The Belly Dancer
Souzan Mills, 41, founder of Studio Booseh, Gaithersburg
I started belly dancing when I was 3 years old and still living in Iran.
I come from a very cultural and religious family, so I was limited in what I was able to do. Until I was about 5 or 6, my family loved the way I danced, and encouraged me to dance. But as I started to get older, it was less accepted. Dancing was seen as similar to prostitution back then, and my father was a very strict man.
I’m a child of war and revolution in Iran. I came to the United States at the age of 14 to live with my aunt in Maryland while my parents were back home. Once I came to the U.S., I had no other pleasures in life, so the only thing that would keep me going was dance. I took jazz in high school for four years, and in my spare time I was always dancing. That was my way of dealing with my depression from being away from my family and from my home.
All my life I danced at parties and at events, and then in 1997 I became one of the elected people to perform at the Miss Belly Dancer competition in Atlantic City. That was my very first performance on the stage, and I competed with about 250 belly dancers and placed in the top five.
With constant support from my mother, I continued to dance, and was eventually chosen to perform with one of the top Persian celebrities, Moein, and I performed with him many times, along with several other celebrities.
After having my two sons, I suffered from severe postpartum depression. Soon after they were born, I opened up a home studio so I could both teach dance and stay at home with my kids, because dancing was the only thing that really helped the depression.
I later taught dance at Rendezvous in Rockville for four years, and then became a personal trainer to help my dance and my clients.
After a while, I decided that I wanted to be more than a dancer and a trainer—I wanted to create something different. I wanted to help people, so I finally opened Studio Booseh [fitness, dance and wellness center] in 2010.
Six months into the business I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt like I was hit by a truck. I thought about closing the studio down, but I had so much love and so much support from my members that I just couldn’t close the door to them. I felt that this would be another good experience to help other women.
Up until the night before my surgery, I was teaching classes. I was out for two weeks while the business was run by the people who loved and cared about me, and then I came back and it was just amazing. The recovery was not easy, but to dance was the only solution to my pain.
The business expanded, and I brought in more programs so I could include everyone—not just the young girls or the model girls, but all ages and genders.
People come in with a lot of issues—whether mental, physical, emotional—and they come in to talk to me so I can help them feel at peace. It’s not just a dance studio; to me, it’s more than that.
Sarah Tincher is a rising senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, and was an intern at Bethesda Magazine.