“Come try bellydance with me,” I said. She looked at me as if I was the wicked witch enticing her with a poison apple. “I can’t do THAT” she replied, “Oh my god, dancing in front of a mirror with other people?” I totally felt her. The idea of it is intimidating, especially for someone like myself who is overweight. It means you have to look at yourself in the mirror with all your lumps, bumps, and bat wings. How can you stay disconnected to your body and ignore it, if you have to look at it. The answer is: you can’t.
And I’m going to be honest with you. The first time staring at myself in the mirror sucked majorly. “I’m so fat, I’m so fat, I’m so fat” ran through my head like some evil mantra on repeat. But as I moved, I saw glimpses of how I could look as I danced. That I could still have a grace in my body regardless of the extra pounds. I swayed my hips as I moved one side forward and back in an eight, opened up my rib cage, and held my shoulders back. All the things that I normally try to hide on a daily basis.
All of my life I’ve tried not to move my body so that it shakes or shimmies when I walk. Staying small so no one would look at me and I would not have to pretend I did not see their judgmental faces. Covering my breasts so that they are not the focus of where a person looks. I often crunched my shoulders forward to make my chest look smaller. I think a lot of women do this in life. We were taught to hide or even be ashamed of our girly bits. That we aren’t safe to expose ourselves, or that we are tramps or sluts if we do. Added to that is the weight of being good moms, wives, sisters, daughters, employees, and or business women. We try to be all things to all people except perhaps ourselves. So we hunker down in our bodies even more. Or at least that was how I lived my live for years.
I have a girlfriend from Trinidad and she used to tell me that North American women do not walk like women. “There is no movement, just stomping to your destination like a man. Where is the swaying and the journey to the destination? Where is embracing the beauty of the female form?” At first I denied this truth, but then as I started to look around from her perspective. I saw the stomping that women do, rushing here and there. Why are we trying to emulate masculine power when our feminine power is just as strong? I saw the weight of pressures that women carried on their body. I even saw it in myself as I stood in dance class.
Bellydance was completely contrary to how I carried myself in my daily life. It can be a sensual and very fun way to dance, but it also does some amazing things to your body; hips unlocked, chest up, shoulders down, head up. In my experience, bellydance allows the body to open up and help you to move how the female form was intended to move. It opens your rib cage and your hips which gives you more flexibility in your body. I’ve noticed a difference in my posture, and how I walk. I feel in some ways, that I get similar benefit to yoga with more laughter, camaraderie, belonging and pizazz than I’ve ever had in a yoga class.
I started to notice how my body was changing. There was now a rhythmic step to the way I walk, a looser, unintended sway. But it was more than just physical. I had a confidence that I had lost somewhere as a young adult.
In the beginning of taking bellydance, those negative critical thoughts, that I believe a lot of women have, crept into my head. I would stare in the mirror and say in my head, “oh god, body you are so ugly, what did I do to you”. But then the music and movement of class would take hold. I would start to focus on where things looked right. Was the position correct? Was my arm extended enough? Why am I turning right when everyone is going left? I felt so much joy and camaraderie from the class itself.
Then a few sessions in, we were practising with zills. What are zills, you ask? My nontechnical explanation is chimmey things (perhaps also knows as cymbals) that you stick on your middle finger and thumb and tap in patterns. With zills on, you drill a basic pattern of four steps that are a part of every class I’ve had so far.
As I tapped my foot in front, then to the side, and the rest, I saw something in me. I saw the emotional feelings that I see in myself; when the layers are peeled away; when everyone else’s expectations and judgements are gone. I saw the things that I keep hidden and share privately. I saw them reflected, in my body. I saw my own sensuality, but most importantly, I saw my own beauty.
And that moment is when I realised. I could get fat and thin a thousand more times, but if I couldn’t love my body in this moment, I would never ever truly love myself when I was thin. I would be destined to continue this cycle of weight loss and weight gain. In seeing that beauty and sensuality, I saw that I could love it, I could love me. That night I reclaimed another part of my free spirit.