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“I am too fat to belly dance”
If I hear that sentence one more time I may pull all of my hair out. The notion that a belly dancer must conform to an American standard of beauty based on size is false. Belly dancers come in all shapes and sizes. The beauty of this dance is that it encompasses us all. It does not restrict. It is a perfect entrance into becoming a fit person because it does not feel like a workout. Belly dance is not just about the belly. Your entire body is in motion from your arms to your thighs. It is a total body workout.
“What will my ________ (friends, neighbors, church members) think?”
Because during slavery times our bodies were used as sexual objects African American women have been taught to hide our sensuality. That sexuality is dirty. Anything that celebrates the sexual should be avoided. Recently a minister’s wife joined a class I teach in a park district. She took the free class and promptly signed up for the 10 week session. Two weeks into class she asked to speak to me and explained that she could no longer take the class. I asked her why and she explained as a minister’s wife she felt it was inappropriate to learn belly dance. What would the women of her church think of her? I asked her did her husband the minister object. She said no, in fact when she mentioned she wanted to take the class he not only encouraged her but wrote the check. I was confused. She insisted that she could not take the scrutiny if the church found out. I tried to reason with her but ultimately she never returned to class. The thought of others finding out she was learning to belly dance filled her with shame.
“Belly dancing? Isn’t that like stripping?”
Belly dancing is a dance, an art. Yes it is sensual by nature but it is never vulgar. It teaches you to stand tall and proud. You learn to control your body in ways you never knew you could. It is about subtleties. A belly dancer can create a stillness in her body and only have one hip in motion. The power of the dance is from the dancer’s ability to create layers of movement that may combine the lightning movement of a hip shimmy while the arms move slow and snakelike.
“I can’t move like that.”
The majority of women do not love their bodies. They hold it tight so no one notices it. The natural sway of the hips is shunned. The shoulders are hunched to not draw attention to the breasts. When I teach women to belly dance the first thing is to help them shed their inhibitions about their bodies. It makes me so happy to see a lady go from the lady that looked at herself in the mirror the first day of class that says “I can never do this”. Into a woman 8 weeks later that moves with new confidence. That now radiates a glow. Oh she might not be the perfect dancer but she has found her moves, her style and has gone from a caterpillar wound up in a cocoon to a butterfly, unique and beautiful.
If I had my wish I would touch every woman I meet with the belly dancer spirit. I would show her the grace and beauty that lies beneath the exterior. I would help her rejoice in her sensuality, revel in her power. The belly dancer within is every woman’s sleeping giant.
Louise "LuuLuu" Caillouet is Co-Founder and Artistic & Creative Director of HipQuake - Fitness thru Dance located on the southeast side of Chicago
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