable with the way I looked – and I most certainly wasn’t at my thinnest!

I stopped saying no to dates, and met some wonderful men. If I could dance in public without fear, then I could allow myself to be loved without fear of being hurt.

Eventually after 2 years my dancing led me to a beautiful, respectful relationship that I knew I deserved. I had the honour of belly dancing in Shall We Dance, an annual dance production by the SADTA (South African Dance Teacher’s Association) and in rehearsals I met Warren, a Latin-American and Ballroom Dancer.

In the meantime, Wendy had moved to Cape Town. I continued to dance with other Durban teachers, and started working on my BDASA exams. I kept being asked if I would consider opening my own studio. The confidence monster reared its head again, and it took a while before I took the leap and started 2 small classes. Eventually these grew to more and more classes.

I had been to Egypt a few years before and loved it! Egypt felt like Belly Dance Heaven, and although my Egyptian journey was a lot of fun, it brought with it an enormous respect for the ancient culture and dance.

Cairo kept beckoning and in June 2007 I had the privilege of attending Safti’s seminar with Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy, as well as other Egyptian teachers. I lapped up every juicy morsel they gave me and came home knowing I had found my true calling.

I never thought that my Belly Dancing healing journey would lead me to teaching, but I am so thankful that it has, I have seen women learn to love and respect their bodies and to command the same respect in their work and personal relationships. Belly Dancing has helped so many women to heal from miscarriages, breast cancer, abuse, rape and broken hearts. Sometimes the intense healing and freedom that Belly Dancing brings to a woman can be overwhelming. I have watched students that feel they need a break from dancing for a month or 2. When they come back it is obvious that a huge process and transformation has taken place in their lives.

Each woman receives a different gift from Belly Dancing, sometimes it’s the gift of finally having something that is their own – that they do not wish to share with their husbands or families, sometimes they discover with surprise the Diva within!

The wonderful friendships that I have formed within my studio and with magnificent belly Dancers across South Africa, have been another gift from belly dancing. We truly have beautiful women in this country!

This year my performance group entered Miss Belly Dance South Africa, and I was so proud of all my dancers. The tears just poured down my cheeks as I watched each of them take the stage. I didn’t care what the results were, knowing the work and commitment, to their dancing and their own healing, that had got them onto that stage made them all winners in my eyes!

And as for more journey? It’s not over yet! I am marrying my wonderful Warren in November 2009, ready to start a new phase of my life and definitely taking my belly dancing with me!

I feel if you have been given a gift, it is not yours to keep, but rather to share so that others can enjoy it too. Belly Dancing is my gift from the Goddesses, thank you for allowing me to share it with you.

this article was published in the Odyssey e-zine in March 2007 and in RakSAfrica magazine in January 2010