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Dancers of the Dawn

February 17, 2011

Something beautiful and affirming has been happening at Grace Episcopal Church in Honesdale. It involves a group of women, each very different from the other, and a master teacher who is able not only to skillfully execute and teach an exotic and captivating form of dance, but to bring out each woman’s unique ability to experience self-transformation through the process.

Most of the women initially showed up simply to learn the art of Middle Eastern Dance, only to find that something else was going on that would lead the dancer beyond the constraints of her everyday life and its limiting perceptions. “It’s not just about dancing, but joy, and love for being a woman,” said student Diana Beisner, “and to sing through body language that is your own.”

Part of their development as dance students involves taking on Arabic dance names based on positive attributes that become apparent in their dancing. “Everyone has their unique beauty,” said instructor Sabah. “Different ages, ethnic backgrounds, personalities, sizes, shapes don’t matter, because each person expresses their individual beauty through these traditional dances.”

Sabah studies each student until a distinctive quality emerges and is named. The names help to crystallize an aspect of the person that’s coming through in the dance. The process helps the dancer.

“It’s like putting on a piece of your costume,” said Cindy Smith, whose dance name is Jehan (elegant lady). “When Sabah calls me by my dance name in class, it’s like getting into character.”

Beisner likens hearing her dance name, Layla (night) to a hose that lies still until water surges through and energizes the line. “It’s something that you step into. It comes that fast and you just love it.”

Taking on the names helps create a launch point to pursue personal ideals, says Sabah. “Naming helps to free what is holding you back.”

A special teacher

Each of the women express gratitude for their connection with Sabah. “I felt like a fish out of water when I first walked in,” said Linda Hall, whose dance name is Dounia (world). “I didn’t think I would fit in. But I lost that feeling through the graciousness of the way Sabah teaches.”