In Celebration of the Belly
I used to do a lot of Jazz dance. But I never felt like I looked right in my leotard in class. My boobs and thighs looked too big, my legs too short. I just didn’t have the long lean body that fit into that style of dance. And then I found the dance class of my dreams. I’d been wanting to learn how to bellydance for some reason I can’t even remember. And here I was in 1990 in a studio full of women, where even the advanced students in the troupe were friendly and supportive to beginners, where the teacher made a point of meeting every new student and making her feel at ease. I soon donned the regular costume of a fullskirt pulled down to show off the belly, a hip shawl, and a tight fitting cropped top. And I very soon realized how complimentary it was for my body, a woman’s body. Granted my thighs were covered, but my belly and hips were totally exposed, my breasts accentuating the curve in my waist – and I felt beautiful! I looked at all the other women in class and their varying shapes: small breasted and large, thick and thin waists, curvy hips and most of us with rounded yet toned stomachs displayed proudly, for indeed this dance form is centered around the hips and belly.
When I learned to shimmy my hips, I experienced the usual difficulty most students have at this stage. How do you learn to let go and let vibrate the area of our bodies that we try to control and squeeze into tight jeans all our lives? I’d watch my teacher shimmying and the amazing look it presented, all isolated and extremely sensual! And then I realized I needed to let my butt go, let it jiggle, loosen it up. That natural fat we all have in our butts is the motor behind the shimmy! Suddenly I had a free and effortless shimmy.
Over the years I’ve gained and lost weight in the natural course of life like most people do. In my heavier years, when I couldn’t fit into my old jeans, I’d put on my dance costume and loved the way my curvy body looked! I’m now in a time of life where I’ve lost weight (ironically due to all the activity, primarily bellydancing that I do!), especially in my hips, and I’m not as comfortable with my body in costume. No more hips! I look like a boy!
Since 1990, I’ve never looked back about my stomach. I came to terms with its soft roundness, and in fact, it’s accentuated even more now that I’ve developed my abdominals to do belly rolls. No washboard abs for me – instead we bellydancers amaze people with our controlled and defined belly roll isolations.
I love watching the new students transform. Bellydance attracts all types of women – from the hip-looking tattooed type, to women in their 40’s +; from tomboys to pregnant women. I see how they get more and more comfortable with exposing their bellies, fixing their posture, and trying to learn these movements so alien to our Western sensibilities. And then after some time, as their muscles strengthen and they reconcile themselves with their bodies and the movements that complement a woman’s body, these women suddenly blossom. You can see it by the way they carry themselves, by the attitude in their faces and when they dance, their bodies say, “I am strong and beautiful just the way I am!”