with Lorraine Lafata, MSW, LICSW
|Dear Sisters In Dance,
Welcome to the Belly Dance as Healing Dance Column. I am pleased and proud to be part of this new collaborative venture with Visionary Dance. Each month we will feature one woman's story of healing thorough belly dance .
Those of us involved with this powerful art form, know well its potential for deep transformative change. Countless times, as a dance instructor, Ive watched women gather after class in the dressing room or on the stairs outside the studio or in some nearby coffee shop to talk about the impact the dance has made on their lives. The women's voices are alive and vibrant, their faces shine with excitement and intensity, their body language is proud and honoring each women speaking. Its a heady and soul enriching experience to watch women come together in this way.
We view this column as an opportunity to extend the dressing room, make more room on the stairs and push more tables together in the coffee shop. We want to expand our capacity to talk to each other about the effect the dance is having on our lives. So, tell us your story about belly dance as healing dance. Share with as your experience of emotional, physical, spiritual or sexual healing. Together, we can explore the empowering and restorative properties of undulations or shimmies or figures-eights or veil work or zills or any other part of the dance you wish to focus on. The stories can be descriptions of individual, family or community change. The possibilities for storytelling are endless. So, please tell us a story!
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I first came to the dance as a result of a miscarriage in my 33rd year. At the time I was working as a sexual assault/domestic violence counselor for a private non profit agency that ran a program at the women's prison in Massachusetts. Though I loved my job and the women at the institution, working daily in the center of one of society's most patriarchal institutions was a painful and soul searing experience for me. My pregnancy felt like such a special gift. It seemed an affirmation of the life force that was being eradicating daily by the structure of prison.
My miscarriage came early in my pregnancy. I was just into my 5th week, when I experienced slight bleeding. I was terrified and panicked. I called my
midwife, who was also a dear friend and sister worker at the institution. She came to support and reassure me that bleeding was not an uncommon occurrence and did not necessarily mean that something was amiss with the baby. Yet some how I knew that I was going to lose the baby . Within a couple of hours, as my bleeding became heavier and heavier, so did my heart. A deep and unfathomable grief opened in me, as the loss of my child became more and more real.
Yet during that day, I also encountered many blessings. My then husband was with me the entire day and I had never felt closer to him. Dear friends came and took turns sitting with me. Others called to wish me their love, prayers and support. And paradoxically, the greatest blessing came at the exact moment that my miscarriage was complete and I'd finally lost the baby. I was sitting with my husband holding his hand and suddenly the room was filled with this extraordinary rose/pink/gold light. I felt filled with love and peace and was intensely aware of just how supported I was by my circle of friends and the Goddess force in the universe.
This feeling of love and light and support held me together for a few days. But gradually the terrible weight of grief took hold and everyday life gradually became painful and intolerable. One of the major complicating factors of my grief reaction was the resurgence of an old chronic pain condition associated with a disorder called interstitial cystitis.
The symptoms of interstitial cystitis can range from a burning, cutting pain in the urethra to a sensation of intense pressure in the lower abdomen. This often is accompanied by an overwhelming urge to urinate constantly, sometimes up to 20 times an hour. The need to go to the bathroom all the time not only disrupts normal activities of daily life, but completely eliminated the possibility of getting any restful or prolonged sleep. This condition affects thousands of women, but western medical tradition does not have a particularly clear understanding of what causes it or how to treat it.
The sadness I felt at the loss of my child, coupled with the daily chronic pain took its toll on me. I soon had to quit my job at the prison. I tried in some foolish attempt to be stoic (and probably with some measure of denial about my grief) to stay working at the institution. When finally helped me to leave, was when one of the women at the prison, one of my clients came to me and said We watch you walking around here looking sad and pale and in pain. You look like death warmed over. For the last couple years, Lorraine, you've talked to us about developing self love and self care. You've talked to us about how we need to learn to treat ourselves as though we were the precious children of our higher power. It's time for you to walk your talk, leave here and take care of yourself. Do it for us, if for no other reason, so that we can keep believing in what you taught us.
Though the decision to leave the prison was the right one, it did nothing to help the ongoing pain of my body and heart. The more pain and urgency I experienced, the less sleep I got and the further I got from sanity and hope. I began to isolate, become bitter and frightened and extremely depressed
I tried many methods of healing over the next nine to twelve months. Acupuncture, Chinese herbs, homeopathy, Bach flower remedies, massage. I was so desperate I even tried western medicine, taking myself to three urologists. All of whom were either dismissive or had treatments so barbaric and traumatizing that I was left in even more pain.
Some of the methods of alternative healing also had their side effects. After visiting a homeopath, who gave me a large dose of a remedy, my hair began to fall out in excessive amounts. This additional loss, on top of all my other losses pushed me closer and closer to the breaking point. Many of my friends reached out to try and help me and my husband extended himself as much as he could. But I felt so hopeless, so beyond any means of ridding myself of the physical and emotional pain, that I fell deeper into despair and even, considered suicide.
My recovery from this crisis took a total two and a half years of my life. Many factors that made it possible to pass through my long, dark night of the soul. Loving friends and family held onto me as I grieved making sure that I knew I was loved, making it possible for me to finally, completely accept the loss of my child. A skilled and compassionate medical doctor, was able to trace some of my physical symptoms, (hair loss, anxiety and severe moods swings) to a thyroid disorder helping to renew physical balance and sense of normalcy and control. Yet I was still left with the chronic pain of my bladder/pelvic condition and nothing I tried seemed to budge the pain.
One day I was walking down the street in Cambridge and I saw a sign in a shop window advertising a class in Belly Dance and Women's Spirituality. I remembered thinking to myself. Well, I haven't tried that yet. I was in that desperate/ blessed state of being willing to open to any new experience that might have the possibility of easing my pain, no matter how unusual or unexpected.
I began taking the class, and was in my second week of studying the hip circle when something extraordinary happened. The pain, which had been constant, consistent and unmovable, suddenly shifted. Now, I don't mean that it went away or that I was miraculously cured that minute. Rather, it was as if the sensation of a solid block of sharp, cold ice in my pelvis began heat to up and become more liquid. The pain became more pliable and, well, just felt different.
I was so much encouraged by these signs of change after so many months of sameness, that I began to practice belly dance movements in every spare moment I had. The more I did the movements ( the circle, the crescent and the undulation), the more the pain transformed itself. It would grow larger, then smaller. It would flow like hot lava and move around in my body . It was as though the movements had liberated my physical self from some kind of stuck, holding pattern. Suddenly, I had a new relationship to the pain . I was no longer pinned or held prisoner by its intensity. Instead, it became part of me, my body, my awareness. I was free to explore it and experience it and most importantly of all, listen to it.
What was this wake up call trying to tell me? What was my body, saying to me about me, about me? Gradually, I began to realize that in exposing my body to belly dance, I had in essence, introduced a whole set of new and affirmative experiences and beliefs into a closed and rigid system. I was being given the opportunity to examine the powerful, mistrustful messages I received about the nature of life, faith and hope, in my early years. I was being shown how they had crystallized into a fear- based body pattern, that inhibited my ability to fully breathe into and occupy my own strong self .
With this realization, suddenly everywhere in my body, there was this sense of freedom and space I'd never experienced before. The dance movements I'd been learning began to yield up such powerful and direct information. The circle spoke to me of strength and stability and I could find both in my pelvic floor. The crescent moon movements felt like being rocked and held and I internalized this as an increased ability to soothe myself and know that everything was going to be okay. Shimmies taught me about conservation of energy and I understood finally that the surest path to power is not through ceaseless effort, but rather by relaxing into the flow and momentum of an experience. While immersing myself in undulations, I was re connected to the ongoing rhythm of life and was able to look back at my now passing grief and see that no matter how far out to sea I had been tossed, there was always that life current pulling me safely back to shore.
New opportunities for healing were part and parcel of my belly dance adventure. Not only did the ancient movement vocabulary open up new mind/body vistas for me, it also brought me together with a sisterhood of like
minded and hearted women. Many of the women in these classes were on own similar quests for healing and opening. We would often gather together after classes to discuss the changes in our bodies and our psyches that seemed to be happening as a result of the dance. We met in coffee shops, restaurants. Sometimes we would just stand on the street outside of class space talking for hours.
I think I'd been taking classes for about a year, when our instructor Barbara invited those who were interested to a meeting to discuss forming a ritual dance troupe, dedicated to dancing our power and beauty as women. It was from the original nine that attended that meeting that The Goddess Dancing was born.
That was nine years ago and in that time many things have changed in my life. Some of the original members of the troupe have left and other members have joined, creating a new sisterhood. The Goddess Dancing has grown into a thriving teaching and performing business.
My first husband and I decided that we had come to the end of our path together and we separated in what was probably the world's most amicable divorce. I left my social work job and opened my own private practice and consulting business. I formed many new loving connections and suffered some painful losses. Throughout it all, this dance and the circle of women I have met as a result of it, have sustained and supported my transformation.
Now in my 42nd year, I've met a new love/ life partner, soon-to-be husband and I am pregnant with our first child. In many ways, my life has come full circle and I face a new set of challenges. As I ready myself to face this next leg of my journey, I realize that the dance has taught me to trust, both myself and the universe in a way I could have never conceived of when I began. I find I have no fear of the future and that I have the courage to embrace whatever comes to me.
So, I thank the Goddess for bringing me to the dance and for letting me do her work all these years. I thank her for the community of women who have bedrock of my support. And I eagerly await whatever new adventure she has in store for me.
This piece was originally written in early winter of 1999. Since that time, Lorraine has married the love of her life. With the help of the dance and its strong sisterhood, she has birthed through the belly by C-section their beautiful son Lucas.
She has left The Goddess Dancing, become a collaborator in Sacred Source Belly Dance and established her own independently run Belly Dance as Healing Dance series of workshops and classes. Working in her capacity as a feminist therapy, she continues to expand her private practice in Body Centered Psychotherapy for Women, looking for new ways of connecting of connecting women to their power, beauty, and strength.
If you would like to ask a question or submit a story of your own, email it to us at:
It's best to include your story in the body of the email. If you must include it as an attachment, please save it as a Text file (rather than a file from a specific program) before attaching it, if you can.
Embracing Aphrodite, Column #6
Healing Through Belly Dance, Column #5
Belly Dance to Inspire Healing, Column #4
Embodied Sexuality and Female Power, Column #3
Belly dance as Storytelling Art, Column #2
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