Tough mirrors – teaching Oriental Dance do teenage mothers*

1897723_4205090421573_633482211_nI have all sorts of dreams – public and private. I also carry peculiar notions of success, fulfillment and joy. One of the secret (not anymore) dreams I´ve been living with is to work with women in need. Women in prisons; homeless women; women who were victims of rape, violence, abandon; particularly fragile women: Women.

I see the effects of Oriental Dance – when properly taught – on women´s lives every day. I´ve witnessed if for years through my world work travels, private lessons and, more recently, ON LINE PRIVATE COURSES that happen via Skype (with a bonus of a private Facebook Group for each student). I´ve seen, first hand, how Egyptian women have used this dance, for centuries, as the only free space they can call their own and as a healing tool that saves them from absolute & desperate madness. I´ve seen a thing or two. 

If this magical dance has such positive effects on regular, well adjusted, healthy women (whatever that means), imagine what will do to women who are in a desperate need of therapy, love, empathy, transformation, self-esteem or, simply, self-discovery!

You know what they say: we teach what we need to learn.


No surprise when Liliana, a beautiful young lady who´s finishing her Psychology university course, asked me if I would volunteer to teach Oriental Dance to teenage mothers who are supported by “Ajuda de Mãe” (“Mother´s Aid”), an institution that helps  adolescent mums and their babies. Yes was my immediate response. How could I refuse it?

We headed to Ceuta avenue, a decadent part of Lisbon where I´d never set foot. A freezing air corridor cut the road in two, squeazing the institution into a tight corner where space for breathing and dreams is painfully rare. Most of the girls were African or from African ascendancy; their ages went from 13 till 15 years old; they were all mothers who came from broken or non existent homes and they were all enraged. Rightfully so, perhaps.

One thing I was sure of: no one can erase the anger that comes from violence, rape, abandon, years of consistent humiliation and loneliness. We can find ways to channel those negative emotions towards positive directions; we can TRANSFORM them but we can´t deny, ignore or presume to erase them.

Empathy between me and girls was immediately established mostly because I´m one of them. I don´t look like it, I know. But I am. A street girl is always a street girl; a marginal is always a marginal, no matter how much her circumstances may change. I´ve always felt an outsider and my childhood was spent with equally unadapted, fabulous creatures. A bunch of furious, frightened African girls is not something foreign to me – it´s just a set or mirrors where I see myself and the place where I came from.

Ajuda de Mae workshop 2

Me and the wonder* girls after class.

The music started – low, very low due to technical limitations. Focus was hard to keep, especially when a difficulty arrived, even a small difficulty. These girls are used to be put down – they have no ideia how much potential, power, intelligence and strength they keep inside. Some were shy, others resistant to an exotic dance they slowly started to recognize as extremely familiar. I offered them my tranquility – we´re in a safe space, girls… -, my smile, eye contact and touch. These are the winners: setting the tone for the whole workshop by creating an atmosphere where everybody feels safe, unjudged, accepted, supported and loved. Eye contact – more powerful than words – and a steady, tender touch (on the hand or shoulder, for instance) are the king and queen of this challenge. Once you offer them to those girls, their anger starts to melt like honey under the August sun – space for creativity, superation and joy is finally available.

They were in great need of Oriental Dance – how lucky this dance can only be taught through empathy and love; how lucky that we learn (twice) what we teach.

I was thrilled and honoured to be a bridge, once more. Watching those girls´exhausted, (almost) closed hearts opening through the enchantment of this alchemical dance is nothing short of miraculous. Watching me healing my own private wounds in the process is another perk. Feeling their doubt and negative self-image giving place to conviction and positive self-empowerment is – as far as I´m concerned – the biggest gift I could ever receive as a teacher. Watching me, poking at my deepest wound, reflected in those girls´eyes is perhaps the real reason why I became a dancer, a choreographer, a teacher, an author and a person. 


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