Belly Dance Confessions

I’ve taken belly dance lessons off and on (WAY more off than on) for a number of years. Finally, six weeks ago I auditioned for a belly dance troupe and made it! Our debut performance was last night. I lost 15 pounds for this performance but I wish it could have been a lot more. So exposing typically-hidden parts of my body in front of roughly a hundred folk was a mental and emotional challenge for me.

I have to admit that, in preparation, I purchased what’s called a “belly stocking,” made of skin-toned nylon, which covers the midriff and arms. It made me feel a little less exposed, plus it covered some imperfections nicely. Last night I put it on under my costume and drove with one of my troupe sisters to the performance venue.

I parked the car, and my friend and I walked the short block to the dance studio. Opening the front doors, we found ourselves immediately in the middle of a vibrant, energy-filled scene. In a large hall, vendor tables sagged under piles of festive belly dance jewelry, scarves and skirts. Dancers shopped the colorful tables, mingled with family and friends, or flitted about with other troupe members practicing snippets of choreography and adjusting each other’s costumes.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to the dressing room.

As I walked past the other dancers, I was struck by the diversity of the women around me. Young. Old. Buxom. Petite. Hippy. Mid-life moms. Perky coeds. Thick waists. Thin waists. Women shaped like pears, apples, hourglasses, and even a few pomegranates.

And suddenly, in those hundred-or-so steps between the front door and the dressing room, I got it. Which is why, the moment I found myself behind the closed dressing room door, I slipped out of that belly stocking. It suddenly seemed out of place, an aberration in the midst of a Barbie-doll-myth-busting celebration of the beauty of feminine form and movement. And for reasons I have yet to fully explore, wearing it also felt vaguely disrespectful of the courage of the other women of all sizes who would be dancing that night.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to be healthy, or even lose weight if that’s what we need or want to do. I’m not even saying I’ll never wear a belly stocking in the future. I’m just saying we should love and enjoy our bodies every step along the way. And apparently that’s a lesson I needed to embrace last night bare-bellied.

This morning, I sent this text and photo to my two daughters, 18 and 27:Image

Ohmigosh I did it! Here’s me in my costume and cover-up before the performance.The whole experience was fascinating, embarrassing, exhilarating, terrifying, freeing, and both insecurity-busting and evoking. I’m SO glad no one I knew was in the audience for this first one. But I did it and that is immensely satisfying (even though I did forget one twirl at the end). Next performance is in 8 weeks. Here’s to the next 15 pounds and hopefully a little more confidence (and skill!) onstage.

Immediately after sending that text, I looked again at the photo, and then started a second text to my daughter who loves Photoshop, asking if she could tweak the picture and make the skin around my belly button smoother. And then I stopped. I stared at that unsent text. What kind of body-loathing message was I about to communicate to my daughter? I hit “Cancel.” And now I’m posting the photo—belly button folds and all—on this blog.

Coming to terms with our bodies is a never-ending journey, isn’t it? Along the way, sometimes we hesitate or falter. For instance, you’ll notice that the photo I chose to post here is thankfully blurry. (And the fact remains that I did almost ask my daughter to Photoshop me!)

On the other hand, sometimes we have glorious breakthroughs. Wow! I auditioned for a belly dance troupe! I survived my first performance! I even signed up to do it all again!

Two steps backwards. Three steps forward. And in the never ending dance to accept and enjoy our real-life bodies in an airbrush-happy society, that seems like movement worth celebrating.

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