My Body Loves This Dance
Before Carol Tandava stepped into Oreet’s SharQuí class back in 2004, she had struggled for years with severe abdominal and back injuries as well as painful internal scarring from surgeries. Though she had loved to dance since childhood, she was quickly body-shamed out of ballet when her pre-teenaged body developed curves and height. So, in her teens, she had stopped dancing altogether.
In her early 30s, she took a few bellydance classes, but it didn’t “click” until meeting Oreet years later. In that first class, Oreet told her how she had learned to dance from her grandmother; that the dance was not about the “male gaze” but was a way for women to honor and celebrate our curves, keeping us strong and healthy from the inside. What a revelation! After years of sucking in her belly to achieve a rigid ballet posture, Carol found lavish – even mischievous – enjoyment in learning these new “gooey” abdominal movements.
SharQuí’s rigorous hip and torso drills began to wake up and strengthen muscles she didn’t know she had — and not only did Carol start feeling better physically, she began to see her body differently, and develop a new sense of beauty that was no longer controlled by the narrow standards of popular culture.
She and her fellow students seemed to become more and more beautiful with each class. But why? Yes, the movements were visually fluid and gorgeous, but there was more to it: The moves felt beautiful – which gave her appreciation for her body, rather than judgment towards it. And when we feel beautiful, we become beautiful.
As a SharQuí instructor, her first priority is to help her students see their bodies through this beautifying “bellydance lens,” to focus on the feeling of each movement, and to celebrate the body through dance.
Of course, technique is important too, and she offers gentle reminders throughout each class about posture and form using positive imagery, like opening the heart (for a lifted chest), freeing the hips (for a strong shimmy) and, of course, letting their bellies dance!
In teaching, Carol also uses a rhythmic cueing style, where she chants each upcoming step in time with the music. This keeps the class flowing and helps the students remember the choreography like lyrics to the song. Students also get a kick out of funny names for certain combinations – like “drunken parrot” for a swaying shoulder shimmy, or “ride the pony” for Saiidi steps – which keeps everyone laughing while they sweat.
With a strong background in theater, another way Carol has shared her love of bellydance is through her solo show Blood on the Veil: A Bellydancer’s Journey, which she has toured throughout the US since 2012. In this two-hour monologue with dance, she relates a harrowing tale of injury, and recovery through bellydance.
She has been honored by excellent reviews from audience and critics alike, but what makes her happiest is when audience members develop a new respect for bellydance, and even pick up a hip scarf and start shimmying!