“Love yourself, love life, be kind to others, laugh, be silly… dance! Having cancer, or any illness, does not stop you from following your heart and being as alive as you can be in each moment.” Yvette Cowles
This is a slightly different ‘50 over 50 interview’, because, sadly, Yvette is no longer with us. However, I couldn’t exclude her story from my campaign. Yvette wasn’t just an ordinary belly dancer. She was an over 50 artist who was battling cancer. Yet she was still performing, constantly challenging herself and most importantly spreading her positivity to anyone and everyone she met along the way. Yvette showed all of us how important it is to seize the moment and follow our dreams no matter what.
I met Yvette at a Jwaad belly dance summer school, where she was one of the principal teachers. I remember her classes were a lot of fun; full of comedy and clown, as well as charming bellydance. She seemed so happy and full of life, little did I know that she was already going through her third bout of cancer.
She was first diagnosed in 1996, at the age of 32, and suffered from breast cancer for over 20 years. Despite surgeries, chemotherapy and 2 mastectomies, cancer kept coming back and later spread to her bones. However, did it stop her? No way! As she said herself ‘life didn’t end just because she had cancer’. Quite on a contrary, it made her even more alive.
If not cancer, Yvette might have never left her high-pressure job as a Marketing Manager and she might have never pursued her love – belly dancing. She believed that doctors were healing her body, but dancing is what was healing her soul! So it’s no surprise that she became a teacher and founded Dance Yourself Happy school. Her classes were a mixture of belly dancing, yoga and laughter.
However, that wasn’t enough for her, she wanted to challenge herself even more, learn new things and in the process help others. So she published a book – ‘Belly Dancing and Beating the Odds’, where she talks about her incredible journey and how dance kept her alive. In 2015 she let BBC One into her life. For a whole year they documented her humble life and so her story appeared in “The Big C & Me”, a three-part documentary series on cancer.
When I met Yvette she was going through chemo but it didn’t stop her from rehearsing and performing. Together we toured around the country and did more than 6 shows. Later she went on and did a one-woman show – ‘Sequins on my Balcony’ which… raised money to help other cancer patients and cancer survivors. Could someone believe that she toured with that show for another 3 years! On top of all this, she also finished a stand-up course, performed at a charity event in Morocco (at a riad where Josephine Baker lived), wrote about her experiences in a blog and dealt with arthritis.
Yvette was a true inspiration to all of us. She didn’t give in to cancer, but she was fought it head on and taught all of us to stop worrying about things that don’t matter, stop questioning ourselves whether we are good enough and stop putting off doing things we love. She taught us to live our lives to the fullest.
Thank you for this, Yvette. You are dearly missed. RIP.