A BELFAST performer who was called “stupid” by a primary school teacher and taunted by other kids has revealed dancing restored the confidence stolen from her at a young age.
Since childhood Sarajane Bryans, 25, battled bullies in the playground and heartless teachers who made her feel “worthless”.
From scathing comments on her academic achievements by teachers to cruel jibes about her appearance from other pupils, Sarajane found it hard to believe in herself.
But the bellydancing beauty is putting it all behind her and says she’s hoping to inspire other young women through music and dance to achieve their dreams.
In 2009 Sarajane appeared on the reality TV show So You Think You Can Dance as well as the Irish TG4 show Glas Vegas.
Her dancing impressed the judges in both competitions and helped give Sarajane the confidence boost she needed to believe in herself.
The office worker explained: “In primary school I struggled – I was always a step behind in reading, maths, and had to do the special classes with a few other kids who also were behind.
“In Primary 2 – I remember I had done really badly in my spelling test and my teacher said ‘you make my life a misery’.
“Those words stuck in my head for years and played on my mind, they had a real effect on me.
“Looking back now that I’m older I can laugh at the fact that she said it to a little kid, but it doesn’t take away from the impact it had on me back then.
“Then in Primary 6 I was called stupid by another teacher and it always stayed with me. I guess these comments were the start of my confidence being knocked, especially academically.
“I failed the 11 plus and went into secondary school thinking I wasn’t good enough.
“I always had encouragement from my family, especially my mummy, she always told me I was talented and smart – even when I didn’t believe it myself.”
And the bullying didn’t stop at the teachers. The kids found reason to taunt Sarajane too.
She said: “Growing up I was teased by kids – especially boys – who would call me big ears and dumbo because my ears used to stick out.
“It was never something that made me stay inside the house or anything and I never allowed it to really get to me because I never wanted anyone to see that I was upset.
“I guess every kid gets teased about something growing up, but it’s wrong and needs to be stopped.”
While Sarajane was struggling academically one thing that always stayed with her was her love of dancing.
She spent a lot of time watching dancers on TV in music videos and dreaming of one day being good enough to do it.
“I’ve always loved dancing. I remember just watching music videos with people like Michael Jackson and Beyonce in Destiny’s Child and copying what they were doing” said Sarajane, adding: “I used to choreograph dance routines for my cousins and friends in my street and it was when people started noticing that I could dance – I started to believe that I could too.”
But it wasn’t until she took a trip to Turkey as a young teenager that Sarajane really believed she would be able to pursue dancing professionally.
The petite blonde said: “I went to Turkey when I was 12 and it was then that I fell in love with belly dancing – I started watching the Turkish belly dancers and started learning myself at home. I’ve been bellydancing since 12 and totally self taught.
“Eventually my confidence really started to grow and I found something I finally felt I was good at and that I loved.
“I auditioned for Miss Teen Ireland at 13 in which my talent was belly dancing. I got through to the finals, it was amazing. I knew from then that dancing and music was what I loved and wanted to do for my career.
“In secondary school I studied dance, drama and media at A-Level and my secondary school was amazing in encouraging me and my talents.
“In the TV show Glas Vegas I came second which was an amazing achievement for me so I attended the Rainbow Factory for four years where I perfected my craft.
“When I made it through to the third stage at So You Think You Can Dance I was really gutted that I didn’t get further but at the same time I was really proud of myself for stepping out and going after something I believed I was good at.”
At 21 Sarajane, with her new found confidence took the leap and moved to New York to find work as a dancer.
Despite the move things didn’t work out and Sarajane returned to Belfast with her confidence at an all time low again.
Having taken a job in a call centre she didn’t dance for nearly two years until a friend asked her to perform at an event.
She said: “I finally found the courage to believe in my dancing again in 2014 – when I was asked to belly dance for a U2 tribute band to the mysterious ways song – at the Crumlin Road Gaol. It was amazing and really got me back into believing in dancing again.”
Now, back at the top of her game, Sarajane is launching her own dance school.
And she’s hoping to help others to find a love of dance and maybe help to repair some damaged confidence along the way.
“I’ve started some belly dancing classes and I’ve started looking at plans to expand the types of classes I offer” said Sarajane.
“My dream is to continue performing but also to continue teaching as well and hopefully inspire other young women to step out of their comfort zone and do something they wouldn’t normally do.
“I really want to encourage women to be proud of who they are and never let their confidence issues affect their dreams and believing in themselves.
“I’ve learned that it’s okay to fail but the secret is to never give up.
“I just want to make women feel good about who they are and I hope that belly dancing gives them the confidence to go out and tackle anything they love and dream of.”
For more information about Sarajane’s classes or to book a one-to-one dance session with her log onto www.facebook.com/Bellydancebysarajane
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