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Gilded Serpent presents...
Betty Th’ Builder:
a Little Something Extra to Shake
Co-written by Najia Marlyz and Salima

Najia writes:  One day at the start of a coaching session that I had scheduled with flamboyant and petite Betty who had become Salima onstage, she said, “Najia, I have remembered to bring my proofs of the last dance photo layouts you requested!”  We looked through them discussing the relative merits of each one and when we came to the end of the group, I did not put the little book down but kept on thumbing the pages. Faster and faster flew my fingers through the pages.

I was astonished at the muscled woman I saw posed in each photo and blurted, “Is that you?”

I insisted on taking the little photos to my computer to scan in for a closer look.  How incredible!  I had never before met anyone who had taken on the unusual process of female bodybuilding and my mind was simply dazzled! Many odd questions whirled in my head. How had she transformed from this incredible statue to Salima, the softly feminine dancer I knew (or thought I knew)?

I have taught and coached thousands of dance students over the past forty years but this was a “first” in my clientele.  It did not take long to start thinking that if I was that astonished and curious about Betty’s transformation from Betty the Builder to Salima the polished Belly Dancer, she should share her story.  After about a year’s delay and dance contests entered and won, I finally convinced her that she represents in an extreme example of how powerful and unique each person’s adventure in to Oriental Dance performance can be.

Here is Salima’s humorous and inspiring story of transformation:

That’s… you?  That’s… you!

That’s the surprised exclamation some visitors to my home make when they get a glimpse of the pictures from my days of bodybuilding.  Then, within only nano seconds, I see a familiar glazed look in their eyes that tells me their brain is shifting gears to form the next big question, (which seems too embarrassing to ask): “Why don’t you look like that now?”  Other than the fact that bodybuilding is all consuming, freakin’ hard work there is another reason!

I’ve always been one to give things that make me curious the “old college try” and that inclination has lead to some pretty fun (and funny) adventures; i.e. bungee jumping off of an Interstate bridge (illegally), flying in a crop duster plane, cheerleading for the NFL, acting, gnarly white-water rafting, appearing on a goofy television show, etc. Eventually, though, because I was already involved in health and fitness, I decided to take-up female bodybuilding. 

Some of my friends that were in bodybuilding for years, while I had turned my nose up at what I considered an “overly muscular look for women.” However, slowly, the look eventually began to grow on me.  I started to appreciate the look of the hard bodies in the gym and decided to kick my workouts into gear.  My real changes came about after I met my husband who was a competitive bodybuilder.  He was my physical sculptor; however, with that said, no, my knees are not feeling any love for that dear man right now. (Sorry honey!)  There is always a price to pay for the things we most enjoy, it seems.

Those of you who have flipped through any fitness magazines are probably aware of the fact that the contestants must stand on stage (under very bright lights) in a very small suit, and do a variety of competitive poses.

Nothing is allowed to jiggle!

Consider: for someone who never before felt comfortable wearing shorts in public, this was going to be a significant adjustment and undertaking, mentally as well as physically.  Typical audiences at the shows are large, everyone present is judging you, and not just quietly. (Did I mention that they are audibly ripping contestants’ efforts to shreds?) I know we are all familiar with fears of being judged and many dancers feel it unfair or even immoral to judge the efforts of others.

I know a lot of you probably think, “Ewww! Ick! Why would any woman want to look like that?”  However, whenever you are deeply involved with something for a very long time, (take Belly dancing for example) things that may seem strange to outsiders start to seem very normal to you.  When attending festivals, I welcome the colorful tattoos, so-called gypsy attire, and all that goes with our current-day Belly dance appearance and atmosphere.  People on the outside would probably think they had just walked into some sort of freak show, --especially at a Tribal Fest.  Oh! No need for taking offence; you Tribal dancers know you enjoy what you have created!  

Getting back to my story: after having been surrounded by bodybuilders for many years, eventually that look had become the norm to me and “other people” were the outsiders who were out of step

I found myself feeling sorry for the magazine models that sported skinny arms and legs but, apparently, had no muscles. 

For awhile, I had even contemplated becoming excessively big, but luckily, I decided against that goal.  At the time, even though I liked the look, I decided that I didn’t want to:

  • gain 50 pounds and then diet it back off again at contest time,  
  • get a permanent voice like a Victor Stallone,
  • sprout facial hair,
  • develop a jaw-line like Lurch,
  • deal with acne, and the overall charming attitude. 

Think of the old song: “…Walk like a man…Talk like a man!” 

Yes, that just about describes what, most probably, would have happened to me, and those attributes don’t of their own accord return to normal, either! 

After a few years of very hard training with heavy, heavy weights, and missing my first contest because I became pregnant, (I delivered our son.) I was ready to compete.  My first contest felt great!  I won in my class, and the event was enjoyable.  Unfortunately, at that point, I was naive about the “ruling powers” in the bodybuilding world.

After my second contest, in which I had to stand next to “She-rilla,” I decided to back away from the activity slowly and be content with what I had accomplished to that point.  

When things get too serious and cease to be fun, you can count me out.  Life is too short!  However, I learned a valuable life-lesson about getting too deeply involved in any activity.  For me, it is much better to be ignorant of “Who’s who.”  It is best to remain outside of the inner circle. That is me: standing outside, singing, “La, la, la, lahhhhhh!” with my fingers stuck in my ears.

One has to keep things in perspective, and entering contests for purposes of the ego can cause too much heartache. “Here today, gone tomorrow!” the old folks often say, and with good reason.  One cannot stay on that one pinnacle forever. For me, entering a contest creates my motivation to get the job done, to force my issues and give them a deadline.  To this day, as much as I love dancing, I get very nervous about performing, so I feel it is best to have my set goals.

My New Avenue of Enjoyment
Okay! So, after my years on the bodybuilding scene, I decided to find a new avenue of enjoyment. (Next! Snap! Snap! Sound of the fingers of time)…  

I was skimming our local newspaper and spied an advertisement about a Belly dancing class being taught at our city’s adult education center.  I told my husband about it, and he looked at me as if I had lost my mind

My teenage son felt mortified, (God forbid that his friends would ever find out!) but off I went, in search of a shiny, jingly dance belt.  Woo, who!  Let the fun begin! 

Little did I know that I was entering into yet another new chapter of my life full of fun, sisterhood, and here and there, a little dramatic touch.

At first I was worried that what was once my stomach-of-steel wasn’t going to be good enough to be “exposed.”  One could still see my abdominal muscles, but they were not in competition shape.  My teachers kept trying to tell me that I needed to soften up, but that condition was against everything I had believed in and worked for during most of my adult life. 

It was after I attended my first Belly dance competition (“Belly Dancer of The Year, in Danville, California) that something hit me in the face… or perhaps, I should say the stomach.  Who was it that drew my eye?  Whose persona jumped off the stage with the sensuality one would expect from a Belly dancer?  The women who had the soft curves and the little something extra to jiggle were much more sensuous than the one or two who had nailed down their six-packs.  It was a total eye-opener, an epiphany!

Dancers onstage, who were excessively athletic looking, did not pull my eye nearly as much as those who were shaped like women!  I also noticed that the older women, (a.k.a.--my age), simply looked even older if they were too lean.   I remember seeing a television documentary that studied the appeal of the opposite sex.  Men are typically drawn to women that are softer and rounder.  The softer look of a female subliminally represents youth, health, reproduction and sex to both genders; it said.  (Even if we forget about the reproduction part, I’m just pointing out the facts mentioned in the study.) Let’s compare Sophia Lauren to Demi Moore.  Both are beautiful women, but I bet Sophia Lauren would pull more attention walking down the street (or say Marilyn Monroe vs. Nicole Kidman). 

Women with the little extra something bring out the best feminine mojo!

Just think about it: how many of us women like super-skinny men?  I’m sorry, but that is not a good visual image for me! 

Before I dig myself any deeper into that pit...

I am sure that there are numerous of you sexy dance Goddesses out there who are just shaking your heads in disbelief because, for years, you have been aware of the dynamic. However, that is my reason why I have decided to soften up and give up my hard body. 

It was a little difficult for me to embrace the plan at first, but I must admit that eating has become enjoyable again.  Additionally, I have to acknowledge that I was shocked at the response I received during my first summer as a “softie.” The attention of total strangers seems bizarre to me in a flattering way that feels unsettling, and as a result, I find myself covering up a little more when I dress to leave my home now. 

The subtle power of being a woman is an amazing thing!  It is too bad so many of us don’t realize and come to terms with it until later in our lives. However, for me, it is always better late than never! 


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