It was wonderful. Exhausting. Exhilarating. Muscles I didn’t even know I had are sore. And I want to do it again.
You know what I’m talking about, of course.
Last night’s hour and a half lesson reminded me of all that I love about bellydancing, an activity and mode of self-expression that I now know I can’t live without. But it wasn’t always that way. It took me a while to accept this art form into my life.
I first heard about bellydance lessons from my friend Julie way back in 1998. She described an experience that made her feel feminine, sexy, and powerful, but it wasn’t. I couldn’t imagine baring my belly (even though it was stretch-mark-less back then), and shimmying my hips in moves clearly designed to tempt and entice. No, to me bellydance was a sexist form of dance, designed solely for the pleasure of men. Wiggle my butt to music? No way!
I’d always loved to dance so that reaction really made no sense. Clearly something about bellydancing made me uneasy. Uncomfortable. So I pushed it away and stuck with more “athletic” (and masculine) pursuits like kickboxing, which I was teaching at the time.
Fast forward a few years. I’m married, living in Boston. A friend mentions that she takes bellydance lessons and she loves them. This time I’m more open, intrigued. What changed? No idea. Maybe being married made me more comfortable with my body, my sensuality. Maybe getting a bit older allowed me to loosen up about what was really sexist and what was merely different. I mean, what kind of feminist was I if I rejected the celebration of women’s bodies and sexuality?
Whatever it was, I was cautiously curious and signed up.
The teacher was terrible (and off her rocker) but the music and the movements captivated me. Finally I understood why Julie had embraced this style of dance – this purely sensual, seductive, feminine style.
Bellydancing as an art form embodies the feminine like no other activity. Male hips can’t shimmy the way ours can and chest drops and circles would be impossible for them not to mention ridiculous. When men shimmy their hips we giggle because, really, what hips? Belly dance celebrates the female form in all it’s beautiful shapes and sizes, encouraging women to not only accept but to revel in their jiggly thighs, bouncing breasts, and round hips – the better to see your shimmies, my dear! (Interestingly, my dance classes are held in a ballet studio. Bellydance is the antithesis of that precise, contained, skinny dance form!)
After three years, I’ve progressed to the Intermediate level. Three years of training my body to move in the very sexy, sensual ways that made me so uncomfortable when Julie tried to explain them years before. Now I can’t imagine a Tuesday night without an hour or more of moving and grooving to Middle Eastern beats, undulating my belly, shimmying my hips, and accenting my movements with quick pops of my chest, shoulders and butt. I even performed live on stage last winter with four other classmates. (That pic to the left is from that show).
Bellydance supports my writing. It gives me another creative outlet – a kind of artistic cross-training. And it helps me reach deep inside, to the most secret, most sacred feminine parts of my soul that I channel into my writing for and about women. Embodying that which is most feminine through dance helps me to express it on the page. To appreciate it, cherish it, and celebrate it in the one of the most exciting and freeing ways that I can.