4 May 2024

Ellie Taylor shares how a shimmy and shake can improve mental health

| Zoe Cartwright
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woman presenting an award to another woman

Robyn Te Velde OAM (right) presents Ellie Taylor with the 2024 International Women’s Day Illawarra Creative Spirit Scholarship. Photo: IWD Illawarra committee.

Research psychologist by day, queen of Middle Eastern dance by night, the two halves of Ellie Taylor’s life are united by a passion for helping others.

As a child, Ellie experienced family violence, and is determined to create opportunities for women to speak up.

“Middle Eastern dance, or belly dance, is arguably the oldest dance form in the world,” she said.

“For 6000 years or more, it’s been a way for women to move their bodies and express themselves when they couldn’t in other ways.

“It’s a dance form that brings together women from every walk of life. I have students aged from their 20s to their 70s, of different abilities, body shapes and cultural backgrounds, and everyone is accepted.”

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Ellie received this year’s Illawarra International Women’s Day Creative Spirit Scholarship for her work using belly dance as a tool to raise awareness about domestic and family violence.

She and her dance students take part in the Shimmy Mob – an international dance movement that does flash-mob-style dances all over the world to raise awareness about domestic violence and raise funds for support services.

“A woman is killed every four days in Australia,” she said.

“Research shows if children experience or observe family violence, it affects every area of their lives too.

“It’s something that’s not spoken about enough in public, so Shimmy Mob is a nice but in-your-face way to bring awareness.

“It’s a community of women supporting women and we also have some wonderful men who support us, and that’s really important as well.”

Ellie said she was overwhelmed to receive the scholarship, and planned to put it to good use.

She said it was gratifying to see the value of creative pursuits recognised as well.

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“Creative arts took a hit during COVID, and they do a lot to build mental health and community,” she said.

“We all need balance – in my day job I’m faced with the statistics and the reality of what is happening to women in Australia and it isn’t always a pretty picture.

“Dance brings levity and light into my life, it gives me balance and I can switch off when I dance. A lot of the ladies I dance with say the same.

“It’s wonderful it’s been recognised. I was really surprised but so grateful to be nominated.

“Now I have the resources to sink my teeth into more advocacy, so I’m working with a counsellor in Sydney to put together some mental health resources.

“Our next Shimmy Mob performance is coming up on 11 May in Kiama and Shell Cove, and I’m doing some more study around domestic and family violence, especially how I can be a better advocate for lived experience in that space.

“I want to grow some aspects of the community side of dance to boost women’s resilience and have a culturally safe, relaxed space for people to connect.”

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