A HAMPSHIRE MOTHER who considered taking her own life because of chronic pain has said discovering bellydancing saved her.

Annette Phillips was in her 30s with a young daughter when she was diagnosed with arthritis and told by a consultant that she would be in a wheelchair by the time she was 50.

Now 66, Annette, from Whitchurch, said: “I came home in complete shock. I thought I can’t do this; I’m already hanging on from day-to-day with the pain.

“I sat on the bottom of the stairs on my own and I thought ‘I can’t do this.’

“I have a daughter and a husband and I went through different ways to kill myself.”

Annette was dealt another devastating blow when her brother took his own life.

“He was my best brother,” said Annette, adding: “I was floored and devastated. It made me realise what I was feeling I would inflict on my family. I couldn’t do that to them.”

It was after this, when Annette was in her 40s, that a friend asked if she wanted to try bellydancing.

She said: “I went reluctantly, me and my aching joints and my negative outlook. Who had ever heard of a supersized bellydancer with two left feet and a damaged, painful body?

“But she said it’s not about other people, it’s about you and how you feel. She eventually persuaded me and I was so inspired watching the teacher perform.”

The mother-of-two has never looked back and now runs her own weekly class in Andover, passing on the benefits of the ancient dance to other women.

She said: “It brings out your femininity and grace. It was formed by Middle Eastern women to prepare girls for the marriage bed. But it has all sorts of benefits including post-natal and menopause, because you are concentrating on all the muscles of your feminine body and exercising them and enjoying yourself at the same time.”

Annette, who is a semi-retired carer, said bellydancing helps with the pain of her arthritis, and believes it has prevented her from being confined to a wheelchair.

She is passionate about the dance and wants to encourage other women to take it up, explaining: “I’m so enthusiastic about what it can do for a group of women.

“It’s not about showing off in fancy clothing, it’s about feeling it and doing it and how it feels inside, so when the whole world is pulling you down you find something you can succeed at.”

Annette said she does not care what people think about her belly dancing, and is even known to practice the odd move as she does her shopping in Tesco.

She said generally people are amazed when she performs, adding: “People are quite spellbound. They think what have we got here, then when we bring our dance wings out people gasp. But we don’t have to prove ourselves.

“It’s important to stand up for women’s needs. I’m a champion of women and I want them to find their equilibrium in this rushed life and say ‘I’m me’ and to stand up for their needs.”

For more information about Annette’s classes search for ‘Andover Bellydance’ on Facebook.