Shalini, one of our Happy Monday ambassadors, blogs about how dancing helped her through tough times
I have always loved dancing. My first memories of childhood in Kenya are of me being on stage when I was three years old – surrounded by older girls – loving being the centre of attention.
When I was sixteen I graduated in the South Indian Classical dance form Bharata Natyam. The exam was a 3-hour long performance in front of an audience of 450 people.
It was gruelling, exhilarating – and life-changing. I look back at the photos and wonder “How on earth did I do that?” It feels almost like a dream.
I then went onto India to study dance under two world-renowned dance Gurus.
But when I was 18 my mother decided that dance was not a suitable career for a good Indian girl – and so I was to follow in my father’s footsteps and enter the hospitality business. I spent 3 years at Les Roches - a hotel management school in Switzerland.
Although I excelled at the academic side – my cooking was never up to very much! I left Les Roches with some great business skills – and this has proved valuable in my life today.
Soon after, I came to Guildford in Surrey to study Tourism Education at the University of Surrey – and ended up meeting my soulmate Jeremy. And so I decided to stay in the UK – and make a life for myself here.
But life was tough.
I worked hard in hotels – thankless, un-sociable hours, badly paid work. From there I moved to hospitality recruitment – and it was here that I experienced bullying in the workplace.
Me a strong, independent woman – being emotionally abused by a man. It was soul destroying.
At the same time I was going through a really difficult time with my immediate and extended family – who I had become estranged from as they did not approve of some of the life choices I had made – especially my decision to live with Jeremy.
One day as I was leaving for work I found I could not open the door to leave the house. I literally collapsed on the floor, crying, shaking and gasping for breath.
I was having what I later realised was a panic attack.
And so, within a few days I found myself admitted into the Priory as an inpatient.
The only thing I remember about that day, as I walked through the hospital doors – was thinking “I hope no one recognises me. I hope no one ever finds out about this.”
The shame was too much for me to bear.
A few weeks into my stay - I happened to play an invocation to the Hindu God Krishna on my small sound system. And something just took over and I began to move to the music – each word being portrayed by mudras or hand gestures. I had forgotten just how much I loved to dance.
But, because of the cocktail of medication, lack of sleep and sheer mental exhaustion my hands were shaky and I was unsteady on my feet. It was not my finest performance – but yet it was my saving grace. For the first time in ages I felt alive. There was a glimmer of hope.
A few weeks after coming out of hospital, I had to make some life-changing career decisions. I had to give up a well paid, target-driven job and instead began to work at a local arts centre doing fairly simple tasks.
Taking each day – a step at a time.
I was surrounded by creativity – actors, musicians, artists and over time I began to feel the creative juices flow. I was lucky enough to be able to use the studio space to experiment with movement. Whereas before, I would dance and move without much thought, in a carefree manner – this time it was different. Each move, each hand gesture, each glance felt meaningful – it was mindful. I was mindful of everything I did within the dance. After all, it felt good to be able to move, and so I wanted to savour every moment.
My strength began to return, I was able to get off my medication, and after a few months the shaking stopped. I started running Bollywood dance workshops for schools, charities, and community groups. It was inspiring working with so many different people and I wanted to find a way to reach even more people.
So, I created Just Jhoom!
Just Jhoom! which means Just Dance! brings together aerobics, mindful movement and Bollywood dancing (drawing on a range of dance styles from Indian classical dance to Bhangra) to create a unique dance experience – nourishing both body and mind.
Just Jhoom! has so many physical benefits. In a Just Jhoom! class you exercise from your eyes to the tips of your toes..
And…it is fun – and makes you smile! It releases endorphins. It makes you happy!
Dance is powerful. Dance gives me vitality. Dance makes me feel alive.
That three-minute dance I did in hospital gave me hope.
I wanted everyone to feel like that.
To feel alive.
Shalini Bhalla is founder and Creative Director of Just Jhoom! on Happy Monday 10 March we're really lucky to have her coming into our office to run a dance workshop (look out for the photos!)