Inconvenient Body Truth
As a dancer
from the point of view of a long life, I have always felt invincible,
super human and as if I had a special kind of control of my physical
instrument. I always felt like an artistic athlete who could control
my fate with my body and my body with my fate. Dance has always
been my best religion.
I began studying the movement language of American/ Middle Eastern/
Belly dance (a dance of many names) I felt as if I had found
another aspect of invincibility through what seemed to be a
new secret source for body understanding.
was because many of core the movements were initiated from the
deep inside, emanating out in to the world. I felt like a vessel
for the connection between heaven and earth when I did my first
hip circle! What a wonderful source of body knowledge to discover
for a new midlife dance career beginning in my 40s. It was perfect
I feel amazement with the open passion and commitment of what
seems to be the entire American ME Belly Dance community. Additionally,
the open kvetching on every personal subject surprises
me. Until I discovered the world of Belly Dance, my dance life
was mostly strict modern/ ballet with creative movement, Pilates,
Roth and art mixed together. Even now, I do not remember speaking
so openly about so many personal subjects relating to the body.
Of course because of the Internet, many personal subjects are
talked about now through e-mail, which is different than talking
e-mail communication and website listings of thoughts, questions
and answers inspire personal information and conversations about
almost everything. Intimate conversation with perfect strangers
(who also can become close dance sisters) allows open-world
is allowing me to present thoughts on this delicate topic which
maybe could eventually be called something beautiful like: “ Elixirs
for dancing agelessly through the years.” I welcome possible suggestions
talk of almost every body part and the costume body solution for
that body part with candor. They discuss bra sizing or bulging,
belly bloopers, belly covers, no panties showing or matching if
they do show, good hair versus bad hair and wigs or extensions,
nails done or not, tattoos, diets, etc. I assume it is all for
beauty, illusion, and performance power (or is it?). It is all
for bringing out our ultimate and unique womanhood, but, sometimes
I have wondered, is it.
I have watched the most incredible beauty queen transformations!
With tricks of the trade, a dancer who seems not to be of star
material in class, becomes in only a few hours, a shining, glorious,
ageless goddess in the limelight of the dance sisterhood. I have
also seen costumes on bodies that looked as if they should cover-up,
in a certain costume that was from long ago. This phenomenon has
made me wonder repeatedly about the “ageing gracefully costume
rules” of Belly dance.
It feels to
me as if Belly dancers were all part of a world-wide sisterhood.
I have received help many times along my very confusing journey
in an attempt to understand our amazing world of Belly dance.
I have received help especially from my world Internet sisters,
from a question about music, to how one should to start a show.
A workshop dancer/ teacher encouraging you or a teacher appreciating
your next accomplishment who will say, “ Don’t ever stop dancing
and learning.” There is always someone “out there” who will hear
you and will be willing to take the time to answer your questions.
began studying Belly dance at age 46. As any ballet or modern
dancer might be, I was in shock at first by all the new dance
rules—or lack of rules! The dance world as I had known it was
completely different from almost everything having to do with
that initial phase, I, like many other dancers, fell obsessively
and passionately in love with every aspect of Belly dancing.
have flown by, the way they do, and I am 51 now. (Surprise and
ago, I opened a new studio on the main road of my very small,
conservative New England town. I am so proud to have my little
studio sign that reads, “ The Art of American Belly Dance.” I
am teaching five or more classes a week. I am doing all the same
things I have always done (except chasing my 3 kids around, which
is definitely different)!
my dancer’s body is suddenly changing, for no apparent reason
except (maybe) I am just getting older and going through menopause
like every other mortal woman. Could this be so?
This is a
big thing, and all of you who are in this phase with me know it
is. This is bigger than you or I would like to admit. Naively,
I assumed that my dance religion would continue to make me invincible
and young, or at least younger, forever. During the last couple
of years, I have been so busy exploring every aspect of this dance
and mastering each part of it, I was hardly thinking that my body
would betray me like every one else’s.
these recent years of pursuing the study/ teaching/ performing
of Belly dance, I thought to myself, “I will dance forever, invincible
like always!” Is it possible that I thought this because so many
Belly dancers never seem to change? It seems they are forever
young. Is it because their pictures freeze them in time? Is it
because of the darned good photography? Is it that I have not
learned all the many tricks-of-the-trade of the Art of Belly dance
I am thinking
that maybe these things are possible, now that I feel I have mastered
the dance. It is not that I believe that I know everything, but
now I am not working so hard at dance, practicing each move repeatedly
like a million sacred prayers. I am not struggling so hard anymore
either. I have become more confident and more relaxed now. Perhaps
my dancer’s body is settling in for the second half with this
new knowledge. Hummm! That sounds as if I had become a grown-up
dancer! Oh, my! I wonder what a psychiatrist would say about that!
In the very
beginning of my dance study, when I became aware of all the different
costumes styles, every style to me screamed: youth, beauty, ultimate
control of one’s instrument, etc. I recall my first few classes,
in which many different sizes, shapes and ages of bare midriffs
for the very first time in my life, suddenly surrounded me. I
felt funny about exposing my lifetime’s leotard covered body.
I remember my world famous teacher/ performer (who happened to
be my age). She strutted around in her gypsy skirt and bra top
very proudly. I thought to myself, “She knows something that I
don’t!” What was that secret something? Did it have to do with
dance, life force, attitude, or with the survival of come-what-may
and against-all-odds? “Have I found it,” I ask myself now? Have
I found it by feeling the freedom and confidence of learning the
losing those 20 pounds and by baring my middle, have I found
it? After this discovery of freedom, should I be ready to give
it up now that I am maturing? Is there a commonly understood
rule about which I have not learned?
How well I
remember: in a 10-day dance workshop, I watched what I thought
was a magical moment for the many sisters of Belly dance! We were
all standing in class. Some of us were still covered and it was
very hot. One of the women suddenly pulled her shirt off from
over her head, exposing her bra and belly. The entire roomful
of 30 women burst into applause and yips of delight. The dancer
stood bathed in light. I saw her bathed
in light! From then on, during every class and every meal she
walked, dressed, and made herself up like a queen. She walked
and stood 2 inches taller than she had before. When I saw her
I wondered, “ Is that the magic of Belly dance? If it is, I want
to learn that and bring it home to all women in New England!”
To this day, I do not know if I did succeed or if I can.
of the beauty/power combination, to which I choose to adhere,
began at the beginning of my journey. I wanted to try to master
it all. I wanted to learn to execute all the dance styles and
wear all the costume styles. However, I kept wondering if was
I too old to start. All the costume styles that I saw advertised
were mostly the bedleh type; they were body-baring and body-freeing.
My training ethic taught me that one must be able to wear this
or that style, even when one knows what one is doing and when
one has everything completely under control.
was not the main message I received from both students and some
teachers. Some students that I met actually said to me, “Get the
beautiful, expensive costume first because it will help your dancing.”
For me, that was shocking! Some teachers tried to sell me costumes
then that I realize (now) were way beyond my cultural dance ability
or knowledge. This was just the opposite message that I understood
from all my previous dancing years, which had been, “Learn dance
discipline first; work hard; get your technique perfect, and costume
here I am now, having worked very hard to learn as much as possible
to master my body, invest in the costumes, and—Bam!—suddenly,
menopause has hit me!
Everyone mostly hears and wonders about it until they are involved
in it actually. I remember listening to a close non-dancing friend
talk about how strange it seemed and thinking to myself, “That
will never happen to me because I am a dancer.” How could I have
been so naïve? I have read about it everywhere to educate myself.
Honestly, I thought, “ I won’t even notice or feel it because
of my dancing.” Surely, my teaching would keep me looking and
feeling like myself (at least from the neck down) but suddenly,
I am gaining weight through my middle! My arms are morphing, and
my breasts are growing! I am upset, surprised, and I feel betrayed.
Am I not devoted enough to my dance religion or am I just really
a mortal woman after all? Should I do it all double-time and pray?
spite of these mostly very recent changes, I want to be the
ageless, always energetic and forever-enthusiastic teacher,
dancer, and woman. However, and I hate to admit it, it has become
I succumbed to hair extensions after watching my hair on a performance
video. I love to turn, and I noticed that, even though I had a
hair extension clip in, my hair (which isn’t short) when I was
turning, looked like a short tail instead of like a lovely trail.
I went to have it fixed it as best I could.
As a nail-biter
who never wore polish, I also began grooming acrylic nails. A
well-known dancer I knew told me that acrylic nails gave her confidence,
and who would not want that? So, I went to try them. I cannot
say they give me confidence, but they are fun for dance. In the
beginning of my journey, I read some southern beauty queen’s Belly
dance rules that said, “Ladies, if your costume looks better than
your hair, get a wig, and always groom your finger
and toe nails.”
speaking, I tell myself now, “ Barb, you’ve had a great run, --more
fun than most, and you could be feeling and looking much worse!
Some people still comment, “You are in your 30s; right?” I have
I am proud
of who I am, what I have learned, and especially proud that I
am able to teach those whom I love: my students. I love to watch
them grow, learn, and become more in touch with their own source
of femininity and strength, which I feel is a benefit from the
study of Belly dance.
am also wondering what the rules are for this, new very inconvenient
body phase. I am in it just like all the other mortals after all.
The realization of this fact came as a big shock to me!
are some personal tips I have gleaned since writing this article:
I have joined a gym for the first time in my life.
Walking, breathing, and a million snake arms and circles are
not enough anymore. I guess the good, modern gym machines are
a wave of the future ageless bodies. I am even thinking of talking
to a personal trainer. Yikes!
have been getting acupuncture treatments to align and open all
my bodily energies.
My acupuncturist suggested getting an 11-pound bag of rice,
putting it on my belly for 15 min a day and concentrating on
the weight of it to quiet my mind into meditative state. He
says that a quiet mind is a calm and clean mind, which leads
to a calm, clean body. I am trying it.
I am using and have become a distributor of some organic skin
Ironically, since using these products, I am getting more compliments
on my skin than ever before in my life, which is bizarre, but
nice. I wonder where the compliments were 10 or 20 years ago.
- One beautiful
dancer said to me on the subject, “Be mysterious. Cover
certain body parts, while revealing others.” I will
beautiful dancer said,“By
50 we need only a quarter of the food we ate previously.”
‘Tis true. Therefore, I will try to follow suit, healthfully.
all “tips of the trade” from the many experts. This is a journey
for all of us, whether we like it or not, and this is the great
age of information. Let us help each other along in this seemingly
ageless profession, in a world pursuing
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
2-15-07 DVDs can be a Lifesaver to
the Disabled! by Lia Medina
Nonetheless, I continue to Belly dance. I will not give up dance
until I can no longer succeed in dancing at least four of its
Sunday Morning Panel Discussion
at Carnival of Stars, November 11, 2007 Transcribed from video
Panel members discussed Fusion in Belly Dance. Members included:
Jihan Jamal, Shareen El Safy, Dahlena, Debbie Lammam, Amina Goodyear,
and Edwina Nearing
Photos PAGE 1-Carnival
of Stars Photos by Michael Baxter
Sponsors Alexandria and Latifa November 11 & 12, 2006 Centennial
Hall, Hayward, California (panel discussion and Sunday photos
PAGE 2 yet to come...)
Tips on Getting Tips by Zaheea
audiences don’t know that they are expected to tip. Don’t
take it personally.
Mining for Gold in the Gilded
Serpent Archives - List #1 Surreyya's Favorite Articles
compiled a list of articles that have inspired, influenced and
enabled me to cross many intersections when arriving at a challenge.