Shakti Groovin’ Women is literally a dream come true.
The idea for a woman’s empowerment group came to me in a dream that I had two years ago—but it is also inspired by my experience growing up with my mother’s group of women friends in Damascus, Syria.
I remember I felt safe and supported by the other women there who encouraged me to express myself and be myself without judgment or negative criticism.
I want that feeling of safety and support for women who are struggling to feel empowered and who long for a safe haven to feel themselves again, free from performance or labels and social expectations that keep them fragmented and disembodied.
I was 13 years old when my mother and her friends started getting together regularly every month to have fun, dance, eat and connect—stripping off the stress and anxiety that Syrian culture heaped onto its people—and especially onto women. We had returned to Damascus after living in Arlington, Texas USA for 5 years where my parents completed graduate degree programs. Even though we had only been there for a few years I was homesick for Texas and angry with how restrictive Syrian society was towards women.
I realized how much freer I had been as a woman in the U.S. and I yearned for the freedom to express myself through dance like I had in performances and contests back in Texas.
The elementary school I went to in Texas promoted music and the arts—including the performing arts, which I liked to do. I sang, danced and acted in talent competitions and
shows. My music teacher encouraged everyone to nurture their creative abilities and gifts. In Syria, however, it was a taboo for women to dance or perform as a hobby. Even the mention of dance was not allowed in my all-girls school.
With no outlet for my creative expression, I felt suppressed, isolated and alone.
Welcomed into the group
My mother’s group was there for the women to have fun, to enjoy delicious Mediterranean food, and to connect with each other without the oppression of the regime snooping and prying into their private lives. It was a safe space beyond the reach of nosey neighbors or the religious/cultural “minders” who would cause trouble. They talked, danced and joked and used performance as a way to express themselves, uncensored by society and unrestricted by the social rules imposed upon them outside their door.
The ultimate priority of the group was privacy and confidentiality so the women could enjoy their moments of freedom unhindered by concerns over the wrong people finding out. My mother’s friends welcomed me into their group as long as I honored their confidentiality. Along with the other girls who had been let into the group, I eagerly looked forward to the monthly gatherings where we got to dance freely without censorship and share our talents. Each of us brought dancing outfits or costumes and took turns performing before the other women who cheered us on and supported our creativity and self-expression.
Inspired by our dancing, some of the women would improvise performances about their problems, sorrows or grief over losing someone. Some of the women would do comedy skits, imitating each other and laughing at their own shortcomings. If a woman was having a hard time, the other women would dance to help raise her spirits—there were a lot of these upbeat dances because there were a lot of women having hard times.
These women danced in a way that expressed their grief, sorrows, regret, or disappointment—life’s imperfections, frustrations and disappointments. There was one woman who danced her sexual longings in explicit—socially outrageous—over-the-top ways in order to make fun of her gossipers (and there were a lot of them). She danced their accusations of promiscuity to free herself, claim back her sexuality and make fun of the social mores that judged her.
Dancing to Freedom
Now, three decades later I’m “all grown up” with a Ph.D. in Education and living back in the U.S. in Sonoma county, California —and the lessons of my mother’s group stay with me to this day.
I am in contact with many women and I meet many who would love a safe place to feel empowered and supported, able to process their issues while feeling connected to their bodies and emotions, and be encouraged to become their fullest version of themselves by exploring and discovering together through dance and movement.
Their struggles are different than were those of my mother’s friends, but their need for support and self-expression is the same.
Women here are working long hours, attaining graduate degrees, taking care of kids, juggling projects or jobs, and struggling to make ends meet and improve their situation.
Many of us are still caught up in a patriarchal system that tries to control and suppress women by critiquing their bodies and demeaning their self-worth. For a lot of these women, it’s normal for them to ignore their body’s needs just to survive in today’s competitive world.
Women here in the U.S. long for a place to affirm their dreams, express their feelings and connect with other spiritually minded women who aren’t judging them on their achievements or appearance but accept them for who they are.
My intention for Shakti Groovin’ Women is to create a safe space for growth, transformation, and healing. Women learn to empower themselves from within and recognize ways they have disempowered themselves or given away their power.
a tool for embodying our feminine energy, claiming the aliveness of our bodies and the connection to our hearts and inner truth. It’s about finding what holds us back from living up to our fullest potential, from feeling our natural rhythms and flow, and working with it to integrate, release, and return to flowing.
In this way my mother’s group lives on through me and through the amazing women who join us in supporting each other’s journey of self-discovery and exploration.
Join us! Opt-into our list to become a Shakti-Goover. If you are in the SF North Bay area we invite you to join our group classes in Sonoma and Marin [coming soon] counties in California—see the On-Groovin Class menu link for days/times and locations.