Counsellor, Chinar Abdulaziz, tells Happiful about the ways that flamenco dancing helps her with her mental health, and why taking time to switch off is essential
Over ten years ago, I was looking through my local adult education brochure trying to decide which evening class to try next. Flamenco dancing caught my attention, so I decided to give it a go. Years later, and I'm still going. I find this time valuable as I can switch off from client work and any other responsibilities both at home and in the office. Taking care of myself and doing things that make me feel good is essential. Here are 5 ways that flamenco dancing has helped my mental health:
Flamenco dancing has given me the opportunity to try something different and exciting. I get a chance to dress up in colourful outfits and show off what I have been learning in class at festivals, events and parties. I learnt rather quickly that no matter how well the rehearsals have gone and how much I have practiced to polish my performance, to be prepared for the unexpected. Sometimes there may be last minute changes to the choreography or something out of my control may happen during a performance. But, the show goes on. This has taught me to have a more flexible approach to life. Performing has also helped to boost my confidence and leaves me feeling uplifted.
People often remark what a wonderful skill flamenco dancing is. Recently, after a performance, individuals from the audience came up to talk to us, to find out about our class and how they can join. Some asked where we were next performing, if we were on social media and if they could take photos of us. This made me realise that we have come far and are no longer beginners although sometimes when I am learning a new choreography it may feel like it. I am grateful for our teacher for believing in us. She is an inspiration. From time to time, my family and friends come to watch us. It’s great to receive their feedback and any photo opportunity. In the past, my sister asked me to dance at her engagement party which was a surprise for everyone and my first solo performance - something we will always remember. Sometimes life is full of lovely surprises and I have learnt that by sharing my joy of dancing with others it is deeply rewarding.
Dancing brings a diverse group of people together from all walks of life and it’s given me an opportunity to meet many interesting people both performers and the public. Knowing that I will be performing inspires me to keep practising. As keen learners we sometimes get together to run through the dance or for a fun day out. I have performed at various places including the Flamenco Club in London, BBC’s Big Dance at Trafalgar Square and Move It Dance Event at Excel London. I also played a dancing role in a play called ‘Spirits Within’ at the City Lit and participated in a flash mob at St Pancras to promote the start of London’s Flamenco Festival at Saddlers Well Theatre. Learning to dance and my social interactions gives me a sense of wellness.
Taking part in dance classes helps me switch off from daily tasks to re-charge my batteries and avoid being burnt out. Once I am in class, I focus on what I am learning - the hand and body movements, steps and choreography. I look forward to seeing the other learners and if there is time, catching up with what they have been up to during the week. I enjoy my weekly classes and sometimes during the holidays I go to workshops and courses at other flamenco schools. The classes keeps me fit and agile. Having an interest outside of work and family, leaves me feeling refreshed and re-energised.
As a counsellor, when appropriate, I suggest clients take care of themselves by learning something new, starting a hobby, getting active and allowing for some valuable me-time. I believe that creativity or doing something individuals enjoy can help to shift their mood. Flamenco dancing is my way of taking a leaf out of my own book and having some wonderful me-time, which benefits me on so many levels – mentally, physically, emotionally and socially.