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.”
Jarin Weinstein, named Suraya (star), had studied various forms of dance under the guidance of several teachers, but felt that Sabah had something different to offer. “When I met her, she was transmitting the dance. It was unique and authentic. She transcended what the body can offer by using her own energy to bring in a new dimension. That’s where the self-transformation springs from. It’s a blessing to dance with other women in an environment where it’s safe to see their beauty and not be threatened by it.”
The ongoing experience has transformed Sabah too. “I was always a lone ranger in my work, but I’ve been discovering the potential for camaraderie and how women help each other when barriers are removed. I thought I was courageous because I was a loner. But I was actually too terrified to open up to friendship on this level of interaction. I come in to teach a class, but I walk out being taught.”
Suraya agrees. “The women have taught me that it’s okay to be strong and to feel powerful, to be bold and to stand up for yourself. In our society, we’re not taught what a real woman can be, all the possibilities.”
A special bond
Sabah has taught around the world, but says there is an unusual bonding here that arises from trying to reach personal goals together in an environment that is supportive rather than competitive.
“When there’s no competition, you can just be yourself,” explained Suraya. “There’s no better feeling than self acceptance, because you’re going to accept the next person in return. Then you can see that on the street because you now know what you’re looking at—the sparkle in a woman’s eye, the smile on her face, how she chooses to adorn herself and what kind of clothes she wears.”
“It’s become somewhat of a sisterhood,” said Dounia. “The dance itself promotes freeing oneself. Inhibitions evaporate. It’s a wonderful form of release. I leave my problems at the door and I leave here on a high.”
Jehan initially decided to attend the class to rehabilitate from a back injury. “I didn’t know that part of the experience would be about letting go and opening up, she said. “It’s very freeing.”
The women help one another in various ways, from developing
costumes to providing support through personal crises such as depression, the death of a loved one, physical ailments and more.
Sabah also believes the setting sustains the group. “This church is very special, with its strong connection to the community,” she said. “It’s wonderful that our classes fund that community outreach.” All Dancers of the Dawn performances have been fundraising events for the local community, benefiting Dessin Animal Shelter, Victims Intervention
Program, literacy programs and food pantries.
Sabah will hold a free introductory class on Egyptian dance on February 21 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the church. Ensuing classes cost $12, with proceeds benefiting church programs.
“Women’s power comes naturally when they are not amputated from it by the way they are led to feel insecure about their weight, how they look, what they wear. This is what is being discarded as we celebrate each woman’s uniqueness.”