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with Lorraine Lafata, MSW, LICSW

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June 2002, Column #4:

Belly Dance to Inspire Healing

by Pat Stricklin (aka Patina Rayna Maya)

Belly dance has been part of my search for energy, enthusiasm, passion, creativity, or what I call life drive, as well as a sense of validity in the world. You know no bounds when you feel it, and it is unmistakable when in the presence of someone else who has it. When it is missing, all kinds of problems come up, and nothing can stir the senses. We see examples all around us. There are people who just seem more alive than others. They fit comfortable in their bodies, and express their unique nature out into the world regardless of who may be near, or what they may be dealing with in their personal lives. I always think of Elizabeth "Artemis" Mourat, Kajira Djoumahna, Delilah and Paulette Rees-Denis as my favorite examples, but I've encountered many others. Then there are those who seem afraid to be alive. They practically apologize for taking up space by the way they move and speak. I've been one of those most of my life. I just assumed I had a personality defect, and had long been on an obsessive search for the something to fix what was broken about me.

Shortly after the first belly dance show I saw, I signed up for the classes the show organizer was giving at the local YWCA. It was good for me, but brought as many problems and upsets as it brought the inspiration and enthusiasm I was hoping for. There were personality conflicts, ego wars, and radical differences in how to present a guild of belly dancers to the community. My focus was on my own personal growth, and that of women in general. As that focus was the most disconnected from the majority, my only option was to leave the group. So, even thou there is belly dancing 15 miles away, I have to travel 60 to 240 miles or more to find what I can connect with.

By the time I had left my local group I had established that, for me, learning to inhabit and communicate with and through my body was something I wanted as much as that energy and passion I longed for. I ventured out to study with Paulette Rees-Denis and Patrice Hawkwood-Schanck at the retreats they give in Oregon at Breitenbush, called "Ancient Echoes of Tribal Style Bellydance". There, my interest in spirituality from a feminine perspective began. I also traveled to study with Delilah and Lorraine Lafata. I even had a private class with Delilah once. Delilah is the kind of person who can inspire growth just by being in her presence. However, as I remember it, I didn't have enough energy to hold my own face up let alone respond fully to what she had to offer, like her ritual warm-up. I also attended Lorraine's workshop on healing our sexuality through belly dance. It was a wonderful workshop, but I felt like everyone else was already healed, and I still had something deeper that was broken. I was the only one there who seemed to have any rage during PMS for instance. In spite of all that Delilah and Lorraine have had a big positive impact on my life.

With the idea that I was somehow broken, or had a personality defect, I gravitated to any teacher in, and outside, of belly dance who had what I thought I was looking for. I fell for some charismatic and unscrupulous types in the process. What I was looking for was someone to sort of loan to me, by association, a feeling that I was worthy of living fully. I thought, "this next one will have the answer that will make life make sense, and me feel whole". Needless to say life doesn't work that way. We can't barrow a positive self image from someone else by association.

So my search continued. Everyone else seemed so alive, I felt so dead, sad, and angry. Back when I was participating with the local group in classes, and events, I had a hard time keeping up. I didn't have the energy to move from point A to point B on the beat. Performing became an ordeal as all I wanted to do was get to bed on time. I looked through my past for a problem that separated me from life. I had about an average amount of trauma. My parents were divorced early, they were quite dysfunctional, (whose family wasn't in one way or another?) there was neglect, abuse, and some mother wounds I had to learn to forgive. But, all through dealing with those issues, nothing let that deadening cloud dissipate, nothing brought any lasting energy or enthusiasm, beyond the effect of a double latte. Then, a few years ago when my doctor retired, and I had to find another one, I was diagnosed as having an under active thyroid, or hypothyroidism. I had spent many years believing in that personality defect theory, and if my doctor hadn't retired I probably still would. When the diagnoses came, those tiny hormone pills gave me a life. So far so good, but wait!

The essential effect of hypothyroidism is to keep the primary burner for every physical system on low, resulting in a lot of physical and emotional symptoms I wont go into here, but I will include some resources at the end. It seems that thyroid problems are fairly common in women. With Hypothyroidism you have no life drive, including no sex drive, no sense of rightness in the world, and an underlying irritability with all those who have that elusive energy. For the last 3 years or so I have been on a typical search for the correct type and dosage of replacement hormone. Most of the time I've felt like a completely different person. I described it as feeling like a wild woman had taken over and I had no control. That kind of sudden change can have emotional repercussions, as I was soon to find out.

As I have gone through this process I often wondered which came first, the personality, or the lack of thyroid hormones? That thought sent me off on a search for an alternative to create my self, health and personality, the way I most enjoy being without taking the hormones. In the Chakra system, for instance, the thyroid is part of the 5th center. This Chakra is associated with will, timing, choice, faith and self expression that is not limited to speech. I had problems in every area, so fix the issues, fix the thyroid. I found a lot of great theories and philosophies, but ended up unwilling to work that hard, spend that much money, or wait any time at all. So I take the hormones, which give me the opportunity create the self I want to be. At first I fought that wild woman. She wanted to disregard the security of a job I am too close to retiring from, and dance, and gather women together to move and learn and grow. I found myself terrified of all that energy, and the choices I might make if I became her. I sabotaged the energy and enthusiastic passion I had been longing for. I had it in me to be fully alive, but didn't know how to handle it.

I believe that wild women is the self I am supposed to be if my thyroid were "normal". Why it isn't, I no longer care. What I care about is why the freedom of being that comes when I'm balanced and in that wild woman state is so frightening. I think I had just conditioned myself to this sort of safe way of being. Again, I went into research mode, looking into cultural conditioning of women in particular, and the basic feeling that I don't deserve to feel that good. I worked on practicing forgiveness and release of all those I perceived as harming me, and forgiving myself for not always doing right by myself and others, which is good stuff to do. Pretty soon thou, I wound myself up in a tight circle of trying to figure out why I was still broken. Then my partner and my wonderful, say it like it is friend, Kajira, told me (over and over) that I'm not broken, I'm just running away, again, from being fully alive. Just get radical and let it all go, and live from where you are now instead of diagnosing the past. Live fully now as the sum total of the wild woman you are, was essentially their message. I'm not meaning to advise throwing a big wet rug on the past, but spend time knowing the present, and know that the past just got you here. It's over, no matter how imperfect, it was perfect for bringing each of us to who we are now. It also doesn't matter if conditions, our bodies, or emotions aren't perfect. If we feel a passion we have to start where we are. Even if we can't do the flashy or physically demanding movements, if we desire to dance, we should do so. Even if we only dance alone in our own homes.

So, here I am now in spring 2002, with good healthy hormone levels, and feeling ready to start again with a bit more honesty and self connection. Delilah's new video and DVD "Absolute Beginning" is proving to be a valuable tool. It's release has been perfect timing for me. My focus in life has turned once again to learning to inhabit my body and communicate with and through it, to live fully and passionately as that wild women who once frightened me. I wonder what her dance will be like? I've spent too many years avoiding dance so I wouldn't get too happy or energized, or risk letting my full, sexy, sensual self out in the world. At 46 I'm in a now or never state of mind. I have a good foundation of health, and a level of strength, flexibility, and endurance that is not perfect, but can be worked with and built on. And now, I have this wonderful new tool to establish solid beginnings, and enhance all the other belly dance tools and videos I've collected over the years.

Pat Stricklin (aka Patina Rayna Maya)


Living Well with Hypothyroidism, by Mary J Shomon
Thyroid Solution, by Ridha Arem
Screaming to be Heard: Hormonal Connections Women Suspect, and Doctors Still Ignore, by Elizabeth Lee Vliet

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Embracing Aphrodite, Column #6

Healing Through Belly Dance, Column #5

Embodied Sexuality and Female Power, Column #3

Belly dance as Storytelling Art, Column #2

Belly dance as Healing Dance, Column #1

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