I am also the creator of Sequins On My Balcony, a one-woman show blending dance with drama, clowning and stand-up, and the author of a book, Belly Dancing and Beating the Odds. Both deal with my experiences as a belly dancer living with breast cancer.
I teach belly dance classes and workshops throughout the UK and as a director of JWAAD Belly Dance Training Ltd run training courses for other dancers and teachers. I’ve also developed my own Dance Yourself Happy classes, combining all different kinds of dance with singing and laughter yoga, to enable people to de-stress, play and have fun.
I run weekly DYH classes for breast cancer patients at Cancerkin, a charity based at the Royal Free Hospital in North London.
You can click here to see what else I’m up to.
And if you're looking for a belly dance class in your area, check out the JTA, which has details of teachers nationwide.
I’m often asked (particularly by my mother): why belly dance? After all, it wasn't an obvious obsession for a shy and studious middle class girl from the North London suburbs.
It all started while I was a student, working in a secondary school in Southern France. One day three Moroccan girls invited me back to their house, introduced me to their family, plied me with mint tea and cake, tied a scarf round my hips and got me up dancing with them. I found myself surrounded by three generations of women, all shimmying, undulating and encouraging each other. They became my family in France. And that’s how it began, my love affair with belly dance, which has lasted 30 years and is still going strong.
Nothing has made me appreciate the healing benefits of dance more than undergoing breast cancer three times over the last 19 years, and now living with secondary breast cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. While the NHS has done wonders nursing my body back to health, dancing continues to be the best medicine for my soul.
Dance has helped me so much physically, mentally and emotionally over the years. Whenever I feel low and weary to my bones, I put on cheerful, uplifting music and allow myself to move as much or as little as I want. And whenever I’ve been too weak even to do that, I’ve closed my eyes and imagined myself dancing. It always lifts my spirits. I’ve come to realise that dancing with the feet is one thing but dancing with the heart is quite another.
And I owe so much to my belly dance buddies. I wouldn’t have got through my two mastectomies, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and on-going cancer and RA treatment without them. They were always there, not just for practical support, but to listen, dance with me and make me laugh.
Now I have turned 50, and in spite of everything I am happier and more fulfilled than I’ve ever been. I may have lost both my breasts but I’ve also lost my inhibitions. I live life to the full, cherish my family and friends, and count my blessings. I know so many friends who haven’t made it; I’m one of the lucky ones.
Cancer has made appreciate how fleeting and precious life is. Cancer taught me to stop getting bogged down in trivia, to stop beating myself up for not being good enough; it even gave me the impetus to ditch a high-powered (and extremely stressful) job in publishing and follow my heart.
When I used to take authors out and about to publicise their latest book, I never dreamed that I would write one of my own. Or believed that I would find the courage to create and perform in my own one-woman show, let alone tour it around the UK in support of Just Because and other cancer charities.
In the words of Joan Marques, ‘Maybe the art of life is to convert tough times to great experiences; we can choose to hate the rain or dance in it.’
So dig out those dancing shoes! Not tomorrow, not next week, not when you're burned out, have finally paid off the mortgage, been made redundant, retired or when the kids have left home, but NOW.
Don’t put it off any longer; let’s all throw caution to the wind and get dancing!
Wishing you love, peace, health and happiness – with plenty of laughs along the way.
PS A big 'thank you' to Tracey Gibbs for this fab picture of me taken in Luxor. Amazing what a great photographer and good lighting can do for you!