Since bellydance is SUCH a big part of my life – it’s going to make it’s way into the blog – and I figure I might as well arm you with my back story before then. 🙂
Back in 2004 I was “seeing” (the non-committal term for dating) a guy who turned out to be really awful for me. When we (read: he) ended it I realized I had lost my entire social life…and needed some hobbies- STAT! I remember being in Target w/ my friend trying to find a “hobby”. I ended leaving with a bellydance DVD, a Tai Chi DVD and a book about knitting. Needless to say, only bellydance interested me after a week. I decided to try taking a class – and while I felt semi-ridiculous, I figured I would be adventurous! I weighed 365 pounds the day of my first class. But, at 22 I cared a lot less about my size.
I had always taken dance classes when I was younger (jazz, tap) and I figured I would be good at bellydancing. It seemed fun, and sassy. As a side note: bellydancing DOES NOT mean stripping. Clothes stay on. Lots of clothes. Layers, sparkly bits, etc. It’s a really elegant, beautiful dance with deep roots in the Middle East and tons of fabulous music, sub-genres and wonderful people.
So the first teacher turned out to be too needy for me, but I did meet by BostonBFF there (Rachel G. aka Baseema). I will forever be grateful for that! I also realized how intense this “hobby” of mine was! So many moves, so much music, so much culture! It’s seriously an obsessive pastime!
I bounced around to a few other teachers – and bought more and more DVDs. By a year and a half, I had gotten pretty good! I loved having hips….it made shimmying so much easier! However, I hated my belly – and subsequently my ass. I envied size 2 bellydancers. I desperately wanted to be one of them. Sure, there are plus-sized women who dance (and dance well!)….but that wasn’t what I wanted. I wasn’t proud of being “Goddess sized” (as I was once lovingly referred to). I wanted to buy cute costumes…and actually show my BELLY when bellydancing. Alas, it never happened. I also became obsessed with props. Veils, zills, swords, wings of ISIS, fans….you name it, I bought it.
In retrospect, the more distractions I had with me – the less I thought people would notice my size. I was so busy HIDING who I was that I got lost.
Note: I bet I have spent a good 40% of my life trying to “appear” thinner…or prettier…or both. I wonder why I could never be happy as is before?
The best teacher I found was Lily. She was an amazing teacher, wonderful dancer and a good friend. At the time we met she was working on her PhD (and has since finished – so she is a Dr.!) – and I loved her. She was bubbly and funny – someone who “got” me. I never felt like the fat girl – and her instruction made me want to push myself further. Sadly she relocated to San Francisco in May (leaving her fan club!) and now I’m looking for a new teacher. I have a lesson this coming Sunday w/ my friend Sara, whose bellydance style is completely different from my own. I’m excited for this shift in direction. She is someone I connected with the first time we met (something very common in this little world we have – bellydancers bond quickly!).
For someone who loved bellydance as much as I did – I HATED performing. I think the thing that deterred me from wanting to perform was discussing bellydancing at work, or in front of acquaintances and getting *the look*. The “how the hell does someone HER size bellydance?!” look. Sure, a lot of my friends were super supportive…but still. No one wants to feel like the thing they are super passionate about is a joke. So, I could never commit to putting myself out there fully. I always made sure it was a gig where no one would see me…or something where I could “blend in”.
In an attempt to overcome this performance fear/hate feeling I committed to dancing 5 times in 2010. FIVE times….in front of actual people. Haha. Shimmying in the kitchen to a song in my head didn’t count. In February my first performance after issuing myself the ultimatum was a flapper-fusion. Yup, I fused bellydance with the flapper lifestyle. Martinis, pearls, feathers and sauciness. The piece was super fun and propelled me to keep going!
I’m proud to say I have performed FOUR more times so far this year….and have 3 more performances in my future. Man, who would have thought?! I have found this happy, wonderful place in dance – and I don’t want to leave. I might not be what you picture when you hear the word “bellydancer” – but trust me, I own the word in every possible sense!
I have fantastic, sparkly costumes that I buy almost entirely from Geisha Moth – her stuff fits me perfectly (booty and all). I have an insanely eclectic collection of music to dance to – and I have some off-the-wall ideas for pieces. The part of bellydance I connect with most is putting myself – or something I’ve always dreamed of being out there for the world to see. I never considered myself a “performer” – but now I think I wasn’t allowing myself to enjoy it.
In May I went to San Francisco for Tribal Fest 10 w/ my BostonBFF- a giant bellydance festival full of vendors, dancing, dancing, dancing and workshops w/ truly wonderful women and men in this business. The trip was one of the best I’ve ever taken – and where I met someone who truly changed my outlook on dancing as a plus-size woman. Her name is Nisha – and she is a little bit of a thing, with a sassy booty! She performed to a fierce song and she OWNED that stage. I was captivated. I actually did a total “fan girl” afterward and went over to gush about loving her. (I know…I’m mortified just reliving it!). So, when we got home, I was still gushing about her – and decided that level of AWESOMENESS is what I attain to be.
From then (and adding in the endorphins from exercising and eating healthy) I have decided I will never again compare myself to another dancer. I’m not a size 2- I never will be. What I am is beautiful, funny and smart. I can channel the things I have into the dancer I want to be – and leave the whole weight thing out of the equation! When I start doubting myself or my abilities – I will channel my inner Nisha and push through the barrier! 🙂
My next performance will be at The Improper Spectacle II in Littleton, MA on August 21st. If you’re in Mass and interested in details- drop me a line! I’d love to see you!
I’m leaving you with two of my favorite pictures. On the left is me dancing in New Jersey in 2006 with wings of ISIS and on the right is my flapper fusion piece from February!