Belly dance, also known as Raqs Sharqi or Oriental dance, is a traditional Middle Eastern dance form that has gained popularity in various parts of the world, including India. In India, belly dance has found a niche audience and has been embraced by both performers and enthusiasts.
In our country, where body image remains a sensitive topic, belly dancing has often been unfairly labeled as cheap due to the dancers’ need to showcase their bodies to fully express their mesmerizing skills. Unfortunately, we’ve overlooked the incredible talent and dedication that lie behind this beautiful dance form.
Breaking all the taboos associated with Belly Dancers, artist Sonia Shil hustles every day to make the nation proud by representing India globally. What’s truly remarkable is Sonia’s journey from facing adversity, even enduring her father’s disapproval to such an extent that she was once about to get hit by a stick. Today, she has transformed that initial discord into a heartwarming source of pride for her father, who has become her most enthusiastic supporter and cheerleader.
The Journey of Sonia Shil
Sonia Shil is a world-renowned belly dancer captivating stares with her art for the past 9 years. Born in Dubai to a multicultural family with Indian and Middle Eastern roots, Sonia was exposed to belly dancing at the desert safari in Dubai. At a very young age, she was fascinated by the belly dancers, wondering how swiftly they could move their bellies.
In 2001, Sonia’s family returned to India, and she completed her schooling and graduated right in her hometown of Kolkata. Living in a culturally conservative city, Kolkata, which was then far from embracing dance forms that deviated from traditional Indian clothing standards, belly dancing proved to be an ongoing challenge.
She endured a constant barrage of criticism from those around her who disapproved of her choice of attire to perform the dance form she loved. In Kolkata, where belly dancing still carries the weight of societal taboo, Sonia faced an uphill battle. Even more significantly, her own father staunchly opposed her pursuit of belly dancing and made it unequivocally clear that he would not provide financial support if she continued to pursue it.
Dance was Sonia’s unwavering passion, an unquenchable flame that she refused to let extinguish despite the challenges she faced. With an indomitable spirit, she resolved to follow her heart, firmly believing that her destiny lay on the stage as a dancer. Sonia’s determination led her to seek guidance and mentorship from the renowned artist, Mehr Malik.
In no time, Sonia began dazzling audiences with her performances, earning well-deserved recognition in the industry. Today, she stands as a testament to the power of unwavering dedication, proudly living her dream as a full-time dancer and performer. Her journey has come full circle, with her own Belly Dance Institute, the illustrious “Khal Belly,” now flourishing in the very heart of Kolkata.
Challenges to Sonia’s Journey as a Belly Dancer
“Going after your passion for dancing as a career is no walk in the park in Indian society. People here think you need to be a certified professional like a doctor, engineer, or a teacher to be considered successful. Being a belly dancer isn’t exactly seen as a respected job, especially in smaller towns, so dealing with judgmental stares wasn’t a cakewalk for me, but I knew this was it for me.”Sonia Shil
As a belly dancer, she had to independently handle all the costs associated with her training, travel, and makeup. It was undeniably a challenging period, but not once did the thought of giving up cross her mind.
“My father was very clear with his thought process that if I am prioritizing dance over studies then he is not going to invest a single penny on me”Sonia Shil
This was the major concern as her family was not supportive of her choice of being a belly dancer. Sonia’s mom was eager to boost her confidence and support her in every choice she made but was restricted by the boss of the family – her dad. On the days of her performance, Sonia’s schedule was so tight that one day she came home late in the night and her father threw a stick at her yelling to quit her journey as a belly dancer.
As a belly dancer, Sonia donned short costumes that accentuated the graceful movements of her supple belly. Despite facing criticism from some quarters for her attire choices, she remained unfazed by people’s opinions. Her sole focus was to shine brightly as an artist and become a celebrated belly dancer, and she let nothing deter her from that path.
Sonia’s unyielding spirit remained unbroken in the face of these formidable challenges on her path to becoming a belly dancer. Her father, who once expressed his disapproval by throwing a stick, now beams with immense pride in response to her global achievements and recognition. He proudly showcases Sonia’s media coverage to their relatives, introducing her with a heartfelt “ye meri beti hai” (This is my daughter). Sonia’s singular focus has always been to have her parents by her side as she performs, and now that she has their unwavering support, her determination to learn and achieve knows no bounds.
Sonia Shil’s achievements as a Belly Dancer
Sonia represents India globally and performed in countries like Australia, Abidjan, China, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan. Sonia won the first prize in the 2017 Mediterranean Delight Belly Dance Festival organized in Prague. She was also the winner of the 2019 International Tribal Fusion Festival in Portugal, and got to attend the Oriental Dance Meeting in Spain the same year and was the judge of the same ODM meeting in 2022.
“Don’t ever give up and push harder everyday until god himself bows down and say no more restrictions now, if that’s your dream girl, then go get it. Keep your spirit high always and eventually things will fall in place the way you want them to be.”Sonia Shil
While the saying often goes, “Behind every successful man, there’s a woman,” Sonia’s journey had a man who stood firmly by her side, pushing her beyond her limits.
Her fiancé, who had been her beloved for 12 years, emerged as her greatest pillar of support. During the times when negativity in Kolkata threatened to overwhelm her, he was there with unwavering motivation. Not only did he provide a constant source of encouragement, but he also offered invaluable advice, guiding her on makeup choices and costume selections.
Every woman deserves such unwavering motivation, love, and support in their life. We extend our best wishes to Sonia for boundless success in the years ahead!
Sonia’s unwavering determination and her advice to never give up serve as an inspiration to all those persevering through life’s challenges. She firmly believes that nothing is impossible if you have the determination to pursue it. Despite numerous obstacles and discouragement, Sonia’s resilience has brought her to a place of grace and accomplishment, making the entire nation proud of her achievements. Doesn’t her story ignite a spark of inspiration within you as well?
If you’d like to discover more about her, I recommend checking out her Instagram profile.
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