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How dancing helped me cope

Friday, 07 March 2014 Shalini

Shalini Bhalla is founder and Creative Director of Just Jhoom!  She 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.


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