Gilded Serpent presents...

SharQui and Injury

Oreet corrects a student

by Rachel
posted August 13, 2009

I still very clearly remember the first time I encountered bellydance. I don’t remember her name, or her face, but I remember she was wearing the most beautiful green costume with elaborate silver coins on her hip-scarf and arm cuffs. 

I remember she was beautiful and the precision and control she had over her movements was absolutely amazing. I wanted to be able to dance like that.

But even then I knew we did not have extra money for me to take any kind of lessons.  There were five kids in my family and my parents never made it a secret that we were struggling to make ends meet.  I knew better than to ask for something "frivolous" when they were already so stressed about making sure we were fed and had a place to live.  So I never asked, and tried to put it out of my mind.

Over the years, I continued to watch any performances I could catch, all while silently wishing I could do what they did.  But there was always something… time, money, lack of studios where I lived…  As I got older, I pretty much settled into the thought that I’d never be able to learn more than what I did in my school theaters and choir performances.  I focused on studying for the career I wanted and enrolled in a massage school that focused heavily on human anatomy, specific muscular therapy, and injury therapy.

Then in June of 2004, I was working as a lead therapist in a day spa when one of the receptionists thought it would be a brilliant idea to jump on me while I was stretching my low back. Twice in a row. To my complete and utter devastation, in those thirty seconds, she absolutely and quite entirely ruined my life as I knew it.

I suffered a severe injury to my spine and sacroiliac joint that left me in constant agonizing pain, and worse, fully disabled. I was 23.

What followed was a nightmare that would take pages to tell, but suffice it to say, Worker’s Compensation, lawyers, and all the programs I’d always been taught would take care of such things turned out to be more concerned with denying me treatment than trying to help me heal. And after nearly five years of fighting with them, I decided I’d had
enough of waiting for them to do what they promised.  If I was going to get better, I was going to have to do it on my own.  So with the encouragement of my friends, I started to look for ways I could start trying to regain my mobility.

Living in San Francisco gave me access to a number of gyms and I started to email instructors and trainers to ask about their classes and programs.  I was clear about my disability and about my limitations, and what I was hoping I would be able to accomplish.  I mentioned what my doctors wanted to see and asked if they thought their class would be a fit for me. Among those was a class at my local JCC that had caught my attention the instant I laid eyes on it.

SharQui Bellydance.

I wrote to the listed instructor on a lark, fully expecting her to say there was no way I’d be able to take the class.  But to be totally honest, I couldn’t quite help myself.  Even though I knew my disability would prevent me from taking it, I still sent the email because some part of my mind still wanted so very badly to be able to learn bellydance. In the end, only one of the instructors said yes: Oreet… from the SharQui Bellydance class.

I was… unbelievably astonished.  There in the email she was insisting I come in, that her class would be absolutely perfect for me, and she could help me modify the movements to my own limitations. 

All she asked me to do was come in early and see her before class started to make sure she could go over them with me. I don’t think I can adequately describe how reading that made me feel.  I cried; I’ll admit that without any hesitation.  For so, so long all I’d heard was no from everyone.  And suddenly, here I was getting a yes to learn something I’d given up on thinking I’d ever being able to do. After recovering from my shock and relatively minor emotional breakdown, I still struggled with – well, I guess the best way to say it is a feeling of inadequacy.  Before I was hurt, I’d been active and incredibly health conscious, but now?  Now I was a hundred pounds overweight, hated seeing myself in the mirror, and couldn’t even tie my own shoes.

But I finally pushed myself through that, bit the bullet, and went in for a class to meet Oreet face to face. My first impression was definitely: "Wow, she’s tiny!"  But the minute I introduced myself and she started talking, I was blown away.  She just exuded so much confidence and genuine warmth that I felt like I was talking to an old friend.  It was so comfortable that my self-consciousness and hesitation were pushed to the back of my mind before the class even started. Unlike any of the classes I’d seen or talked about with my friends, the SharQui method she created focuses on strength, endurance, and form.  The entire hour was spent learning the foundations of each movement and focusing on full isolation to get the right muscle groups firing to perform them.  We weren’t busting out with wild moves or choreography; there weren’t crazy rolls and undulations.  The moves were small, focused, and controlled. Interspersed with learning the correct postures and dance forms, Oreet told us bits of the history behind each stance and each move.  Names, origins, differences from region to region… it was absolutely fascinating, and given just how much I’ve admired it for so long, I was completely thrilled.

There I was, very slowly attempting to shimmy, activating muscles long atrophied from inactivity, and at the same time, getting a history lesson on the dance form itself.  By the end of the class, I was panting, sweating like a man, already feeling my muscles protest… I was absolutely ecstatic.

And I’ve been going back for more for three months.

With my own training in muscular therapy and injury, I’m really, really picky about the things I do.  I have to be; otherwise I’ll aggravate my injury and spend a ridiculous amount of time immobile and in a great deal more pain than normal.  Fortunately though, with my training in anatomy and body mechanics, I understand the way the body works, the way it moves.  I know all about the compensation between muscle and body and posture, especially for things like dancing and exercise.  I know the right way to do things, and the wrong way to do things, and I know how many people have no idea which one they’re doing.

Because of that, I have so much appreciation for Oreet and what she does.  Her method has not just made it possible for me to start exercising again, but it’s given me the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted.

I’m hoping that by sharing my story, I can help out others like me who’ve admired this beautiful style of dancing but thought they’d never be able to learn it.

Oreet by Rachel
Oreet performing in August 2009 at —– in San Francisco, CA

In everything in life, you HAVE to have a strong foundation if you want to have a strong, polished product in the end.  Be it education, profession, or recreation.  You can’t immediately walk onto a plane and expect to fly, and by that same principle, you can’t walk into a studio and expect to master complicated, intricate dance styles.  SharQui is quite literally the only style I’ve ever watched or heard of that focuses on mastering the foundation of bellydance movement before attempting to move on to the "big stuff."

The SharQui method has really been just about the best thing that’s happened to me in my "quest" to get my mobility back.  It’s so focused on building the strength and stamina in all the right muscle groups for each step and move that I haven’t once felt like I was in danger of straining myself or aggravating my injury.  Oreet is absolutely amazing for keeping us on track with our posture and the appropriate way to perform each step and each move.

Oreet’s method really has given me back so many things that I thought I’d lost forever.  Little by little, I can feel the moves getting easier.  Believe it or not, I can actually shimmy!  Just a bit and not very well, but it IS there.  It’s giving me hope now that I can get to a point where I can really sustain it if I keep going to class, and keep practicing at home.

I’ve recommended SharQui to all of my friends, to my family, and even to complete strangers in the gym.  We have a fantastic class and everyone is so encouraging and so helpful that even going to work out alone, I haven’t once had a problem with losing interest.  It’s a dynamic environment with absolutely infectious energy, and you can’t help but love it.

Learning this style has made me feel like I can actually do something to help myself and my body in a way I haven’t been able to do before. 

It’s a little easier for me to "find" my muscles not just during class, but when I’m doing my physical therapy exercises and even around the house.

Sure I’m still in pain.  I’m still out of shape, overweight, and disabled, but now I feel like just maybe I can get those first two back under control.  I haven’t felt that way in five years, and I will love Oreet forever for giving me back that confidence and hope that even though it’s not ever going to be in mint condition, I can make my body my own. 

I feel alive again.

And now that I have that?

Well, maybe now I can try to work up to those really awesome flashy moves after all!

Rachel performs!
from author-"I’m really excited to tell you I participated in a little student performance event to represent Oreet’s JCCSF class.  We had two dances, a veil dance and a drum solo.  I was incredibly nervous because Oreet put me in front for both dances, but my friends said I was great and I had a lot of fun!  My roommate took a couple pictures from the veil dance and I took some of Oreet that turned out just amazing! On a personal note, since I started the class, I’m down 33 lbs and fitting into pants I had given up as a lost cause. If this keeps up, I might even be able to pull my really old pants down out of the closet in another year!"

Rachel poses with fellow dancers
With Oreet below is Rachel, Diana and Arisa

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  1. Sierra

    Sep 8, 2009 - 02:09:54

    This article is beautiful.  There’s really nothing more I can say besides that.

  2. Susan Logas

    Sep 25, 2009 - 07:09:07

    Thank your for sharing this, Rachel.

    I know that I truly enjoy Oreet’s classes also. That plus the friends I have made there coax me into showing up every time I’m in town.


  3. Samiya Halaoui

    Oct 20, 2009 - 05:10:45

    What a beautiful story Rachel!  Enjoyable from start to finish.  I can’t wait to hear more about your journey through bellydance!

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