Sihir, UR’s belly dancing performance group, recently had their spring show, Nour, this past Friday. Senior and former Vice President of Sihir Stella Rae Wilkins, sophomore and current Vice President Renee Tailie, and senior and former President Hayley McGowan talked to the CT about what they have gained through Sihir, and how being in the group has affected their perception of body image, creativity, and community.
What is the choreography process for Sihir’s shows like?
McGowan: One of my favorite parts of our group is honestly the fact that we are student-choreographed, which isn’t unique to just Sihir at UR, but it’s super fun to get to learn dances that our own members are choreographing based on knowledge that has been passed down through the years. For me personally, choreographing is something I never thought I’d get the chance to do, but it is so rewarding to see the dance I created come to life through our dancers. It’s a lot of hard work at times — I’d often find myself choreographing at 1 a.m. and trying to envision how the moves and formations would look when it’s not just me doing them, but that’s just part of the fun!
How has being in Sihir affected you (as a dancer or just in general)?
Wilkins: To be completely honest, I am the person I am today because of Sihir. Nothing has challenged me and inspired me the way this club and the people in it have, and the amount of personal growth I’ve seen, not only in myself, but in all the members, has been the highlight of my college experience and life, to be honest.
What is it like to be in a group that prides itself on body positivity and performs a historically-sexualized art form?
Wilkins: It’s a really tricky question. I think that there’s a certain power that comes with focusing on what feels good. It’s all about finding how your body moves and getting more in tune with your deeper self and finding what movements make you feel amazing! It’s really a celebration of the human body and your own relationship with it, in my opinion. It’s super important to stress that we don’t speak on behalf of all belly dancers and the culture surrounding it, but for me personally, after years of sexual and emotional abuse, I did not have a good relationship with my body at all, and it felt really special to fall back in tune with its own rhythm and then present that to people in a way that I chose, that I decided, that I wanted, on my terms. It’s a really fine line because, yes, it has been sexualized, but to me it’s on each dancer’s terms and is all about how they feel inside their own bodies. Also, any unintentional sexualization that isn’t on the dancer’s terms has nothing to do with the dancer and everything to do with the viewer.
Tailie: Sihir has really helped with my body image — before I joined, I was incredibly self-conscious about my body, especially my stomach. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder and have been in recovery since the pandemic hit. In order to get myself more used to my own body, I joined Sihir. At first, I was scared and insecure about exposing my stomach to other people, but everyone is so kind and welcoming that I stopped comparing myself and have become more accepting of myself and my self image. Of course, not everything is perfect, but Sihir has been an incredibly important aspect of my recovery.
What is it like being in a performance group on campus?
Wilkins: I literally never thought I would be able to perform in front of people, let alone lead, and then here I am, on eboard for three years, Vice President, and choreographing! It’s also worth noting that Hayley and I are best friends and met each other through Sihir, and it remains a community even after you graduate — for example, the two of us are moving to Boston after graduation, and one of the former presidents, Lizzie, also lives there. We have this community already established in a brand new city because we all empowered each other through the club and made these unique, lifetime friendships in the process.
McGowan: Honestly, being in Sihir has been one of the best parts of my time at UR — I can’t imagine where I’d be without this group. It’s crazy to think that I just happened to see them perform at Celebrate Diversity and the Activities Fair my [first] year, and when I joined I never thought it would become such a huge part of my life. Being in a performance group like Sihir really is just such an awesome experience because when you join, you are joining a community of people who are so welcoming, supportive, and positive. I’ve met so many amazing people through this group, including some of my best friends, and I probably never would have interacted with those people otherwise and I’m so thankful for all those relationships.
For students who are thinking about joining a performance group, is there any advice you have for them?
McGowan: Just go for it! I know it’s scary to put yourself out there but it really is so worth it to get to start or continue doing what you love. And for performance groups in particular, there are many groups at UR that don’t have auditions (Sihir is one of them!) so I’d definitely recommend starting with one of them if the audition process is really intimidating for you. Also, joining any group is really such a great way to take a break from the stresses of classes and life. I know I always feel better after a rehearsal!