|See? IT'S REAL.|
So my mom always kind of idly talked about wanting to try a bellydance class with me, and I kind of idly agreed, and she had lots of beautiful silver Middle Eastern jewelry that I loved, and I looked at it a lot and basically felt that I was sort of next to being a bellydancer, even though I hadn't actually ever done it. Cut to high school, early sophomore year. This really pretty girl in my history class comes in wearing a pair of stunning silver earrings in an unmistakably Middle Eastern style. My high school was not noted for its ethnic fashions, and I'd never seen a white girl with jewelry like that. "Whoa, I said, where did you get those?" "Oh," she said, "a bellydance festival I went to."
"A what now?" (I'm paraphrasing.)
"A belly dance festival. I take bellydance, and our teacher took us to one."
I sat back in horror and resentment. Bellydance was supposed to be my thing! Okay, so I had never taken a class, or really even seen any, but - now someone else was better at it than me! It wasn't fair!
So, of course, I made up my mind to go. I found out where she took classes - turned out one of the most renowned bellydancers in the world, Suhaila Salimpour, had her studio less than a mile away from my house. So me and a friend of mine went to try out a class.
Turns out I hated it.
|It felt kind of like this, with me as the |
severed head. Via Big Duck. Weird thing?
I tried googling all kinds of things to find
a picture of dancers being mean to each
other, and I couldn't find any. Which is
very weird, because dancers are often
mean. (Not bellydancers, though, as it
turned out later. Yay!) Also? Don't google
'nasty ballerina' with SafeSearch off. Ever.
I came home completely and utterly humiliated. Turns out this thing I thought was mine, my special thing, precioussss, was not only mine but apparently everyone else's instead. Oh, it was horrible. Dreams dashed ALL over the place. I felt as gawky, awkward, ugly and unsexy as a fifteen-year-old can possibly feel - and at least half of you know how wretched that is. Not only was bellydancing not my private magical special thing, it was also something at which I was, apparently, the worst. Like excruciatingly the worst. And listen, I was a cocky little snot in high school. I was used to being brilliant at everything, the best writer, the the biggest talker, all that obnoxious teacher's pet stuff. I was good at things. I was always good at things. Sure, maybe not at running the mile, but sports were for people who weren't smart like me, so that was okay, right?
|See, doesn't she look nice |
and magical? Via her bio on
The Gilded Serpent
The thing was, bellydance was hard! I struggled to learn it, all the while thinking why can't I just be naturally good at this, I should be naturally good at this, it's my thing! But slowly, slowly, I got a little better and a little better. I mastered more complex movements. My muscular range increased. And eventually I got to perform with Luna's troupe at Cafe Bellie - and then I was invited to perform with them at the 2005 Beijing Cultural Festival. In, yeah, Beijing. I got the costume and everything. (Are you ready? There's a picture of me coming up. Age 16. In my purple costume. I was so excited about having the pictures taken, but when I got them I was so disappointed - I didn't look nearly as awesome as I thought I did.) I didn't go to China. I went to visit colleges instead. I kept doing Luna's weekly class. And then, in 2006, I moved to Massachusetts, and so did Donna Mejia.
Here is Donna:
Now, I learned a lot from Luna. But Donna? Whole different universe. Donna was teaching at Smith College, and lucky for me, Hampshire students can take Smith classes for freeeee! So I took her Tribal Fusion class. I took it seven times. And when I couldn't take it anymore, I was very sad. I was also a very, very different person. I had learned more about my body than I had ever imagined. I knew about the history of pelvic dance and about repression of the hips and belly and about dance as a tool to fight and celebrate. I knew about the way that the story of bellydance is intricately and inextricably braided into the crazy & upsetting story of the West's involvement with the Middle East since before Napoleon. I knew about strength, and love, and glory in the body.And actually, when I look back on that photo of me? I'm not disappointed. I was right where I needed to be for a sixteen-year-old: I was learning. I was trying. And I actually think I look pretty okay for a rank amateur.
So I know that so far I haven't said anything about here's how to get joy! I haven't even really told you how I got my joy, except that I had wonderful teachers and learned to bellydance and didn't give up and so on and so forth. But don't worry. It's really pretty simple. Here's the thing about bellydance: in essence, it's the art of playing with your body. You take bits of it and you move them over here and you move other bits over there and you try and express a piece of music by doing cool things with your belly and your arms and your hips, and you let everything shake, hell, you make it shake harder, you get fabulous costumes, it's mahhhhvelous, dahling. And everyone can do it. Any gender, any age, any body type. You don't have to have legs; I've seen amazing photos and videos of bellydancers in wheelchairs doing exquisite veil dances. But I'm not suggesting that everyone in the world should bellydance. (Okay, that's a lie. I totally am. But! If you don't want to, that is okay. Really. Just keep reading.) What I'm saying is that it is pretty much impossible to be a bellydancer without having a relationship with your body that is fun. (If you are a miserable unhappy bellydancer who hates the body you're using to dance, trust me, that shit shows.)
Your body is fun to play with. In sexy ways, of course, but also in not sexy ways. It can do things. It can climb mountains, and jump on beds, and relax in hot tubs, and man, it can dance. Even if you have less rhythm than a baby gopher. It's like the world's most complex windup toy - like, you know how in Hugo there was the cool automaton that turned out to be completely beside the point and not that magical? Imagine that had been as cool as you were hoping it would be, and then multiply it by a millionty. That's how cool your body is. Treat it like a toy. Take it for adventures. Feed it nice things. Make it laugh. Try, as often as possible, to catch yourself when you're totally out of it, just sitting inside it like it's a car or something. Then go lean against a stone wall and feel how strong and sturdy the bulk of it is. Lie down on some grass. Skip, dammit. The thing I've learned from bellydance, more than any other thing, is the the body can be really, really fun - if only you will surrender the controls and let it be joyous, no matter what anybody tells you. Because those people who try and stop you? Aren't very nice and should probably be ignored forever.
Aaaaand here's the Blog Hop! If you've got an awesome Never Give Up! Never Surrender! story to tell, hey, turns out you can still sign up!