In The Name of Allah, The Most Beneficent, The most Merciful.
From Dancer to Deen
By Ruqayyah Dawood
Around four years ago I was sorting out my storeroom when I came across, amongst other dusty objects, a tenor recorder, a folder of certificates and photographs from my dancing days, a black velvet sash with many gold medals sewn on it, and four dancing trophies. My daughter, who was twelve at the time, had been laughing at my luminous pink ‘nikah’ dress and looking through artwork and writing from my school days when she became detracted. The hideous outfit, poetry and drawings of cats were soon forgotten when she eyeballed the tenor recorder.
“Oh, Mummy, did you ever play that? Can I have a go?”
As she tried to get a tune out of it, asking what other instruments I played, it hit me that my children probably don’t see me as a revert, even though they know I wasn’t always a Muslim. I’m just simply their ‘Mummy’ who reminds them to pray and discourages music even making them turn down the volume on their PlayStation. Certain characteristics they possess, such as an absence of racism and an open mind towards ‘not yet Muslims’ I find endearing and realise almost certainly it is because of me being a white revert myself, whilst their father is British Pakistani. It wasn’t unusual to hear my children explaining to other Muslim children that not all ‘white people’ are horrible to Muslims- “mummy is white and so is my nana, and they’re very nice!” I often heard them point out to friends, adding with pride, “And our Mum is a Muslim!” Nor was it infrequent for them to educate their mates, Muslim or not, that the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was not Pakistani but an Arab! My daughter would often answer to those who enquired after her ethnicity, that she is half Pakistani, half white but really just human and Muslim!
So I reluctantly informed her that I played the cello and the piano a bit too, “BUT this was before I became a Muslim,” I emphasised!
So that was that. Or so I thought.
“Oh Mummy let me see!” My ever inquisitive daughter squealed with delight, as I tried to hide the sash and trophies so to avoid having to embark on another explanation of why these weird and wonderful items lurk in my cupboards.
“Please Mummy, pleeeease,” she begged.
My husband and I are competitive and try to do well and win everything we attempt. And so inevitably we have very competitive children making for a healthy competitive family! My husband has a Go-Karting Trophy and Medals for Mixed Martial Arts Competitions. My eldest son has two M.M.A. and Wrestling Trophies as well as a Qur’an Recitation Award, as does his younger brother. This precious daughter of mine has her own array of Certificates and Awards for writing, poetry and volunteering. And me, I’m now exposed! I have Dancing Awards! – Not what they expected to appear from behind a door in the corner of my room!
At very young age my younger sister and I were enrolled into Dancing School. Whilst my sister found it more interesting to kick around a football and thus was soon expelled, I excelled doing extremely well in the Art. I performed in shows, both dancing and acting. I was ‘Pinocchio’, ’Snow white’, a witch in Macbeth and the ‘Happy,’ dwarf in a performance of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But it wasn’t all glitter and jazz. One of the first experiences I had of bullying was during a ballet class. Still to this day I do not know what I did to annoy the two older girls who sneered and insulted me, but I will never forget them agreeing with one another that they despised me. “Don’t you just hate that little b****,” they spat. I was only five and it would become one of my most vivid childhood memories to date.
It wasn’t only the other dance students that could be cruel. Soon after I enrolled at the “J***** N******* School of Dancing,” I was put at the forefront of shows and was also the centre of attention when the dancers were photographed for promotional purposes and local news. Due to my talents I was entered into any competition going: Tap, Ballet, Lyrical, Acro (acrobatic dance), Ballroom, Latin and Modern- in all categories, Troupe, Trio, Duet and Solo. When Professional dancers visited from out of town to provide extra training, I was picked for demonstrations. So that is where the hate stemmed from I suppose. Other students were jealous and often too were their mothers. You see in the Dance Industry, so I discovered, it was not always popular to be more talented than your peers. It is certainly not accepted to win every competition you enter.
One of my first competitions I danced solo and sang, “The Sun Has Got His Hat On,” in a sparkly white and gold outfit, to a delighted audience which was followed by standing ovation. I was six years old and much younger than most of the competitors from my Dance School entered into other categories. The Judges unanimously awarded me first place and I skipped up the stairs to deliver the news to my dressing room- I remember it well. Everyone including the parents of the other dancers, except my own mother turned their back on me. My mum ushered me to the corner of the room and quietly explained that the other girls were just jealous because I was the only one to win first place from my School at that age. The next category I competed in that day was a ‘trio.’ We mimed and danced to, “I Do like to Be the Seaside,” and I was the male character of the three of us, with the other two girls acting out fighting to get my attention. We came first, so it should have been joy and celebration for our school; however the judges had written a comment on the back of our certificate that, “the ‘strong male character’ outshined the other two female dancers, which is the only reason why you didn’t come second place.” This was further reason for my fellow students to dislike me.
That weekend I walked through the corridors of the Civic Hall where the competitions were being held, wondering why girls snarled and refused to speak to me. Parents of dance students from our school and also rival schools even prevented their children from even coming close to me. I didn’t understand why I was hated so much. I was winning my dancing school trophies, so why was everyone being so cruel and angry? These questions taunted me at night, and I would regularly pray for God to comfort me and grant me peace, to give me friends and for people to love me.
The shows and competitions continued into my teenage years and I won more medals and trophies; I was the ‘Pink Panther’ in an acrobatic dance contest and ‘Cossette’ in a performance of ‘Les Miserables.’ In one production I was chosen to be the ‘Rat Leader’ in the ‘Pied Piper’ along with another girl, as the show ran over two nights and was demanding on the voice. During rehearsals this girl would sing over me and try to outdo me in dance moves, but it so turns out when it came to the real shows, she lost her voice and I had to perform on both nights. I wasn’t excited about this, though my mother was- because I knew I had made another enemy.
My mum had my outfits sewn especially and in dressing rooms she did my makeup so I wouldn’t look like a ‘clown’ like the other girls did, she’d explain. Soon she was changing the dance moves my instructors had choreographed; I was winning more and more competitions, getting headlines and front page photos for my Dance School, but losing the favour of even the teachers.
I started to pretend I was no longer able to do the splits. Unable to do backflips. And I feigned being a rubbish dancer just so others wouldn’t get jealous of me and maybe be my friend. So when we came fourth in a three minute performance of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ with me, aged ten starring as ’Happy’ due to me always smiling (despite being inwardly sad), it was convenient to blame me for the ‘loss.’ I ruined it, I was told by the other girls. I was the weak dancer, snarled the mothers. “No more competitions for you!” shouted our head choreographer. They entered me into less and less competitions from then on, and my mum decided to pull me out of the school altogether. The dance teacher thought she was punishing me, but in fact her cruelty was a blessing in disguise, a lesson that Allah knows what is best for us. Who knows what life I’d be living today if I had pursued my dream to be a famous performance artist and singer.
I was not a strong hearted young girl. I was attending Self-Defence lessons in my spare time and doing well at it, but my character was soft and my heart was sensitive. I wouldn’t stand up to the bullies ever and if a fight was lined up by trouble makers, I would just push my opponent away till she became tired, rather than hit or hurt her.
I continued to perform and assist in teaching dance and drama in secondary school but left competitions officially at around fourteen.
So fast forward, and now as my daughter paraded my medals around the house, and proudly displayed my trophies on the mantel piece along with everyone else’. I thanked AllahSWT for the life I have today. My many sisters and brothers in Islam, my family and friends are God conscious, moral and kind. Every day I pass sisters in Islam; we smile and greet each another with ‘salutations of peace,’ whether we know one another or not. Even the Muslims online, those I know of and those I as yet do not know; I love you all dearly for the sake of Allah! You inspire and encourage, advise and warn, with sincerity and in a beautiful manner.
So I threw away my trophies when I thought no one was looking, not really because of any bad memories as such but because I saw them as a celebration of my days in Jahiliyyah. To my horror I later discovered that my (now late) father-in-law, who lived with us at the time, had fished them out of the bin. He had hidden them in his room to show visitors that I had transformed from a successful dancer to following the religion of Islam.
By the Will and Generosity of Allah, I am a striving Muslimah and have now found that peace and comfort I once prayed for. I also have more brothers, sisters and friends I could ever have hoped to acquire!
When I discovered my father-in-law had stashed my awards, I didn’t have the heart to take them away from him, but I also failed to see the wisdom in his actions at the time. Today I realise what a very intelligent and wise man he was, may Allah have mercy on his soul.
My trophies are a sign and evidence of where I was, and what my Creator ordained for me to become,
From Chassé to Islam
Plié to the pen
From Dancer to Deen