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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

When You Can't Dance
After Accident, Illness, or Surgery

by Shira


You love to dance. But suddenly, your life changed. Due to an accident, an illness, a surgery, or other medical situation, your body simply cannot do it. So how do you continue your Middle Eastern dance journey while your body heals? Here are some ideas.

A good place to start is to remember that your brain is still working. You can still learn about history and culture, and you can still appreciate listening to music and watching performances. To help your morale, focus on doing the things you can do at this time, rather than mourning the things you can not.

This is also a perfect time to focus on learning skills outside those that you are likely to learn from your teacher. For example, if you have been studying Egyptian style, you may have a teacher who can't play finger cymbals herself very well, and therefore won't be teaching you to play them skillfully. If you have been learning tribal style, your teacher might not share much about Middle Eastern music or culture in class. You can use this time away from class to build exciting skills to help you find your own voice as a dancer.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision Productions, Glendale, California.




Watch Dance Videos

Watch videos of dance performances. Analyze their technique. Try to figure out why you like the ones you like, you don't like the ones you don't.

Push yourself outside your comfort zone by watching dance performances in a style different from the one you've been learning. For example, if you've been learning tribal fusion, push yourself to watch some Egyptian- or Turkish-style videos. Look for similarities to the style you have been learning, and look for differences. Look for things you can appreciate about that unfamiliar style - things you never before took the time to notice about it.

Analyze how the performers do their musical interpretation, and ask yourself how you would have interpreted that section.

Analyze what there is about the style of Egyptian dancers such as Fifi Abdo that makes them different from American dancers - the moves they choose to do, the way they respond to the music, the way they project energy to the audience, etc. Or, compare Egyptian dancers to Turkish ones.

You'd be amazed at how much you can learn about dancing by watching performances with an analytical eye!

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Marie Wilkes, Iowa City, Iowa.




Build Your Finger Cymbals Expertise

If you can still use your hands, work on your finger cymbals skills. Work with products that teach Middle Eastern drum rhythms, learning how to play those rhythms on your finger cymbals.

For best results, choose videos, books, and audio CD's created by professional musicians rather than those created by dancers. Many dancer-made videos teach finger cymbals from the perspective of how to move with them, which won't help you at this time. Also, many dancers have a poor understanding of music and include appalling errors in their instruction. For example, many dancers use the term "triplet" to refer to a finger cymbal rhythm that anybody who knows anything at all about music will tell you is not a triplet.

Start by learning how to play the rhythms along with a rhythm CD or MP3 file played by a professional drummer. Begin by playing a simple version of each rhythm at a slow speed. Next, notice how the drummer embellishes the rhythm, and try adding those embellishments yourself. If your mobility allows, now play those same rhythms while moving your arms in a pattern that you would use if belly dancing. It's amazing how different it feels to play a cymbal rhythm while moving your arms around as compared to holding them close to your body!

Next, choose a favorite Middle Eastern song. Play the cymbals along with that song. Notice what rhythm is being played by the drummer, and play along with the drum.

If you know how to crochet, you could use this time to make yourself a set or two of zill mufflers.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Carol Johnk, Iowa City, Iowa.




Video Documentaries

Watch documentaries related to Middle Eastern dance, music, and culture. Watch each multiple times to pick up every nuance of information.

Where to start? These are some titles that will help you begin your study. Even if they represent a different dance style from the one you have been learning so far, take the time to watch them, and expand your knowledge beyond the boundaries of what your teacher would likely be able to teach you:



Keep a Journal

Keep a journal or blog exploring your path of healing and learning more about belly dance while sidelined. Here are some questions to help you get started:

  • What is the first project from this page you have decided to try while recovering? Why did you choose that particular project? What do you hope it will do for you?
  • If you have watched a video of performances, use the ideas in the section titled "Your Responses to Performances on Video" in my article A Dancer's Journal to see what you can learn from them.
  • What did you learn about belly dance today from your reading or video watching? How will it influence the way you respond to watching performances by other dancers in the future? How will it influence your own approach to dancing after you heal? How does it change your view of the instruction you had in the past? Who would you share this newly-found knowledge with if you could?



Costume Making

Make a costume. Attaching beads or other trims by hand is something you may be able to do even if someone else has to help you with cutting out fabric and assembling large pieces.

Is one of your friends or classmates making a costume? If so, could she bring the pieces of it along when she visits, and the two of you sew on it while chatting?



Read Books

Reading books will help you pass the time. If you'd like something fun to read, Snake Hips by Anne Soffee takes a light-hearted look at the belly dancing subculture. If you prefer to read informative books that will give you insights into belly dance history and Middle Eastern culture, you might consider A Trade Like Any Other by Karin Van Nieuwkerk or Looking for Little Egypt by Donna Carlton.

See the Book Reviews section of this web site for suggested books that can help you stay connected to belly dancing while you recover.



Watch Movies

Choose movies related to belly dancing to watch on DVD while you recover. There are many Egyptian movies available with English subtitles which feature dancers as main characters and include dance scenes.

Here are some suggestions for movies with enjoyable dance scenes and entertaining plots:

  • Afrita Hanem. Comedy. Stars Samia Gamal.
  • Shore of Love. Drama. Tahia Carioca in a supporting actress role.
  • Inspector General. Comedy. Tahia Carioca in a supporting actress role.



Learn Upper Body and Arm Dance Moves

If you can move your upper body without pain, try working with dance videos that focus on arms and upper body, such as the Chair Bellydance video. It may take some experimentation to figure out which moves you can do without pain, but it'll feel nice to do something physical.



Explore Online Dance Forums

There's a lot you can learn about belly dance by using the online forums such as discussion groups on social media or You can start by reading the discussions other people are having, then jump in once you feel well-enough informed to do so.



Do Volunteer Work

Are there clerical tasks you can do for your teacher or dance friends as a volunteer? Can you update someone's mailing list, build a web site, address envelopes for a mailing promoting an upcoming workshop, prepare videos for shipping that were ordered through her web site, type up choreography notes, or handle other clerical tasks? Are these activities something that multiple people could do together in a social setting, chatting in between licking stamps?



Be Kind to Yourself

Be kind to yourself and patient. Accept that your body will need time to heal, and give it that time. Embrace the opportunity you now have to focus on the more academic side of dance education, and look for ways to learn as much as possible. Of course, you'd rather be dancing, and you'd rather be free of pain. But at a time when those things are not options, look for ways to feel connected to dance despite your current medical situation.



Copyright Notice

This entire web site is copyrighted. All rights reserved.

All articles, images, forms, scripts, directories, and product reviews on this web site are the property of Shira unless a different author/artist is identified. Material from this web site may not be posted on any other web site unless permission is first obtained from Shira.

Academic papers for school purposes may use information from this site only if the paper properly identifies the original article on using appropriate citations (footnotes, end notes, etc.) and bibliography. Consult your instructor for instructions on how to do this.

If you wish to translate articles from into a language other than English, Shira will be happy to post your translation here on along with a note identifying you as the translator. This could include your photo and biography if you want it to. Contact Shira for more information. You may not post translations of Shira's articles on anybody else's web site, not even your own.

If you are a teacher, performer, or student of Middle Eastern dance, you may link directly to any page on this web site from either your blog or your own web site without first obtaining Shira's permission. Click here for link buttons and other information on how to link.



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