This Valentine's Day has me thinking about some of the notions people have about belly dance.
To the general public in the Western world, the words "belly dance" tend to conjure up thoughts of harems where half-naked concubines dance to seduce the sultan...
But did you know that's actually an incorrect stereotype?
Belly dance originated from folkloric dances of the Middle East... dances that are regularly done informally at family and social gatherings, by children and adults alike, both female and male.
It is a dance of joy and celebration, with a rich history and culture behind it that is now studied and performed all around the world.
Reducing it to nothing but a "dance of seduction" is really a wild inaccuracy!
Then again, it is also easy to see how this dance--which can indeed be very sensual--could actually be used for this purpose. After all, who can possibly think that a slinky undulation or precise controlled hip shimmy isn't attractive? Even if it's an inaccurate stereotype, there is still truth to the fact that belly dance can be a sensual and mesmerizing art form.
Yet there are ways to use this quality without reducing the dance to something that is done solely for the pleasure of leering men. Because if there is one person you should definitely try to use belly dance to seduce... that person is you!
You can use it to see beauty in the diverse people who perform it, and in turn to see beauty in yourself.
You can use it to teach your body how to do new and amazing things that you will feel beautiful doing.
You can use it to express the music you love and the deepest feelings inside your soul.
This Valentine's Day, do a little belly dancing, and fall in love with yourself!
Are you overwhelmed by expectations of what your body should look like? Are you bogged down by feelings of not being attractive enough? Does your displeasure with your body cause you to miss out on things in life that should be enjoyable? Are you unhappy with your shape, size, or weight?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you are among something like 90% of women, who feel unhappy with their bodies and want to change them. But before you go and start trying to “fix” your body, why not work to change your mindset? Here are some steps you can take to start loving your body and developing a healthier body image, starting right now!
1.Realize that you are more than just the sum of your parts, and you are worthy of happiness
The most important thing to work towards when trying to develop a more positive body image is the attitude that your value as a human being is not tied to your physical appearance.
That can be difficult to realize when you live in a society that might constantly be telling you otherwise, but it is the truth. You are as worthy of happiness as the next person, and you are valuable for the simple fact that you are a human being with a unique set of genes and experiences that have shaped you into who you are.
If you do not feel valuable as you are right now, try tapping into your existing talents and abilities to make someone else happy or lend a helping hand. Do more of the things that make you happy, and surround yourself with people who love and value you as much as you can.
If you are able to love yourself in broader terms, it will be much easier overcome the negative perceptions you have of your body.
2.Focus on the positives and compliment yourself
You already know there is a lot of power in a compliment. A few nice words can totally make a person’s day! But are you applying that knowledge to the way you treat yourself?
It is easy to look in the mirror and see only flaws… after all most women are surrounded by messages that tell us all about these flaws and what we can do to “fix” them (hint: it usually involves buying their products or services).
Don’t let any person or entity who is financially vested in making you feel flawed so they can sell you stuff get the best of you! Make the active choice to see your physical qualities over your perceived flaws, every time!
This might be difficult for some, but with regular “practice,” it can be done. Pick a few of your favorite things about your body, write them down if you need to, and go over them regularly until you start seeing yourself in a more balanced way.
3.Nip those negative thoughts in the bud!
We all know that “practice makes perfect,” right? The more we practice something, the better we get at it.
But have you ever thought about how much this applies to your own thoughts? If you are constantly thinking negative things about your body, what you are essentially doing is getting better at telling yourself those bad things about your body.
It is a vicious cycle, and endless loop of self-disrespect and you are the only one with the power to end it. How can you ever love your body when you are constantly practicing ways to hate it?
You may not be fully in control of your thoughts, but you can choose to take charge and say “No!” to that voice in your head saying you look ugly. Interrupt that nasty thought pattern and consciously replace it with a positive one.
At first it might seem difficult to control, but the more you do this, the better you will get at doing it, until your thought patterns become more positive, and therefore healthier!
4.Tune out the noise
It will be easier to control negative thoughts when you are able to turn off or tune out the very sources of those ideas that have gotten in your head. Maybe it’s TV or magazines, maybe it’s a friend or family member, maybe it’s things you see on the internet…
Whatever it is, you can get rid of it altogether, distance yourself from it, or simply tune it out. If the beauty magazines you read are constantly showing you unrealistic images of photoshopped, well-posed, and professionally-photographed models and holding that up as the ideal you and all women should strive for at all times, ask yourself if you really need to continue reading these magazines. If you have toxic people in your life who make you feel awful about the way you look, try to address it with them and see if it improves. If not, you can distance yourself from them or cut them off, depending on the particular situation.
You can take charge of your happiness by controlling how much negative input is getting into your head in the first place!
5.Find body positive role models
Seek out some positive role models. These can be people who are body positive and whose attitudes and philosophies you can emulate… people who have the same “flaws” as you but have a healthy mindset about them and are out there living their lives and just generally being awesome without letting these things hold them back… or just people who have a similar body type to yours that you can look at and find the beauty in, to help you find that same beauty within yourself!
6.But Remember that comparison is the thief of joy
As you find role models, remember never to get caught up comparing yourself to them, or anyone else for that matter. It is great to find inspiration in others, but comparison and jealousy will absolutely steal away your happiness and self-love!
No matter how perfect you think someone else might be, they go through struggles just like you. You really have no idea how hard they may have worked for that thing about them you envy, or the challenges they face in life, or the kinds of thoughts that go through their heads that they have to deal with every day.
Focus on yourself, the things you can do to better yourself, and keep your progress in perspective. As you progress towards your goals, don’t let your pride and joy be taken away by jealousy because you perceive someone else as having gotten there more quickly or more easily than you.
Give yourself kudos for overcoming your own struggles, compare yourself only to yourself, and give yourself realistic expectations that are based on your own situation and needs so that you can avoid the pitfalls of jealousy.
7.Stop gossiping/talking trash about other women’s bodies
The practice of trash talking about other women’s bodies—including celebrities’—is not only cruel to the women who are being talked about, it is also self-destructive to the people doing the talking. It is very unfortunate that this seems to be a common practice among many women, a form of bonding even…
If this is how you bond with other women, stop. Just, stop… you are creating an entire culture where it is acceptable to say things about other people’s appearance that you would be devastated to hear said about yourself, you are projecting your insecurities onto others instead of taking care of them, and you are creating or contributing to a toxic environment that will only backfire on you and potentially your loved ones in the form of more negative attitudes and body issues.
You can quit this practice by changing the subject when other people bring it up, or choosing to say something nice instead, or saying nothing at all and just avoiding these conversations altogether. You can choose to surround yourself with kinder and more positive people, or continue to surround yourself with the same people but tune out these topics.
Either way, you are in control of the things you do and say, so choose wisely!
8.Support and empower other women instead
I truly believe that the more supportive you are of other women, the more supportive you are able to be to yourself. It’s a bit of a case of “the chicken or the egg” here… many women are able to support and empower other women because they already have a healthy relationship with themselves. But even if you are not totally on board with the body positive, self-acceptance bandwagon, you will find that as you project positive attitudes onto other women in your praise and support of them, as you see other women being empowered by your beautiful words and actions towards them, you will begin feeling empowered as well.
In this case, you are creating a positive environment that will foster growth for all involved!
Exercise not because you hate your body and need to “improve” it, but because it feels good physically and mentally and will help your longevity and quality of life.
Taking up a form of exercise that takes away the focus from how your body looks to what your body can do is one of the best ways to battle insecurities and develop a more positive body image.
As you begin to appreciate your body for its newfound abilities, you will put less focus on how it looks and more focus on how it functions, which is what really should matter the most! You will also begin to treat your body better, as you figure out that healthier foods, habits, and thoughts will lead to improved performance in your chosen activity. It’s a much better motivator than exercising for the sole purpose of looking a certain way.
Regular exercise also has the added benefit of enhancing serotonin production and release, so it should make you feel happier, too!
10.If all else fails, do seek therapy!
There is no shame in talking to a professional who can help you if your body image issues are more serious and you can’t work through them on your own. In fact, even if you can work through them on your own, it can still be beneficial to speak to a therapist!
Even individuals who are perfectly mentally healthy can benefit from therapy. By talking about what you think and do, you will discover things about yourself you wouldn’t otherwise have, which can help you set your life in the right direction for you.
And if your body image issues are keeping you from doing things you enjoy, negatively affecting your relationships and interactions with others, or otherwise hampering you in your daily life, then it is definitely time to consider therapy. Therapy can help get to the root causes of your issues and send you on a path to healing.
Remember you are not alone… someone can help!
Good luck on your journey to a more positive and healthy body image. If you find yourself sinking back into old habits, come back to this list or read other advice like it to find some grounding and get back to work on fixing your thought patterns.
You can do it!
I wrote out these tips for my students who are studying and practicing for their very first belly dance solo performance, but they would be helpful to any belly dance student who is new to performing, and perhaps feeling overwhelmed!
1. Pick a piece of music that you love, and get to know it inside and out! The more you like your music and the better you know it, the better you will be able to express it and the more comfortable you will feel.
2. If you feel stronger working with choreography, then choreograph. If you are more comfortable with improvisation, improvise! Or do a mix of both. There is no need to force yourself into any method that doesn't work for you!
3. Remember you don't need to show us a million moves or prove anything to anybody. Pick a few moves you can do well and that go together with the music, and have fun with them! It is possible to do a whole belly dance routine with just a handful of moves, if you do them well and know how to use different variations and timing that fits well with the music.
4. Watch lots of dancers perform... there are thousands and thousands of videos available on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, so use these resources! Don't ever outright copy another dancer, but let yourself be inspired by what else is out there.
5. Just have fun!!! You work on technique in class and you practice it at home so you don't have to worry about it when you perform. Forget about whether you are doing it right or wrong, just let go, have fun and show us how happy you are to be dancing for us! Your audience wants to see you succeed, and they will have fun with you if they see you are enjoying yourself!
Follow these tips and you will come out of your first solo feeling happy and proud of yourself for putting a smile on your audience's face! Break a hip!
Ten years from now… you’ll be wishing you had started TODAY!
Think of all the hobbies and activities you have always wanted to try, but never made the time or gathered up the courage to take that first step…
Where would you be today, if you had started when the idea had first popped into your head? What’s on your mind right now? Where will you be tomorrow?
If you are looking to start something new for your body or for your mind, then you need to look no further than dance as it blends the best of both worlds. With dance you get fitness (working your body) and art (working your creativity and musical ear) in one shot!
In recent years, we have seen scientific study after study published that confirms what us dancers have always known: dance is not just great exercise for the body, it is also great exercise for the mind!
Dancing has been linked with improvements in memory and creativity, reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, and reduced levels of stress and depression.
Needless to say the benefits of dance on the body include increased cardiovascular capacity and muscular strength and endurance, better flexibility, balance and coordination, more energy, and so much more!
Belly dance in particular has also been linked with increased self-esteem and positive body image in many of its practitioners.
Of course all this will depend on the individual, on the genre, and on the class in particular, but you will certainly enjoy at least some of these benefits by joining a belly dance class today!
What’s great about belly dance is that it provides all these benefits while being gentle on the body. You don’t need to have started as a child to ever become good at it. You don’t need to have a specific body type, as all body types are both welcome in class and even represented in the professional realm. You don’t even need to be at a high fitness level to start, and you certainly don’t need any fancy clothes or equipment!
All you need is to show up and to be open and willing to learn; and learn you will! You will learn movements and steps, you will learn music and culture, you will achieve amazing things all while having fun!
The belly dance community in our area of New Jersey is still small, but it’s growing fast. Don’t miss your chance to become a part of it—right now—because one year from now you will be amazed at what your body can do and how much you’ve learned. Ten years from now, well… we can only imagine! The sky is the limit!
When I say that “dance is poetry in motion,” I do mean it literally. Because dance is a language of its own… after all, is it not a way of communicating feelings using our bodies as the medium?
Studying dance actually does take us through many of the same processes as learning a new language.
The first step is to learn the alphabet—becoming familiar with the shapes of the letters and properly enunciating the sounds they represent. In belly dance, our “alphabet” is composed of “isolation components”—those simple, single-plane-and-direction isolations that can sometimes be used by themselves, but that also get strung together to form multi-plane-and-direction isolations, from the most basic to the most complex. These “composite isolations” are our words, along with the traveling steps and other non-isolation movements that we use.
It is important to learn and practice those “words” enough for them to become ingrained in our muscle memory, so that we can develop a movement vocabulary large enough to interpret a variety of sounds in the music we dance to.
Much in the way that the vocabulary in a language is a key defining element, the types of movements that we do—and the way we do them—are part of what differentiates one genre of dance from another. Music is another key element, as it dictates the types of movements we can do and when, therefore providing a structure for the sentences we create with our movements, like grammar and syntax!
Transitions and accents act as punctuation marks and facial expression, body language, and stylizations can serve as our adjectives...
Achieving true mastery in any genre of dance takes practice and immersion, much like achieving fluency in a language. It takes years of work and dedication, and there are no shortcuts!
We can’t skip straight to layering multiple moves together and trying to add feeling and stylization if our body can’t perform the movements—the dance will not be recognizable, in the same way that if we attempt to piece together a thought in a language before knowing the words we need to use, we will not be understood.
On the other hand, we also don’t need to get stuck practicing a move to the point where it is being perfectly executed exactly the same way as a dancer who is native to this dance before moving on to layering, expression, and stylization. Some moves can take years of practice before they can be executed at a professional level, and it can take years of study and immersion before they can be executed with the same nuances seen on native dancers.
We call that dancing with an “accent.” Having an accent in a language doesn’t necessarily make you any less fluent. The world is full of multilingual people who can express complex thoughts and ideas in their non-native languages even if they do so with an accent. Western belly dancers need not be afraid of dancing with a Western accent. So long as they are using belly dance vocabulary, grammar and syntax, they are belly dancing!
These parallels are a great way to think about how we learn dance and to keep perspective when we become frustrated with the challenges that pop up.
They can also provide some context and a framework for our goals. Someone who just wants to learn how to say a few words isn’t going to need to spend as much time studying as someone who wants to learn how to speak a language fluently.
But regardless of individual goals, the ideal class should provide students with all the tools they need to achieve fluency, so that they too will be able to create poetry in motion…
I'll take discipline over "natural talent" any day of the week!
Innate ability will carry you through the initial stages of learning a new skill and might even help throughout all stages of development (better results for the same amount of practice), but without deliberate and consistent study and training, talent on its own is nothing but unsatisfied potential.
This is true for absolutely anything in life, including belly dance. I’ve been thinking a lot about how beginner students often create limitations for themselves that don’t actually exist, by perceiving their lack of ability to do something right off the bat as a permanent limitation as opposed to a perfectly natural part of the learning process, and even an opportunity to learn the process at a deeper level than those who don’t have to struggle through it.
Sometimes as teachers we even encourage this type of thinking, by overly complimenting a student’s natural ability to just “pick up” a new move right away, but neglecting to give attention and positive reinforcement to the improvement that student is showing week after week on a move they struggle with.
If you are that student in class who just can't understand the explanation given, if you're that person making mistakes and looking around and noticing that everyone else remembers the choreography but you, if your body just won’t move the “right” way, or you just feel awkward, or whatever it is...
There are reasons you are having a hard time, and none of them are your fault, so there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Yet these reasons are also mostly within your control, if you want them to be.
If you want to improve, if you consistently practice, if you have good guidance in some or many forms (in your teachers and mentors, friends and peers, books and/or other reading materials), then it's just a matter of time before you become good, or even great, or even awesome.
Many aspects of belly dance did not come naturally to me, so I'm familiar with all types of learning struggles and learning styles, and try to tailor each class to the specific individuals in it by using a mix of verbal, visual, kinesthetic, and other methods of explaining movement.
In my class, "mistakes" are not bad, mistakes are opportunities for progression (for both the student and myself as a teacher), because they allow me to rethink my explanations and tailor them to the student/s having issues so that they are receiving the best instruction for their individual needs.
Or if the issue is not with my explanation, then it allows me to look at the root of the problem and recommend appropriate solutions. Maybe it's just a matter of drilling that specific movement over and over again. Or maybe we need to specifically target the muscles that are not working optimally in this move, in which case I will recommend an exercise outside of belly dance that will do just that.
I am amazed at the progress I've been seeing from each and every SharqiDance student! When both student and teacher are committed to this progress, wonderful things happen. I feel absolutely blessed to have dedicated students who come to my class to embark on this journey!
Yamê is a Brazilian-American
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