If I got a dollar every time someone told me they've "always been fascinated by belly dance," but it took them years or even decades to set foot in a class because they were too busy, or too intimidated, or thought they were too old or too fat or too [insert a quality deemed to be negative here] to give it a try, I might have a few thousand dollars to spare by now.
I hear this all too often and it makes me sad to think of how many women are missing out on this joyful practice and its countless benefits every year due to societally-imposed insecurities and societally-imposed prioritization of everything and everyone else before themselves, as well as assumptions about what a belly dancer "should look like."
For many women, walking into a belly dance class means breaking through a lot of societal conditioning that says they are somehow not "good enough" to take part in this activity. Over my 12+ years of teaching this dance, the most common feeling I notice in my newer students is a sense of shame:
Shame for not being "able to dance"
Shame for "having no rhythm"
Shame for being "too stiff"
Shame for not doing a movement "right"
Shame for not being the "right" age
Shame for not being the "right" body type
Shame for not being "fit enough"
Shame for having physical limitations
And so much more
Part of it is that I attract these types of clients, because this is exactly how I also felt the first time I set foot in a belly dance class, as a sedentary adult with zero dance training and body image issues inherited from generations of oppressive beliefs imposed on & about women.
Practicing this dance has helped me, and continues to help me break through all of that, and this is why I am passionate about my work as a dance and movement teacher, and why I am so intentional in fostering spaces where women can learn this rich and complex art form while freeing themselves from harsh, unhelpful, and unfair judgments of themselves.
The other part of it is that these self-criticisms are almost ubiquitous among women. So let's shed some truth on these sticky lies:
Belly dance is for every BODY. If you have a body, you can learn belly dance. It doesn't matter how thin or fat you are, how fit or out of shape (and thinness/fatness are not measures of health), you can learn belly dance. The practice can accommodated to fit any fitness level or physical limitation. You can start at any age, and still learn belly dance. I have taught children and I have taught 90+ year-olds, and every age in between. It doesn't matter if you don't have natural rhythm, or if at first every single move feels impossible. You Can Learn This Dance!
All it takes is good and supportive guidance and showing up consistently to a class and/or personal practice.
Belly dance isn't easy, and it takes time to learn, but so do most worthwhile things in life. It's worth it for the beautiful ways we get to move our bodies, for the wonderful new ways we learn to see ourselves, and for the holistic benefits to our health--including mind, body and soul. Belly dance can be an outlet for artistic expression, musical appreciation, and connection and community with other women and like-minded people.
There are few things that bring me more joy than witnessing these benefits materializing in the lives of my students along their belly dance journey.
I am writing this post as my wish for the New Year, a timeless wish for every year:
That every woman who has "always been fascinated by belly dance" but been too afraid, ashamed, insecure, or prioritizing-of-everyone-before-themselves to try it will finally break through all of the baggage that has been keeping them from finally getting started, and receiving all the blessings that this practice can bring.
If you'd like to receive my guidance on your journey, you can view all my available belly dance classes (online on Zoom or in person in New Jersey) here.
I'm wishing you a New Year filled with love, joy, and all the beautiful experiences and growth you seek!
Yamê is a Brazilian-American
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