Telling my parents that I was going to quit my job and become a fulltime belly dancer did not go over well.
It’s easy to believe that most parents would be less than impressed by the idea of their adult child leaving a respectable corporate job to shake and shimmy for a living. Many would jot that one down in the ‘pipe dream’ column. I mean, how many professional belly dancers do you know?
But for Cara Griffin, it’s proven the best career choice she could have made.
Cara will celebrate 15 years running Scimitar Moon Belly Dance this September, bringing together past students, teachers, choreographers and mentors to celebrate her success so far and the big changes that are on the way.
She took over as Townsville’s driving force for belly dance in 2003, when her own teacher came to a similar crossroad.
“The original teacher started in 1995, but she reached a point where she had to choose between the dance world and the corporate world, and she chose corporate and handed the school over to me,” said Cara.
“She was really the one who introduced belly dancing to Townsville. In the 90s, no-one knew what belly dancing was, everyone was very mystified by it.
“Her challenge was to spend half a decade just getting people used to the idea of this artform, which she did. When I took over, my challenge was to build a school that could really raise our students to a professional level.”
In the 15 years since, Cara has taught thousands of Townsville residents the art of belly dance: From high school students studying world dance to hen’s nights with a difference and students ranging from those with a casual interest to those with serious passion. But all that teaching, could not be achieved without Cara’s own dedication to learning.
“The first thing I did was just figure out which was my style,” she said. “What we call belly dancing here is so broad, because every country in Northern Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East has its own style. People tend to dip their toes in and try a little bit of everything, but they don’t become totally proficient in any one style.
“In seeking proficiency in one style, and passing that on as a teacher, I’ve had students go on to forge professional careers overseas in the US, Japan and the Middle East. I’m super proud of that. That doesn’t happen everywhere let alone in a regional town! People always think creative opportunities are better in big cities, but I’m not so sure I agree.”
Cara has certainly not let life outside a capital city keep her from making her mark. She counts some of her biggest accomplishments as bringing the world’s leading instructors to Townsville, appearing as a head dancer at the Istanbul Fire event in Brisbane and, later this year, headlining another festival in Brisbane called the Essential Belly Dance Weekender.
“That will be alongside the best belly dancer in Australia,” said Cara. “I’m having a bit of an ‘I’m not worthy’ moment – they’re expecting people from all over the country to be at that one, so I do feel like it’s God’s way of giving me a little tick of approval just as I hit the 15-year milestone.
“But the best thing to have happened in 15 years, is the change I’ve seen in my students,”Cara said.
“Better than all the sparkly costumes and amazing performances is the fact that they know they can come to class, leave the demands of life behind for a little while, and walk out feeling a little taller. A lot of them are empty nesters and I’ve really seen dance transform their lives: they get in touch with their bodies again after putting themselves aside for their families for so long and it’s a beautiful thing to witness that change.
“I’m so blessed that the work I do for money and the work I do for art is constantly crossing over.”
Join Cara Griffin and past students, teachers and collaborators for Scimitar Moon’s 15th Birthday Celebration when they present Triskelion: A Belly Dance Odyssey on 28 September at the School of Arts. For information and tickets, click here.