My story goes back to 1998, in Pelotas, Brazil.
I had just started my first semester at law school when a teachers’ strike made our classes stop. We stayed home for around three months, and for a young student with hopes and dreams, this was a blow. In fact, I wasn’t actually happy or certain of what I wanted to do with my life. After all, it’s hard to be sure about your future career when you are 17, and I was still somewhat depressed and confused when the classes resumed.
During the strike, I put on 8kgs, messing with the anorexic shape I had “conquered” in my last year of high school. In order to keep my “skinny look,” I used to do things like opening the bag of fresh bread my mom just had brought from the bakery, smelling it, and putting it back on the shelf. Seeing myself “fat” was shaking my self-esteem. I was obviously sick.
I was so young, but feeling ugly and with no sense of direction made me totally depressed. My only activities were walking around the house in my pyjamas, eating, sleeping and crying. I tried to go to the gym but didn’t feel motivated at all.
Discovering a Passion
A few months passed, and I had a thought: why not look for something fun? I had always been curious about different types of music and dances, and I decided to call every dance school in my city to ask if they had belly dance classes. I found a school that hosted monthly courses because the instructor was living in another city. In the ’90s, belly dance was not so popular as it is today, especially in smaller cities.
Although it was hard to learn the steps, I fell in love with the dance and the music instantly. In the first month of classes, the teacher already invited me to replace one of the students that would not be able to participate in the annual Year-End show. The next day, a classmate invited me to perform with her in a restaurant. Funny enough, I had become a dancer in two months. For a depressed young lady, I was doing pretty well. The first step is to get the courage to face your fears, and that is what I did. And guess what? I started to accept my body as it was! I looked at myself in the mirror and I felt beautiful. Being able to listen to the music and let the moves flow was a sacred experience. I felt powerful, fulfilled, and relaxed.
Taking a Step Further
This is how dancing saved me for the first time, but it didn’t end there. My passion for this art grew in a way that I could not live without it. Five years later, I graduated from that university, but I was dedicating all my spare time to dancing: I was constantly performing with my group in the region and going to festivals; and in 2003, I started teaching dance. Belly dance became my best friend and my greatest motivation to wake up every day. In 2005, I started studying theatre at the university and I realized dance and theatre were a perfect combination to make me feel alive every day.
Dancing not only opened my eyes to my inner self but also opened my eyes to the world. Eventually, I became a professional dancer and embarked on an international career. My passion, my best friend and my saviour, became my job and my opportunity to see the world. From that moment on, me and my dance were the same person. Everybody started to call me by my stage name: Anisah. Whenever I was upset, dancing healed me. No matter what happened, all the problems disappeared when I stepped on the stage. It was my redemption. My freedom.
This was my reality for the next six years until the moment I had a back injury and had to stop performing. Being unable to dance brought me a terrible feeling of helplessness. I started to get depressed again. I knew I would eventually change my career sooner or later, but can you stay away from what makes you feel alive?
The answer is no. I recovered from my injury, not 100%, but enough to dance again, and I enjoyed more three years of dance tours. It was like coming back to life. Everybody told me how I looked better because true beauty comes from inside out.
Last year, though, I decided to quit — the career, not the passion. I decided it was about time to pursue other dreams. The experiences I had as a dancing traveller made me realize how much I enjoyed the fast-paced environment of the culture and entertainment tourism. My desire to combine travel, arts and events – and my eagerness to see other perspectives of this field – led me to the Special Events Planning Course at Fanshawe College, here in London, ON.
However, dance will never abandon me. Whenever I feel sad, I dance, in my room, in the kitchen, anywhere. In fact, you don’t need a stage; you just need passion. When you love something and do it with all your heart, you have no reason to let it go. Keep it near you, and whenever you need it, just reach it out.
Dance keeps saving me every time that I feel upset, lonely or hopeless. Especially in times like these, you should find something that you love and just do it. Even if no one is watching; do it for yourself. It’s your self-care, and you deserve it.
Feature photo provided by Vanessa Costa.
If you or someone you know is experiencing issues with mental health and/or eating disorders, check out these links below for more information and resources:
Hope’s Eating Disorder Support: https://www.hopeseds.org/
LHSC Adult Eating Disorders Service: https://www.lhsc.on.ca/adult-eating-disorders-service-aeds/the-adult-eating-disorders-service