All Artists Are Like Superheroes - Damini Sahay

Damini Sahay

"A belly dancer has the ability to be an artist from the waist up, and an athlete from the waist down."

1. Tell us more about your background and journey.

I was born and raised in a small town Jamshedpur in Jhrakhand and belong to a Bihari family. I’ve always found it amusing that people in India find it amusing that a woman from a Bihar family can be a professional belly dancer, clinical psychologist and run two companies, one for belly dance and one for Dance Movement Therapy.

I happened to stumble upon the possibility of learning belly dance when I was crossing the living room once from my study table and my mother was watching TV and I saw an Indian woman Meher Malik on a dance reality show talking about bellydance and she really impressed me with her words, her aura and the energy of the dance style. 

I never knew that day I would be selected by the same beautiful woman years later to be part of her company Banjara School of Dance as an instructor and company dancer. It’s been 9 years and not only has the journey been highly rewarding and enriching because of all the failures and successes but I now run its sister unit in Mumbai called Junkeri Bellydance.

2. When did you first decide you wanted to pursue belly dancing and how did you start?

I never knew I would pursue bellydance. I made n such decisions, but yes I did decide one day to follow my dreams (literally here ) of being in a bellydance class surrounded by beautiful women practicing bellydance and even in the dream, the environment was very liberating, empowering and sacred.

After having recurrent dreams of the same thing I finally convinced my mother I wanted to try it for real. She hesitated a little but she agreed because she knew that the last 6 months had been th most low point of my life back then as for the first time in my life I had stopped dancing completely and was trying to focus only on my studies (this was during my masters in clinical psychology).

We also agreed to keep it a secret and a trial thing. When I entered the class (and this is before websites had pictures of studios) it was exactly like my dream. I didn’t choose bellydance, it chose me. And since that day it is my most ultimate guru, making me a better version of myself as a teacher, student of the art, performer, woman, person.

3. Who is your favourite dancer and why?

My current favourite is Mercedes Nieto but calling her name out as a “favourite” makes what I feel towards her or any of other idols something smaller than what it is. All my idols are my ideals. 

I understand the world through philosophical lens and a good teacher, even a good friend becomes my “favourite” when they teach me about life and on how to become a better human through being a teacher or friend etc. 

They come into my life when I am really ready for their training, their way of understanding the dance and life through it and when I am even more ready, they leave (yet stay in some other form) and I am led forward to my journey as my own person.

4. Can you throw some light on opportunities one gets as a bellydancer?

This is the most interesting time in the history of mankind. Everything we are and can contribute towards is happening via the internet and the www. It makes things in art a bit trickier than it already is.

Especially in India where this form is still taking its shape as a serious art form. One can be a performer, a teacher, an organizer but one can be none of these unless they stay an “opportune” student. 

That is the only commitment that stays for life and that is the only way other material opportunities can shape in. Having said that, the world needs more art and more artist (sometimes even for the sake of art), now more than ever. If that is not an opportunity, I don’t know what else is.

5. Is formal training required or can one train themselves purely on the basis of talent?

To borrow words of my husband, another renowned artist, “all artists are like superheroes, their art is their superpower and can save the world.” I would say we all have art (and that superpower) within us. 

We lose it to business, adulthood and survival. So this means we can all work on that “talent” of ours, hone it, nurture it till it becomes so nurtured that it can nourish and nurture others through sharing and a profession of teaching or performing. 

The only training required, according to me, is self-discipline, hard work, dedicated hours in the studio, research and the search to always become better and better. That way you will respect the art, it’s rich history, culture and context as well as find yourself being respected in return.

6. What piece of advice would you like to give to future and aspiring artists?

To pursue belly dance/any other art like a relationship they would desire to be in. 

Like a relationship that they would love to be in, giving it the space and time it needs, to love it with strength, kindness and honesty and to try to know it as if it were a person...which takes the full lifetime…and that is the beauty of love or what it means to be a true artist.

7. Since belly dancing is a soul-enriching experience. How has it helped you make an impact through your work?

Being a dance movement therapist and having had a slightly traumatic experience in my childhood (like 100% of all the women) with my sexuality, I saw how bellydance helped me accept my sexuality and once I did (of course it’s not like a graduation day, it is a lifelong journey of self-work), I felt infinite in my potential. 

I felt I stopped having the feeling of constantly living in some kind of fear of the other gender, or that of guilt of being in a woman’s body or of having a sexuality. 

That journey lead me to study how bellydance can actually be used as a medium for specifically helping women (and even men) with difficulties accepting their bodies and sexuality. 

After a lot of research I designed and conduct my module INFINITY to help women, men and professionals training to work with children with such trauma , to work on their sexualities, release the negativity blocked by such instances in their hips (chest or hair, the 3 main highly sexualized body parts in humans) through movement repertoire and philosophy of this ancient and spiritual dance form that we commonly call BELLYDANCE.

Damini Sahay

Interviewed by - Vayun Sahni

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