Several years ago, Marian Mazhari set out on a mission: to help women heal.
Specifically, to help women heal through body movement.
The result has been a small but tight-knit circle of budding belly dancers who don’t dance necessarily for show, but dance to reach deep inside themselves and express what they find there.
We sat down with Marian to learn more about belly dancing, her own difficult journey with PTSD after her Army service, and her hopes for women who experience trauma. Here’s what she had to say!
Q: What type of belly dancing do you do?
Marian: I teach a mix of Turkish and Egyptian belly dance cabaret called Raqs Sharqi. It’s one of the oldest styles and uses moves from back in the day like the camel and the omi circle. The name Raqs Sharqi translates to ‘oriental dance.’ Actually, there was no such thing as ‘belly dance’ until it was given that name when it came to Europe. So I teach Raqs Sharqi oriental dance.
Q: Why did you get into dancing?
Marian: Ok, I will get vulnerable here. It’s really personal, but I think it is important to share it. Because maybe there is someone out there who will read this who is going through the same stuff and will go, “Ok, I’m not the only one!”
I started belly dancing right after I got out of the Army. I served for 2 years – one short deployment and one long deployment. I knew I was not well and I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Still living in Germany at that time, I started dancing and soon realized that the dancing was actually helping my PTSD symptoms subside.
I remember – I would feel weird and have a lot of anxiety. Then I would go to class. My teacher was this Greek lady and she would burn incense in the studio. I would just feel amazing afterwards! Or even during.
The movements are very healing for women, especially in the womb area. It helps you move the energy in your body and when you have a lot of anxiety and panic attacks, it really helps. That was 2008 and I’ve been doing it ever since!
I don’t like to share that too much, but I do think it’s important to just be real. There’s no shame in that. A lot of people suffer from PTSD. And it’s not just veterans. There are many women who suffer from PTSD for other reasons. My goal is to bring women into my class who are struggling, not just with PTSD, but also with depression or anxiety.
In my class, I I teach technique but it’s more about self-expression than anything. I tell my students, “This is a safe place for you.” I don’t take men in my class. People have asked me why. I have my reasons: I just wanted it to be an all-girls circle; a sisterhood. That’s what bellydance was back in the day. It was a fertility dance, celebrating birth, so it was just women dancing for women. That’s my thing.
I used to call my class “Healing Through Body Movement.” The way you move in belly dance, in my opinion, really takes you to another level. It helps you get into your body which is a huge step for trauma victims.
With trauma, you disassociate yourself from your body. Dance brings you back into your body. You move your body and you release energy, energy that has been there for decades. It’s incredibly therapeutic and healing.
Q: Is that also what motivated you to teach?
Marian: Yes! I remember, I was like, “I need to share this!” I was just in my head, thinking, “I’m sure there are other vets out there, other women, who need something.”
At the end of class when I play the music and I lead, I tell my students to give their own flavor. For example, if I lead a hip circle, I tell them not to do it exactly as I do it. Give it your own personality. We just have fun in class! Self expression, self expression!
It’s a safe place for you to be sexy. Belly dance is very sensual and sexy and many of us are afraid of that. We tend to shut that down. I know that I shut down my femininity in the Army. I had to. You kind of have to!
Dance helped me bring that back. If we don’t have that feminine energy in us, we’re shut down. It makes me happy that I can bring that to other girls.
It also helps me to keep going. I was going through grief a year and a half ago and the fact that I knew I had students waiting for me helped me get ready, get out of the house, drive there, and deliver the class. Otherwise I would have just not been able to. Dance heals you in so many ways – by dancing it and by sharing it.
It brings together a community too. A whole support system.
Marian: It does! I have met amazing students and we have become friends. One woman, a veteran, told me that she could sleep again. Another woman opened up a lot to me without me even asking. She felt safe.
I may not be able to help in a huge way but if I can just lead the class and help her feel sexy for the hour she’s there, then I’m doing my job. It helps me feel safe too!
Q: When you decided to start teaching, was that a big leap for you or did it just develop naturally?
Marian: I think it came naturally. I felt like I had to do it and it just worked out. It all started in Arizona when a Zumba instructor friend asked me to teach at his studio. The thing was, though, that the vibe there was not exactly what I was looking for. It really hit me when I moved to San Diego and I started attracting the women who were there for this dance to make a change for them. So it was here in San Diego where it all came together. And then I knew for sure this was what I wanted to do.
Q: How does massage tie into all of that?
Marian: Ah! That is a good question! It’s all about bodywork. Dance is bodywork. You’re moving your body, you’re opening your body, you’re shaking up energy just like massage.
Massage, you release a lot of toxins and energy through touch. Whether that is joint movement, passive joint movement, deep tissue, or just a nice Swedish, you’re allowing a lot of oxygen and circulation to go through your body. Just like dance does! I found those two – and yoga! – those three, have become my medicine for sure!
My own healing is going to attract whoever needs it.
It’s all about what is called the Sematic approach to PTSD. Anything that is related to sensations in the body brings you back into your body and is really beneficial for anyone suffering emotional imbalance or trauma, ranging from childhood to military service to domestic abuse.
Anything. No one should be suffering out there in silence.
Q: What kind of massage do you do?
Marian: Currently, I am in the Holistic Health Practitioner Program. For that you have to learn all the modalities.
When someone comes to my table, I do a little of everything – deep tissue, shiatsu, Swedish, aromatherapy, and I’m actually learning lomi-lomi right now.
Not a lot of people know about that one. It’s a Hawaiian sacred massage that is really beautiful and flowy. I just try to incorporate everything into one session and so far, people really like it. It’s not boring for me and not boring for them. I need to get my brain engaged, and I may get bored if I just do one technique!
A lot of people have never been rocked. That’s a huge one for people who come to my table. Rocking is amazing because it brings your nervous system down. I was in love with rocking when it was done to me. I was like “Oh my God, I need to be rocked for an hour!”
That sounds amazing. If someone wanted to book a massage with you, how would they do that?
Marian: It’s very informal right now, and cheap too, since I am still in school. They can just contact me on Facebook.
They can come to my living room, or if they live in a certain area, I can come to them. I have a few rules for me to come to people’s houses, but most of the time they come to me.
Q: How about the structure of the classes that you teach at A Time To Dance?
Marian: I teach twice a week. On Thursdays we do an hour of pure belly dance. I start my classes with aromatherapy, warm-up with stretching, play music, show some moves to follow, and I break it down. I teach technique, they follow and give their own little taste. Then we cool down and stretch.
Friday is the same, but we add a 30 minute session of yin yoga. With that we hold the stretches a little longer and I use aromatherapy at the end. The yin yoga brings a nice end to the class and also to your week. And the yin yoga stretches really feel amazing after you’ve shimmied for an hour!
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Marian: I’m just very grateful that I get to share this with you guys! I don’t share much of why I started dancing but I do think it’s important not to hide it. I’m so grateful that I get to teach at A Time To Dance, not just once, but twice a week and that I get to share my passions – dance and yoga, which have and still help me tremendously in my healing. Thank you for the opportunity!
Marian Mazhari teaches Raqs Sharqi belly dance and Yin yoga at A Time To Dance Studio in San Diego, California
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