If you ask ten-year-old Molly Dennis, she belly dances because it's fun. She was first drawn to belly dance at age six because of the music, colors, beautiful costumes, and being on stage. What six year old girl doesn't like dressing up and being the center of attention?
"I love it, it makes me feel happy, I love dancing with other people, I like being on stage, it’s so much fun," said Molly.
Molly's mother, Dr. Lorene Dennis, encourages her to belly dance for more than purely entertainment reasons. Belly dancing is a fun way to improve muscle tone, it's a nurturing environment that focuses on self-esteem, and it also helps enhance academic performance. Because Molly has Down Syndrome, all three of these things are essential.
"90 percent of stimulation to the brain comes via movement of the spinal cord," Lorene said. "She has also had the added benefit of being part of a great social group that are very supportive of each other and have lots of fun together."
For Molly, the support doesn't end with belly dancers. Her teachers, family and friends all encourage her love for Middle Eastern Dance. Molly’s inspiration, however, is her older sister, Tara.
Molly performs often at family shows, school shows, belly dance shows and exhibitions. Recently, at an InterACT Disability Arts Festival in Auckland, New Zealand, Molly and her belly dance teacher, Candice, took to the stage to inspire others.
"I was honored to share the stage with this beautiful young dancer who is an incredible inspiration to me and all of my other students young and old." Candice said. "The whole experience of being a part of the InterACT Festival left me feeling filled to the brim with joy and a contentment that I can't describe."
Whereas some belly dancers wait for a certain performance, special occasion, or achievement to feel like a true belly dancer, Molly's been a belly dancer since her first class, and with good reason. Together at Candice's year end show, they raised a great amount of funds to donate for the Upsidedowns Education Trust of which Molly is a beneficiary and an ambassador.
"Molly melts my heart every time I see her, talk to her or dance with her," Candice said. "We could all do with more Molly's in the world!"
Learning belly dance wasn't always easy for Molly, as she couldn't grasp some of the isolating movements on the first try, something that would frustrate Molly. Today, Molly is aware of her impatience, and is quick to point out that sometimes it takes more than one try to learn something, a lesson Lorene says translates from belly dance to the classroom.
"Some of the movements are tricky but just keep trying. I have just done a proper belly roll in the holidays and I am so happy," said Molly.
Her excitement for belly dance is hardly one she keeps to herself. When asked to give advice for a beginner belly dancer, Molly had this to say: "You can have a turn and don't be shy; I will help you."
While Lorene and Molly are happy to share their successes in belly dance, Lorene prefers to keep the negative reactions to herself. When confronted, Lorene takes the high ground.
"Molly has not been aware of these few times but we just do our best to educate others and update perceptions," said Lorene.
The ultimate lesson from belly dance is one that Molly and her mother disagree on. Where Molly wants people to know how much fun belly dance is, Lorene would rather emphasize how important it is to keep dance in both your life and the life of your children. Ending their story, they would like to share a quote:
"Stifling an urge to dance is bad for your health - it rusts your spirit and your hips" ~ Terri Guillemets