Guests of the Sheik : An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village
by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea
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The Gilded Serpent presents...
A Cure for Depression?

b
y Carolyn J. Pedrotti, L.C.S.W.


When I turned fifty-six years of age, I found myself feeling old and definitely physically unattractive. I own my own psychotherapy practice, where I sit in a chair four days per week and listen to people recite their problems. Mind you-I like my work-I just had no balance in my life even though I have a great interest in the French language and am bilingual. I found that speaking a foreign language may also be done very comfortably from an armchair!

In the years between 1995 and 1998 I experienced a string of losses of friends and relatives who had been very important to me. I found myself sinking into sadness. By December of 1998 I weighed 197 lbs. and I felt helpless about my appearance.

Most of my friends know that before I became a social worker I had been a professional Belly Dancer in Palestinian and Greeknightclubs on the south side of Chicago.
My stage name was Jamila Hassan. The family name, though, was borrowed from an oud player who was like a brother to me. When he learned that I was Jewish, I became "Jamila from Jerusalem".

Although I loved the music, especially Egyptian and Black Sea music, the Greek clubs in Chicago in the 1970s required the dancers to hustle drinks.

When the dancing shifted from "art" to making money for the clubs, I hung up my costumes and applied for graduate school at the University of Chicago in 1978. I still continued to teach lessons in Belly Dancing on the side.

A couple of years later I moved to California and became a social worker at Mt. Diablo Hospital in Concord. Although I still wanted to teach dance, my boss at the time felt it was unprofessional to teach Belly Dance and be a social worker at the same time. Therefore, I gave my costumes away to a friend who leads a belly dance troupe called "Desert Heat".

Then in January 1999 a miracle happened to me! A dear friend who is a psychiatrist asked me to perform a belly dance at his fiftieth birthday party. I found a floor length sequined dress and bought a coin belt and practiced playing finger cymbals. I discovered that I still loved the music. My dance was a success at the party and I loved the interaction with the audience and started going places where I could hear the music again. None the less, I still felt too old to call myself a professional dancer!

Then a serendipitous moment happened; I saw two gypsy movies, Gadjo Dilo and Laso Drom
. To my delight and amazement, there were women in the seventies dancing and looking great! The women in the movie obviously loved dancing and people loved watching them dance.

I decided that if women old enough to be my mother could perform, I had no excuse to think I couldn't do so also.

The rest of the story is my history. I have been studying dance with Najia El-Mouzayen a year now. I am making my own costumes again. I dance every day now and I also work out at a gym to stretch and rebuild muscle strength. I am now, proudly, a member of the troupe "Desert Heat" which performs at festivals all summer long. I am happy to report that I have lost thirty-five pounds, gone down three dress sizes and men are noticing me again! My marriage has improved and I like myself again. Two of my therapist colleagues have begun studying Oriental Dance and are also feeling happier.

I believe that experiencing and involving oneself in Middle Eastern music and dance is therapeutic. Its lighthearted fun, physical exercise and creative expressiveness are an excellent treatment for depression.

My experiences have given me new insight into women's needs for a creative outlet in their lives. I often share my experience with clients and subsequently encourage them to exercise their own creativity, whether in dance or in some other area.

My recent dancing has also made me a part of a community of interesting and unusual fun loving women. When I was younger, I was always trying to compete with other women rather than enjoying their company. Now I find that I can relax and have fun being with my "sisters in dance."

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Ready for more?
4-9-04 Who Died and Made You Queen of Dance? by Najia
This lack of background basic performing experience would be unheard of and un-tolerated in any other dance form.

5-4-04 Belly Dance in Israel by Orit Maftsir
Belly dancers are the hottest trend at the moment, unlike the totally frozen attitudes towards the Arab culture in Israel.

4-29-04 Dynamic Relationships In the Dance Community by Anthea Poole (Kawakib)
Conflicts happen. People take sides. Learning and growing get lost in the shuffle, particularly when conflicts overshadow the classroom.

 

 
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