|Khairiyya Mazin, one of the last teachers & performers of Ghawazi dance,|
in 2003 - from an awesome article about her on the Gilded Serpent
Over the last few years, with the blessing of a dance elder/mentor in the form of the extraordinary Donna Mejia, I have become a teacher as well as a student and a practitioner of this amazing art form. It's really only in struggling to convey to my own students the genesis of the movements of the dance that I've really connected to what makes it so astonishing for me. The two areas of the body most engaged in bellydance, no matter which style you practice, are the hips/pelvis and the belly/abdomen. If you take a moment to think about it, it makes perfect sense to build an expressive dance form around a part of the body that happens to be one of the most naturally mobile and fluid parts of our anatomy. But in the West, especially, we put a whole lot of shame on the hips and the belly. If you're reading this right now, have you ever felt embarrassed or ashamed about the way your belly looked? I'm going to be shocked if you say no, no matter what gender you identify with. (Most of the men I know experience some form of shame about their bodies, but unlike women, many of them have no vocabulary to even begin to name or speak about the feeling. Men aren't 'supposed' to think about being sexy the way women are. I believe this can make it hard to start a conversation about shame on both sides.) The pelvis and the stomach are locations of serious trauma in our culture - and many others as well. What bellydance does that is so extraordinary, in my mind, is get us dancing from particularly and precisely the parts of the body where we most often tend to shut down, lock up, suck in, desensitize, brutalize. It turns shame into celebration.
To honor my own most influential teacher, a woman who truly embodies the power and possibility of this form, I would like to give you two videos from the aforementioned Donna Mejia. I think the dance she does speaks for itself. As you watch, I would love for you to consider two things, and if you feel safe, consider also sharing them in the comments: when have you felt shame over your body? and when have you felt a moment of overcoming, or breaking through, or putting down that shame in a moment of true joy in your own physical being? After all, as Donna once said to me, your body is your life partner - the only one you know for sure will be with you til the end.How much more wonderful would life be for us if our relationship with our life partner was one of celebration, communication and compassion instead of shame, frustration, and anger? Although every style (and there are many and more!) has a different history and a different expressive vocabulary, it seems to me that almost every dancer who identifies as a "bellydancer" will say, when asked, that one of the greatest reasons to join the dance is the delight it brings to the body. And what could be more wonderful than that?