Thursday, June 7, 2012
I signed up not knowing what to expect. I did not know anything about belly dance styles and the differences between them. I did however have 13 years of ballet, tap and jazz lessons and 10 years of baton twirling to back me up in the body control department. I also knew how to move my hips very well between my dancing experience and the 7 years I spent living in Florida, including Miami, to know Latin dance. I also had spent many hours in my pagan life dancing fire circles, and knew that I had a deep connection to dance on a spiritual level. I went to class excited to do something good for myself and not only learn a new style of dance, but to expand my physical activity, and my spirituality. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to meet these goals but surpass them on levels that I never considered.
My first class was amazing. It was not only nice to meet other women with this interest in belly dance, but we were dancing almost immediately. I was taking tribal fusion lessons. Tribal belly dance is an improvisational style for a group of performers. One person stands in front of the other dancers and leads them all with a series of hand and body cues. We learned about 5 moves the first night and were able to dance as a unit right away. I really enjoyed it. The only thing I was nervous about was showing my stomach. I kept my tummy covered the entire time and even covered it for the first 8 weeks of class until my first Haffla, or belly dance party.
That first time was pulling teeth for me. One of my biggest fears ever since being a child has been to show my stomach. I have felt more comfortable being topless than exposing my mid section. I have never really had a flat tummy and have bad memories from childhood about children teasing me about it. Getting up the courage to show my tummy to not only my belly dance sisters, but all their friends and family, was hard. I had not even planned to wear a choli to the event and had worn a tank top that covered my belly. But when I arrived to get my belts on in the bathroom another dancer about the same size as me was wearing a choli with her stomach exposed and asked me to wear her spare so she didn't feel alone. So I did it. I was nervous the entire time, but I did it, even though as soon as I was done dancing I covered up like a girl in a bikini coming out of the ocean. I just had to keep reminding myself of what my teachers told me my first day of class, "Tribal Belly dance is about dancing for yourself and enjoying it yourself, its not about how good you look or what your body looks like for the audience".
Belly Dance also started to spill over to other areas of my life, such as my energy levels. I found over time that the cardiovascular workout it gave me each week conditioned me more and more and in turn I was able to do more. I found myself starting to dance to random songs on the radio, or turning music on my phone only to spontaneously start dancing. I would put music on and think to myself "oh this is a great song to dance to". I can not tell you how many times I would put on a Lady Gaga or Katy Perry song only to find myself pausing it and running to grab my hip scarves and dancing till I dropped. I would start doing the dishes and find myself practicing my hip isolation's as I scrubbed. I then would find myself dancing in the grocery store. The people in this small Iowa town must have really thought I was nuts that day I was dancing to Tina Turner while picking out my sons string cheese for the week. I started to enjoy feeling the movement in my body for me and enjoying the dance in every day aspects of my life. I was feeling happier and happier by the day.
It also gave me a new creative outlet to pursue. Tribal belly dance costuming is simply incredible. It consists of giant skirts made of 25 yards of fabric, coin belts or scarves, harem pants, Tassel belts, choli's, Coin bras, lots and lots of bling and jewelry, trinkets of flowers, shells and feathers for the hair and pounds of make up and bindis. Tribal belly dancers literally wear the most clothes out of any belly dancer. Researching the pieces individually can literally take up hours and hours of online shopping time. If you love shopping, Tribal costume shopping can literally be a life thrilling event. I started a Pinterest board dedicated to the shopping and ideas I got for my costuming. I then started to actually make things which sparked some amazing crafting weekends. I even taught myself how to sew in this process. I had a new creative outlet that just gave me direction for all those times I wanted to craft and let my creativity flow. I no longer just made random crap that I never would use or finish.
I also gained a new appreciation for music. It was not about what style I liked or the words of the song, but the dance-ability of the song. If I could dance to the beat of the music, I loved the song. Any song with a 4 beat rhythm was fair game, and I found new beauty in all types of music. I started to love more popular music and even hits from my youth again. It made me feel in touch with who I was as a person now and who I was when I was younger. It almost renewed my youth in a fashion.
I also made new friends with the same love and passion for dance. Before I started dancing I had my now ex husband as a friend and a few local pagans. My friendships were expanded by meeting other ladies, or as we call them in tribal "Dancing Sisters". I now had new friends that were from other faiths and spiritual paths but we were all connected through the movement of our bodies and the beauty of our costumes. It also helped me to be able to get out of the house and do something just for me 1 or 2 nights a week without my then husband or my son underfoot. It was all for me and I started to feel true happiness in myself. It was a true blessing that I could never have fathomed.
I also found the strength to change my eating habits and track my calories. I dropped my caloric intake to 1200-1600 calories a day. Between the extra exercise and the change in calories, I quickly lost over 30 pounds. People started noticing the difference in my body and I began getting compliments, which I had not gotten in years. I started to feel great in my body. I felt healthier and I could feel my muscles and that confidence further helped me to face my body image issues.
By March I was just about ready to start joining in on local performances. My first performance was in the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Cedar Rapids. I was nervous about facing my gargantuan fear of showing my stomach, but I did it! I put on my costume and went to the parade without a cover up and marched through the streets of a massive crowd. I only heard one comment about my plus sized figure by a rude preteen. Little did I know that the parade was televised! I came home after the parade and found notes on my Facebook page "OMG Jasmine I saw you on TV with the belly dancers and you looked Great!". I also had friends tell me that other friends on their list saw me and my plus sized figure and were impressed with the courage I had to walked the parade in my costume. It made me feel like I confronted my greatest fear head on and conquered it with vengeance. If I had known how many people would have been at the parade or that it was televised, I know that I would have chickened out. But I didn't and I did it and I felt comfortable with myself doing it. After that moment I realized I could face anything in life and any obstacle in my way. I was reborn as a Goddess on Earth, living in the strength of my full femininity.
The confidence and skills I gained began to spill over into all facets of my life, I soon discovered that I was the happiest I had ever been with myself as a person. I finally discovered the hidden love I had for myself and that love started spilling out on the people around me. It also spilled out onto my son and made me a better mother. It also gave me the courage to know that my marriage was not working and that I deserved to be happy in love. It gave me the strength to start this new journey I am entering in my life. And then it came around full circle and gave me the courage to go study American Tribal Style Belly Dance in NYC, which I start in the fall. I feel that belly dance ultimately changed my life and made me a renewed person and brought me back to life. I hope that every person finds something as powerful to impact and change their lives as I have found. I know that through me and my new found love I can inspire people to be better or do things they may not have done. During our Earth Day performance a stranger I had never met, a woman my age in a wheel chair, came up to me and grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes and said "You've got 'Stuff' and I love it, you truly are an amazing person and dancer and very inspirational". I hope everyone finds their "stuff"!