How belly dancing cured my depression and saved my life


I had a few tough times in high school.

There were a couple of semesters where I was in a relationship gone bad and a life situation gone bad, and my classes weren’t going so well either.

I held my number during the week and once a day on weekends drove to dance practice, where I would sit hugging a cup of coffee, sobbing, until he either time to dance.

I am naturally prone to anxiety and under certain circumstances this can develop into depression. This part of graduate school was one of those times, and other than being in and out of therapy, I wasn’t sure what would help.

Belly dancing did it – and it healed my depression.

Besides the physiological benefits of exercise, which help reduce stress, I found solace in dancing that got me through this difficult time. Just knowing that I would be spending a few hours with people who cared about me (the feeling went both ways) went a long way in improving my mental and emotional health.

The creative and expressive aspects of the dance certainly helped too; I could use the muscle isolations and the ripples and rotations of the arms to dance to what I was feeling, to move and, in turn, process my emotions.

Being able to hang out with the group of women in this dance troupe, doing the weird but fun dance that we liked best, did a lot for my sanity.

I don’t know if it would have been the same if I had done another style of dance.

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If I had done ballet, the body image issues that have plagued me my entire life would probably have been big enough to add to my existing issues (yes, I feel good about my body now, but try to grow up in Los Angeles as a girl with curves and see how you do).

I’m not sure if modern dance would have offered the cohesion of style that drew me to belly dance and kept me interested for half of my life.

None of the other dance styles spoke or touched me as much as belly dancing.

The main style I practice, American Tribal Style®, focuses on group improvisation and is intellectually fascinating as well as creative. How could I not love him?

To borrow a concept, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi explains the concept of the state of flux as this perfect balance between competence and the challenge of a given task. You are not bored, but neither are you frustrated.

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Because of what makes me ‘me’, as well as aspects inherent in the dance itself, oriental dance has been able to help me transcend in a state of flux for most of a decade. And when you are in a state of flux (or when I am, at least), I am blissfully, without thinking, engrossed in this given activity.

The minutes or hours spent in this carefree state can make me feel ecstatic, perfect, loved, wonderful, wonderful.

My depression during this time was bad; it could have been worse, but it was bad. Having access to this dance in particular (and this dance community in particular) has improved my life tremendously. I don’t know what I would have done without it.

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To say belly dancing saved my life might sound hyperbolic, but that’s how I felt back then. I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without belly dancing – aAnd I agree with that.

It has undoubtedly been a positive influence in my life where other influences (relationships, academics, anxiety) have been ambivalent if not downright toxic. As such, I’m happy to be able to teach it, perform it, and immerse myself in it.

So shout out to the ladies of Different Drummer Belly Dancers, who were my troop mates then and the wonderful women of Indy Tribal, who are my troop mates now.

My life is richer because of you.

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Dr Jeana Jorgenson is a sex educator, scholar, and writer passionate about relationship communication, narrative models of gender and sexuality, and alternative sexuality communities.

This article originally appeared on Reprinted with permission from the author.

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