A Journey of Self-Acceptance
previously published in Papyrus,
the North Texas Middle Eastern Dance Association
was a dancer at birth. My father said that I would get up at
age 5 and put on little shows of what he called “my own brand
of exotic dance.” So, I am sure that to my mother it was only
natural to sign me up for dance classes. Thus began my dance
career: I was an overweight, over-exuberant, 7 year old in
jazz class. I thought I was fantastic! Correction, I was fantastic!
I gave 110% every time; I loved to dance! Any time, any place,
and in any style (or no style at all) would find me dancing.
it wasn’t long before I started to realize that the other
girls were different than me. More importantly, I realized
that I was different from them.
simply enough. I was always in the back, but that made sense
since I was tall for my age. Then I noticed the other girls
spending more time in their groups, leaving me out. They just
didn’t know me very well. If they knew me better they would
like me, wouldn’t they? Well, of course they would. What’s
not to like?
was a little girl dealing with self-confidence issues for
the first time. I tried to ignore it.
it to myself deciding not to tell my mother or my friends.
I pretended that I hadn’t noticed anything and it was all in
my head. Maybe it was my imagination, but did that make it
any less painful? No, even if I created it all myself that
imagined reality was real enough to hurt. I stuck it out for
a while thinking it would get better. I knew in my heart how
much I loved to dance and I wanted to dance every day, whether
anyone wanted to watch or not. But in spite of my best efforts
my little dancer heart finally shattered.
day had come. The day I had waited for like Christmas morning.
My pictures from the dance studio were finally in! I just knew
that I was going to have a great photograph that captured my
love of dance perfectly. My name wasn’t in lights yet, but
I had pictures to show I was on my way. Where I was going exactly
I didn’t know, but I knew I was a wonderful dancer and soon
I’d have pictures to prove it.
mom bought the studio pictures for my jazz class. Seeing
my picture confirmed all my doubts and fears; cataloged
on paper for all to see.
paranoia became real that day. I was different, I was fat.
In my young brain I had already decided that dancers shouldn’t
be fat. I must not be a dancer after all. Once again, I dealt
with my pain in my own way, I swallowed it along with cookies,
candy, and Twinkies. I never told my mom why I quit. That day
I vowed never to dance again. Who would care anyway? What did
it matter if the world were short ONE DANCER.
15 years. Single, overweight, and living a mundane life I kept
my vow. The world was still short ONE DANCER. Stifled,
I felt like a painting stored in a dark attic; an unread fairy
tale gathering dust on a shelf. Still, I wanted to dance, like
the need to breathe, I yearned to dance.
remember how I was introduced to Middle Eastern Dance. I can’t
recall if it was in a movie or a flyer or possibly a recreation
center but it seemed like exactly what I needed. Excited by
the idea of mystery, the feminine allure, and the glamour,
it enticed me. I dreamed of a veiled dancer that seemed
to float though the room made up of silk and sparkle. She embodied
feminine power; all that is intangible, indescribable, and
inexplicable. I wanted to know her; I wanted to be her.
I researched the area and found instructors. One was not even
five miles from my home! That had to be a sign. I knew where,
when, and how much the classes were. I was ready!
It is amazing
how fast the tide turns. I picked up the phone to call the
dance studio. I heard the dial tone and dialed the number.
During the first ring I became fearful, not yet an idea but
a dark, heavy, fog of doubt. The second ring formed my concern
into thought. Belly dancers are statuesque, beautiful, elegant,
athletic, graceful creatures of mystery and magic. More importantly
they were thin. By the third ring, the flood of self-doubt
turned into a brutal self-annihilation. My mind drowned my
heart under insult after insult: “You’re too fat to dance.”
“No one wants to see you shake anything.” “You have no grace,
no posture, no coordination and no training.” “Everyone in
the class will be thinner than you, more beautiful than you,
more graceful than you.” “They will laugh you out of class.”
I never heard that fourth ring.
gently replaced the phone to its cradle and wept.
myself that I had dodged a bullet. Fate had intervened and
saved me from the embarrassment of going to that class. Imagine
how awful the humiliation would have been if I had actually
gone. I imagined the instructor’s disapproving face as she
tried to remain polite. I imagined all the beautiful women’s
stifled gasps as I entered the room. I could hear them whisper
amongst themselves as they gawked at the fat girl who dared
to enter their presence.
how long did this mirage of self-destruction last, you ask; a
day, a week, a month? No, for two long years I was awash in self-doubt
and self-loathing, frozen in my own self-created fear. Then,
one day I woke up with a new emotion. I woke up angry.
dare the world dictate what I can or cannot be? How dare I
limit myself in what I can do! Anger is a strong emotion and
a powerful driving force for change. I was mad at everyone
who ever teased me, everyone who ever laughed at me, every
man who ever rejected me. I was mad and I wasn’t taking it
anymore. I decided to dance no matter what anyone else thought.
by my raging, indignant anger, I seized the moment and
dialed the phone.
still had the information after two years. The instructor answered
the phone and I enrolled for the next session which was amazingly
only one week away. As I enrolled for class I relaxed my resolve
a bit and began to doubt again. I explained to the kind voice
on the other end of the line that I was nervous about started
dance classes because I was a larger woman. With patient reassurance
she explained that dance was for everyone and that Middle Eastern
Dance was for all people of all shapes, sizes, ages, ethnicities,
and even genders. Genders? Not all belly dancers are
women? It gave me hope. If men could be belly dancers
then maybe, just maybe there was room for me.
much time, the day of my first class was here. Still harboring
doubt, I drove to class. With fear growing in the pit of stomach
I opened the studio door. I stepped onto the cool hardwood
floor and looked around the room. No one laughed, no one gawked.
In fact, I was surrounded by 9 beautifully different smiling
women: tall, short, heavy, dark, light, young, old and everything
in between. There weren’t any men in my class, but the diversity
of these women was staggering and all of them were smiling…at
moved toward me with a graceful and purposeful stride. With
a glowing warm smile and an outstretched hand she introduced
herself and ushered me into the group. I breathed a sigh of
was home; after seventeen long years, I was home.
years came and went along with many changes in my life. I have
changed jobs, moved, and even gone back to school to finish
my degree, but one thing has remained constant in my life is
the love of dance. Then my husband came into my life; the person
with whom I should feel free to share everything, even my deepest
darkest secrets. My husband never knew what dance meant to
me because I never told him. It wasn’t until I began to write
this story that my husband came to know the passion with which
I dance. “It is great exercise,” I would tell him. Then I would
proceed to spend hours upon hours in dance class, purchase
costumes I couldn’t afford, travel out of town or even
out of state for workshops, and do countless hours of research
on the internet. No wonder he was confused. That’s a lot of
commitment for exercise.
I never tell my husband that my heart beat because of dance?
Why had I never uttered the words, “I am a dancer?” That would
mean that not only would I have to admit to him how much dance
meant to me, I would also have to admit it to myself. No
matter how many years had gone by, no matter how many stages,
I had danced on, the voice inside my head still screamed doubt.
This is not a perfect journey, but it is a journey I committed
I am confident, sometimes I doubt, but I continue to face
my fear and step on stage, ONE DANCER.
beat of music fades. Breathing heavily, lights shimmering off
the sweat clinging to my face, I pose, hearing the applause
of the audience. I scan the crowd and meet my husband’s gaze.
I can’t help but smile a bit wider knowing he is proud of me.
I bow and exit the stage. In the dressing room, I remember
that little girl in the purple jumpsuit with its hot pink sequined
trim. She is still here tonight. I find it hard to believe
that after all this time I still catch myself looking through
the crowd wondering if they approve. Do I deserve to be here? Even
now, I fear. The inner demons rear their ugly heads and roar,
but less frequently and more quietly now. I leave the dressing
room and find a seat next to my husband to watch the rest of
the show. He squeezes my hand and smiles a knowing smile.
dancer is on stage. I watch her and wonder if she hears it
too? What does the voice in her head say? I silently say to
her, “Its okay, just dance. The world needs ONE MORE DANCER.”
are that if you do not struggle with self-confidence issues,
you at least know someone who does. This is not just about
weight. It is not just about dance. This is a story for anyone
who has ever thought, heard, or imagined reasons that keep
them from doing what they love and being who they know in their
heart they are meant to be. Please, pass this article on, because
the world is short ONE DANCER…one photographer…one musician…one
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
and the Bellydancer by Taaj
then, I wondered, why are so many belly dancers jealous, unhappy,
competitive and insecure? Does belly dance really build self-esteem?
Broken Vessel by Paola
too, must believe in our movements, believe in their purpose and
message, and we must deploy them with the array of human faculties
that begin to evolve when the Art of the Dance is taken up.
- Deeper than the Moves by Keti Sharif
dancer who feels “safe”in the rhythm, footwork, technical
movement feels grounded and secure as she dances. A grounded dancer
will be less "in her head”and allow the authenticity
of feeling to come through her body as a flowing, emotive movement
that expresses the music and how she “feels”the music.
The Land of Dance, Part One by Robyn C. Friend,
features: #1-Introduction by author, #2- A Map Tour on an ancient
and modern map.
" Communication with the outside world is difficult and expensive, and nearly
impossible during the winter."
Festival in Catalunia, Spain June 20-22, 2008 photos
by Eulalia Grau and Janixia text by Ling Shien Bell
the third year in a row, Maria Cresswell produced a dance and
music festival honoring the Summer Soltice. This year's three
day event took place high up in the Catalunian Pyrenees, in a
rustic hostel fed by fresh springs and bordered by a rushing
Peek at Making Music Videos: Hakim, Khalid Selim, Walid
Toufic, Ali el Hagar, Elam, & Samira Said by
was either crying or yelling at Hakim for most of the shoot and
went home each day with a headache from it.