Not many people know this, but I have been taking bellydancing classes. My closest friends and loved ones would probably chuckle if they knew this…or at least ask me, “what are you thinking??!?” I am actually finding bellydancing to be not only fun and great exercise but also some seriously good therapy for a person recovering from a lifetime of disordered eating and body image issues.
My teacher is a lovely woman (mid-50’s maybe) who has a background as a ballet dancer but has been doing bellydance for over 20 years. I will never forget in one of the first classes she encouraged everyone to “let their bellies hang out” and, by completely relaxing the stomach muscles, we would find that the bellydancing moves would be much easier and feel more natural. She called out to us, “I know what you young girls are doing! You are like most western women and you are trying to suck in your belly even while exercising!”
She was right. I was guilty. I have exercised for years and unfortunately have spent too much time noticing the flat bellies of the women exercising around me, comparing myself to them and usually wishing my stomach was flat and taught instead of its natural rounded state. I’ve spent countless hours talking myself into appreciating my rounded stomach and hips because they are reminders of my fertility and femininity… right??
Ah, the liberation of letting it all hang out! I have now discovered the positive reinforcement of hearing the coin belt wrapped low around my hips “ching” as it should while I do a thigh shimmy or a double Mayan hip roll. In bellydance there is praise for the ample woman in all her glory!
Final note from a Christian woman who endorses and encourages modesty: Bellydance is something I began doing only with the approval of my loving husband. Bellydancing is not inherently sexual, but instead is an art form that women in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe have been perfecting for centuries. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Western culture tends to sexualize most forms of dance and perceive a dancing woman as sexually provacative. Have you seen many movies come out of Hollywood in the last decade about dancing women that don’t portray them as young, scantily clad, and trying to attract a man?
And with that, I will do a walking hip shimmy away from my soapbox.