I was about four years old when I settled upon my career choice: I was going to be a bellydancer. Many, many people were convinced that I must’ve meant BALLET dancer, but I assure you I did not. I had seen some footage of bellydancers on PBS and found myself completely mesmerized by their sensuous grace. And that sensuous grace was for me. I decided on the spot: That’s what I wanted. I wanted to be lithe and smiling and let my hips undulate to hypnotic drumbeats. I didn’t dance much on my own, or really gravitate toward physical activity, but it didn’t matter. My four-year-old mind fixated, and for a long time there was no arguing with me.
But I grew, and eventually puberty hit, and I gained a bunch of weight and sprouted a bunch of zits and realized exactly how klutzy I could be. I started to purposely avoid physical activities, especially anything that required coordination and fluidity of movement. I retreated into my brain, and didn’t come out until I’d turned 23 … at which point I finally began to exercise regularly. Albeit grudgingly. I’ve explored my physical side, and now I love biking and dancing and feeling my muscles at work. But I still struggle to love and accept my body as a whole.
Looking back, I wonder if my frank admiration of those bellydancers wasn’t a portent of things to come. Is it possible that, even at four years old, I knew that I’d feel awkward and unhappy in my own body as an adult? Did I simply covet agility and beauty, or could I sense that those women felt free and happy in their physical forms … and know that such freedom and happiness was hard to come by?
Many bellydancers have actual bellies, pronounced pooches that roll and ripple and lend their owners nothing short of mouth-watering sensuality. They are not ashamed of their non-six-packs. On the contrary, they embrace their curves, flaunt them. Many bellydancers are rail-thin, and lack the lush figures that many associate with this dance form. But they are not ashamed of their slenderness, and they sway and twirl and tantalize us just as skillfully as their curvy counterparts.
I have never taken a bellydancing class. Friends who have done inform me that even a novice can get a taste of that liberating body-acceptance, can touch that freedom. But I am loathe to take my belly out for a spin. I have a really hard time with coordinated moves and get pretty anxious trying to decipher choreography.
But I’ll keep my eyes peeled for some other activity that might do it for me. Because I want to feel free and happy in my physical form. And I’m getting closer all the time …
All images via VelvetJAM’s bellydance set.