Lisa and Friends
At Jane Chung’s Christmas party, having fun with my inspiring teachers: Jane Chung (center) and
Christine Du (right).

Gilded Serpent presents...

Bellydance:

My Lifesaver & Soul Mate

by Lisa Chen

Last April, I underwent laproscopic surgery to remove giant womb tumors. The surgery went quite well, except I lost about 2,000 cc of blood during the surgery and consequently my blood pressure and hemoglobin were seriously below normal. More and further treatments were thus applied and eventually I became one of the very few patients who stay at hospital over one week after accepting this type of surgery. (On average, the ratio for this case is 1:100.  I was very lucky in my recovery!) During my two-week intensive treatment in the hospital, I went through an hour-long blood transfusion of more blood and hematoblasts as well as many intravenous injections of medicines and nutrition. It was a very painful process, and

I felt so helpless and hopeless—since I could not do anything but lie there! Sometimes the blood transfusion process would take 8 hours long!

During my seemingly endless long hours in bed, I recalled the thought that my dear friend Devi Mamak’s boyfriend, Anthony, once shared with me of his experiences of visualization practice. He was traveling locally in Mainland China by train and the journey was so long that he barely had time or space to practice his Taichi, which was his daily routine. Instead, with his eyes closed, sitting quietly, he practiced Taichi inside his mind!

So, here with both of my arms having injection needles inserted and an oxygen mask on my face, I began to visualize that I was standing at FatChance BellyDance’s studio with other dancers.

Since I had nothing else to do at that moment, what I could do was to concentrate and focus on visualizing the dancing scene and review my body gestures, posture, and movements in a virtual-reality way. I could carefully look at each movement in my visualization as well as some details of transition that I hadn’t noticed before appeared. In my visualization, I could watch myself doing certain movements from different viewing angles. It led me to understand further each movement and also inspired a more creative way to interpret movements. I felt much hope and excitement after my visualization practice! I could not wait to share with my friends what I learned from visualization.

In my mind, I started to make future plans even though I had no idea when my hospitalization would end; there was a chance that I would develop a worse condition—which did happen later.

I made up my mind to go see “Devotion”, a recital performance by FCBD in June, 2008, in San Francisco. That was my ultimate goal and commitment: I promised myself to get well and go home! All I could think about during my hospitalization was to cooperate with doctor and nurses to make sure I was progressing to full recovery and I held a strong belief that I would go home soon.

In addition to labor and time-consuming blood transfusions and intravenous injections, the atmosphere and the smell of the hospital also depressed me. I had to think of something else to lighten up. The first thing that popped out from my mind was Bellydancing. I have been learning to Bellydance in the past few years, and I just started teaching at that point. Even though I could not move or walk, my body still retained the memories and the feeling of dance. Through visualization practice, I could experience still the happiness and passion I had felt when I was dancing before.

In my mind, I hummed the music that I used for dance, and gradually, the vision of me dancing happily with my other friends in ATS appeared in front of my mind’s eye. I saw all of us in a circle in pretty and brilliant-hued costumes, playing finger cymbals. I saw girls facing each other in this circle and smiling at each other as we danced. All of us did fast movements that we had learned from Carolena Nericcio of FCBD, and also, we changed our formation from time-to-time. As we turned or spun, our skirts flew high, and literally, the skirts became like flowers, blossoming with the breeze. Since it is an imaginary vision, I could watch this with a bird’s-eye view angled high above and the blossoming flowers of the skirts looked prettier and more vivid when I looked down from the blue sky.

As my images played in my mind like a movie, I did not realize that a few hours already passed and the pain of the blood transfusion was gone, without my awareness.

Also, I had brought a manual by Jamila Salimpour with me to the hospital. I had thought that it might be a good time-killer during my expected short-term hospitalization, since I didn’t have time and mood to read it before my surgery. During my hospitalization, I finished reading her manual; further questions and curiosities raised as I read it. I told myself that if my post-surgery recovery went well, I wanted to attend the first Jamila Salimpour Format Workshop in September 2008. I wanted to hear answers directly from Jamila.

This wish comforted me a lot, and caused me to have further courage and faith to deal with the upcoming treatments. My health condition was so unstable at that time my doctor decided to continue my hospitalization. This was not what I had anticipated! (I didn’t realize all surgeries had risk and you never know what would happen during or after the surgery.) Prior to surgery, I believed that the laprascopic surgery only took few hours to execute and if my condition was okay, I could go home within 3 to 5 days after surgery. Ideally, 6 to 8 weeks after the surgery, I should be able to dance again.

So, at first, I was not very upset about my surgery and didn’t really plan anything because I thought it would be like a one-week vacation, and things would return to normal again afterwards.  What I didn’t know is that I would not recouperate to the same normal level that I used to be anymore. My life has been changed since the surgery.

One evening during my hospitalization, I believed it was a Sunday evening because there was only very few staff members working at the station--I learned that they would remove the plastic ball on my belly which contained blood and body fluid from my abdominal cavity. There was a very fine plastic drain penetrating into my abdominal cavity, and they only needed to take it out and seal the wound. This was just a very minor procedure, and I didn’t need to worry. Once again, all went well at first, but then, all at sudden, my condition changed dramatically: my body temperature dropped so rapidly that I began to twitch badly, and I lost muscle control all over my body. I twitched so much that my heartbeat rate raced to 190! 

I could barely breathe—even with the large oxygen mask—since I could not control my chest muscles.  I knew that my body went into a very critical condition while my consciousness could never have been clearer. I knew that I might die if I could not regain control of my muscle, my heart rate and get my breathing back to normal!

At that moment, while the nurses went out to ask in panic for help, I knew I had to do something to save myself. In the first place, I had to calm myself down. I thought about the way in which I had to breathe in conjunction with movements I had used in class. I forced myself to concentrate on inhaling and exhaling rhythmically, in accordance with my visualizations of those slow movements Carolena taught me before. I had to visualize this in a relatively slow path. In my visualization, I saw there was a stage in darkness with only one spotlight on the dancer there—it could have been Carolena or another women with whom I had danced before; I didn’t see her face. I saw her with elegant posture and slowly conducting the Figure-eight Taqseem, Camel Walk, and Torso-Rotations …again and again, …repeatedly. I had this lady dancing in my mind as I continued counting beats and sang the music in my mind. Later on, I envisioned that others came along to join her. The group did a trio format of dance, and in a moment, I had the illusion that I was one of them. It was like a joint prayer ritual, and I felt collective strength and faith.

Fifteen to twenty minutes later, finally, my body stopped twitching! My heart rate and breathing returned to normal. Being so exhausted and scared, all I knew was that I had saved myself with my passion and faith through dance and my mentor Carolena.

LisaRecovery

My health condition has improved ever since, and few days later, I was allowed to go home. It was the first victory on my long-lasting recovery after my surgery. One of the girls with whom I had classes and who used to be a nurse, told me that I should have been checked into the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) because my condition was ultra-critical, and I might have died at anytime. For some unknown reasons, my doctor didn't put me in the ICU, and I survived because I was not aware of my critical condition. Of most importance, I had such faith and motivation to pursue my future plans, which were to go see the FCBD performance, attend Jamila’s workshop, and go back to dance again with friends. This truly saving me from that situation.

I didn't lose my patience and faith during this treatment and it was a miracle indeed as well as a living witness of how an inspiring art form could do to a human being: it is not merely a good exercise or recreation, it sometimes could be more about saving a life and faith.  My doctor said I was a very unusual case.

It has been almost one year since my surgery. During my recovery in the past few months, I had to deal with more challenges and unexpected difficulty in the process of going back to normal life. I tired easily all the time and had to follow an extremely restricted diet to prevent possible adhesions. My make-up artist friend came to visit me, and he told me no cosmetic products or make-up skills could really cover my paper-white face and bloodless lip color.

Meanwhile, I stopped dancing and going to classes totally for three months, which was longer than what my doctor estimated. So, I could only come to class and sit, watching my friends enjoy dancing. Finally, I was allowed to take classes! I had to learn again as if I had never learned before because I lost my core muscle group. At first I could only sit on the floor playing finger cymbals for a very short time. Gradually, I could stand up, and danced a little routine for 10 minutes.  I never realized that my recovery would be like reconstructing my whole body, and it took an amazingly long time and great energy.

Creating a new body image is another issue I didn’t expect.  It was very frustrating and confusing in a way. After losing 20 pounds of weight and 2 dress sizes down, I had to become familiar with my new body type and posture while projecting into the mirror. I felt I was like seaweed swaying with the ocean tide when I looked in the mirror.

My reflection was not visually agreeable at all, and I was totally shocked! All my movements just didn’t look right. It was not a question about whether I was capable of this movement, but rather, about the fact that I could not do it the way I used to do it. Changing sometimes can be terribly difficult. Ever since I began to Bellydance, I had no longer regarded skinny as being beautiful and my new bony model’s body just made me upset. Luckily, Bellydance is a dance for women of all ages and sizes, and eventually, I gained confidence and happiness through Bellydance again, with my lovely teacher Jane Chung and my other friends’ warm support.

salimpour
Attending Jamila Salimpour Format Workshop
in Albany, CA in September 2008

In spite of all those challenges and changes, I feel that I am very blessed somehow for having Bellydance in my life, particularly during this period of time.  For me, Bellydancing used to be an interesting hobby and an ideal exercise. It is also a great way to meet new friends who share similar interests and vision. Bellydance also leads me to explore other cultures and thus enlarges my vision toward life and the world. Now, further that this, it has become my lifesaver. When I was almost dying, it helped me step into the process of rebirth and rid myself of this nightmare-like memory. Bellydance will be my life-long soul mate.

In addition, Bellydancing has been beneficial for my surgery and recovery. With my previous training in Bellydancing, my body had enough vigor for the long multiple medical treatments, and it helped me to recover relatively fast. After this experience, I have had the chance to learn to take care of my body through Bellydance training. I was very fortunate to meet loyal and supportive friends through Bellydancing activities. They came to visit me during my hospitalization, and urged me to join them soon to dance together again. I felt I was not fighting alone when I was inside the hospital or afterwards. They still check me out from time to time to make sure I am all right.

In June, 2008, exactly 8 weeks after my surgery, I was on the plane to San Francisco to see “Devotion” with my mother. My tears almost rolled when I saw those gorgeous ladies dancing on stage, and I felt the collective strength came out of me again. I realized that now I have a different approach in which to appreciate their movements and this dance. I sensed something that I didn’t notice before from the live music by Helm as well. It was not merely a dream come true, but my commitment to myself was fulfilled finally. I also went see Carolena and told her what happened to me, and I am so glad that I had the chance to say thank you to her directly.

Next, in September 2008, again, I went to San Francisco to attend the Jamila Salimpour Format Workshop. I attended the five-day intensive workshop, and I am so proud that I survived and received my certificate.

Afterwards, I feel that I have more faith in myself. Now, I believe firmly that this dance is my guardian angel, and I should follow its guiding to pursue a completed life.

This experience teaches me to value myself more and also reminds me to keep promises with myself. I appreciate much more with each class I attend, and each time I have chance to dance. I knew that I might not be like I used to be, and I feel so blessed and grateful to be able to dance again and have this chance to share my experience with others. For me, the beauty of Bellydance is to let me realize the true face of life, and we all deserve to enjoy the gift Bellydance brings to us.

Zil Delight
For the very first time attending local bellydance contest with my finger cymbal classmates.
It was a lot fun! (from left, me, Alison, Jennifer and Dori)

 

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