I stood in naked in front of the full length mirror and placed my hands lovingly on my stomach. I love my belly, I said out loud.
How many years have I been doing this? Two or three at least. It hasn’t completely drowned out the voices and feelings that make me believe my stomach is too big and ugly, even shameful. But now, when I say I love my belly, I believe it.
For the moment anyway.
I can trace the feelings I have about my stomach back to my childhood, when every night my father would call my mother from work and ask her if she did her sit-ups (to keep her stomach flat). But it doesn’t end there, because our societies idea of the “beautiful woman” also has a flat stomach. (How awful is the expression “muffin top” I cringe writing it.) And my ex-husband’s rejection of my body for 21 years only reinforced my feelings.
I don’t place this “stomach” judgement on other people, only myself.
It’s the reason I was feeling fear going to my first Belly Dancing class. I’m embarrassed to show my stomach. I even find myself still trying to hide it from Jon. Jon who loves me so much body and soul. Who has never breathed a word of anything but adoration for my body. And who couldn’t care less how big or small my stomach is.
It’s one of those irrational fears that have nothing to do with me and my life now. An old fear of being rejected, mocked and diminished.
I dressed for my first Belly Dancing class in layers. Leggins and a skirt. A bra (I rarely wear a bra), a tight-fitting tank top (that I usually wear as an undershirt), a loose-fitting no sleeve shirt over that and a sweat shirt on top of it all.
It felt safe, I could leave it all on, or get down to the tank top depending on how I was feeling.
As I turned out of the driveway onto Route 22 I could feel the fear welling up in me. I turned off the news on the radio and took deep breaths, trying to ground myself. As I passed the American Legion I saw the sign for their clam bake that coming weekend, July 15ht. That’s when it dawned on me that it was my ex-husband’s birthday.
“Fuck you, this is my body, my life,” I thought, as defiance surged inside of me. Then, within moments, the fear dropped away.
I was meeting Kitty, who introduced me to Belly Dancing, at her house. Then we would go to the class together. I don’t know Kitty really well, we’re new friends, but she must have sensed my trepidation about the class and offered to go with me to the first one. Kitty’s been Belly Dancing for years. She’s one of the original members of the group and only recently stopped dancing with them.
Even though the fear was gone, I was still nervous about the class. I think a normal kind of nervous about doing something new. Being with Kitty at her house before the class was calming to me. She showed me her gardens and her studio (Kitty and her husband are both artists) and pictures from some of her Belly Dancing performances.
Then she handed me a box filled with clothes and accessories for Belly Dancing.
She assured me that these were extra’s and she wasn’t giving me anything she didn’t want to. I shook the waist sash with the “coins” on them, making them jingle and thought to myself, “I’ll never wear that” as Kitty held up the choli, the bra-like top that dancers wear with their skirts.
A little overwhelmed, I took the cardboard box out to my car. It felt sacred in my arms, like it held the answer to a question I hadn’t yet asked.
The class is held in the Senior Center in Bennington. Nothing exotic, a kitchen on one side of the room the empty wooden dance floor on the other. We left our shoes outside the room and I took off my first layer of clothes.
Inside, we new students filled out a form and waited for the class to being. Most of the women wore cholis, skirts and leggings. Women, who I guessed, were my age and younger. There was a welcoming feeling in the room, without judgement. I took the plunge and removed the loose-fitting shirt I was wearing over my tank top. I felt exposed, vulnerable, but no one noticed. I actually had less of my body showing than most of the people in the class. No one cared but me.
And I only cared for a little while. Because once we started the lesson, I was too busy concentrating on moving my hips and legs and feet and arms and hands to do anything else.
The professional Belly Dancers make it look so easy. That’s how you know when someone’s really good at what they do.
I had no idea if what I was doing was right. I didn’t even know if I was standing right. But I just kept moving. Sometimes getting the right/left thing wrong, and certain that my arms, hips and hands were all separate entities, doing their own thing, unaware of each other.
Julz, our teacher, was reassuring. It takes some people a year before they can get the hand movements down, she said. Most people are good at somethings and not so good at other things.
Then she stood in front of the class and showed us the seemingly simple dance movements we would learn in the six-week class.
“You can dance like this,” she said, and went through the movements which looked perfectly fine. “Or,” she said, “you can dance with attitude.”
Julz made the same movements, but they were entirely different. It was as if the air around her vibrated. She was a Goddess a Queen. Strong and confident and completely present. ” I like to dance with attitude,” she said.
I don’t need to perform, I don’t need to get it all right. I don’t have to be a professional Belly Dancer. But I want to dance with attitude.
I’ve spent hours writing this piece and crying in between. Just by writing about it all the awful feelings about my body have surfaced again. I know they won’t go away easily, but I’m determined to do something about it. And the Belly Dancing is a start. One way to help me feel better about myself and my body.
I feel like this is all weighing on me and by writing about it and putting out into the world, I’ll be releasing some of it.
And maybe I can stop blowing my nose.
I’ve been hiding for so long, running from my shame. And now little by little I’m facing the shame. Being honest about myself through my art, my writing and now through my body.
I’ve heard and read that the way to rid ourselves of shame is to talk about it. To bring it from where it lives in the dark corners of our bodies and minds into the light. A sometimes terrifying thing to do, but much better than accepting it and living with it for the rest of my life.
31 thoughts on “Dancing With Attitude. My First Belly Dancing Class”
So raw and honest…thank you for writing this, Maria. I can completely understand your feelings as I have the same…and I have tears in my eyes reading this.
I want so much too to stop worrying about my stomach or other parts of me that no longer look like they did when I was in my 20s and 30s. It’s not easy, I agree, but I feel like little by little I make progress. And talking about it as you have is so refreshing. I was just talking about my feelings and my stomach with a friend the other day, so it’s fresh on my mind.
I thank you again for sharing something so personal.
Blessings Maria. You do So much good by sharing your struggles because they are the struggles of so many of us. Sharing your thoughts gives me ideas with how to proceed with difficult issues in my life. I’m sorry this was so painful for you to write. Just wanted you to know how much I appreciate your thoughts. Take care and rock it girl!
Maria, thank you for writing this. I admire you for your courage and I hope the belly dancing class is a blast!
Jiggle those coins, make them sing
To chase those old negatives away
Stand in bravery, you are worthy
I started to do deep breathing near the end of
How brave and honest you are Maria. You inspire me, give me joy in your courage. Thanks, lovely goddess.
One day at a time 🙂 The first steps are always the hardest! <3
This is a beautifully written story that will mean so much to many. It did to me.
There are so many of us Out There / Out Here. <3
Oh, dear Maria: I understand this so well. The only place I feel good about my body is in yoga class. My extra large breasts, my bulging belly, my myriad surgical scars and stretch marks haunt me. My diminishing strength is so demoralizing. Thank you for sharing your own feelings. so many women have been taught to be ashamed of their bodies. We must conquer this together.
i too have major shame as i was raped at 15 by a boyfriend , then another boyfriend raped me in college and i have been hiding my body ever since… i am now 65 and i too took a belly dance class whic helped me tremendously let go and shake off the fears of my body.. for years i was anorexic , and that ended in my 20’s , then i got fat and lost 100 pounds and have been the same weight for 25 years yet i never truly see myself .. still feel fat inside.. your piece spoke to me, embrace your body and it will set you free.. it’s a prison only youo can free yourself from… i try yet at times the fears come up , still and i wish i could run naked on a beach or even be able to wear a swimsuit.. i know how hard this road is and i thank you for your beautiful words ,like your teacher said it’s all attitude and you are as beautiful as you want to be inside and out , and only you can love your body more , despite the past embrace the now the moment is yours!!!
What terrible prisons we build for ourselves, helped along by those who should be our support rather than our worst tormentors. I’m so glad you are finding your path and that you have the love of a good person to walk along with you.
Whoa, Maria, this is profound. I can relate – obviously not as a woman – but as a man who has hidden my own shame for a lifetime. I too am working on it, (but not through belly dancing… This is so courageous of you to do it this way and to share it this way. Your words are inspiring to me. This is powerful writing and deeply felt truth. I am not sure of my path toward releasing myself from ancient feelings of shame, but you inspire me to push further than I have to this point. Your writing about this is a strong reminder that these feelings are always with us, until we face them head on. I’ll find a way. My way. I am proud to know you and humbled by your trust in your readers, of which I count myself.
You are a warrior, dancing into the light…with attitude!
I went through something similar over 20 years ago after getting out of a very negative relationship. I went to a belly dancing class and the variety of body types was so encouraging! I even bought a black sash with silver coins, because it’s fun to hear the noise they make when you shake your hips. 🙂 Still have it, plus a belly piercing & at least 20 pounds I should loose, according to regular standards of beauty.
There ya go!
Powerful writing. Thank you. It’a given me much to think about. Shame is such a destructive force.
Maria, this is a lovely piece, and one that touches my heart. Thank you for shining a light on a subject many of us, sadly, have similar experiences with. By sharing, you have shown all of us, by example, how we can open our hearts and, little by little, set ourselves free. You are one strong, empowered lady.
My friend Meribeth has been taking belly dancing classes for a year now. She has found new friends and has new confidence in how she looks. She has discovered that she enjoys being able to express herself in a new way. Maria, I hope that belly dancing brings you some joy, peace, and maybe a whole new group of friends. I applaud you for your bravery. ENJOY!!!
YOU GO GIRL!!! Don’t let those voices from the past dictate how you see yourself…you are perfect and beautiful just the way you are!!! How great you are doing this!! Bravo for You—feeling the fear and doing it anyway:-))
This is a phenomenal piece of writing. Kudos to you, both for the writing and for taking the class. To do something so far outside your comfort zone is fantastic.
I know exactly how you feel and I’m so sad you’ve been affected this badly. Ellen DeGeneres always says “Be kind to one another” at the end of her shows so I started telling myself “Be kind to yourself” on a daily basis when the negative dialogue starts in my head about not liking this or that part of my body. Then I feel very grateful that those “ugly looking legs” permit me to walk and that my “yukky looking arms” enable me to embrace my loved ones. You are very brave and I thank you for sharing something so personal. Take good care. Aline
Today you are the Durga and you are slaying the demons. Namo Goddess Namo. You show us the way _()_
I am SO proud of you Maria. You took a big step. Keep feeling good about yourself and rid yourself of the bad thoughts. You are a beautiful woman and person. Good luck with the class. Keep on keepin’ on girlfriend.
OH, MARIA!! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WRITING THIS!! MY STORY IS SO SIMILAR TO YOURS!! YOUR COURAGE STRENGTHENS ME!! (I bet MOST of your readers have experiences similar to yours in struggles with body image) Annie
You got this!
You have touched a nerve. My mother always had negative comments to say about my weight…large or small. It’s taken so long to accept myself. Reading your blog brought back old/raw feelings. I’m so glad you are taking the belly dancing class. I salute you for putting your emotions in print for all of us to read. You are so brave in your journey. Thank you for sharing. Alice
This is such a brave piece Maria. Thank you for sharing it. You are not alone in your feelings. I am encouraged by the others whom have written before me.Sharing feelings like these are not often easy. I admire and respect you so very much. You are an amazing woman. Please know you are not alone.
I have never noticed your stomach, but I have noticed your thin, shapely legs and have been envious of them. The shame issue you have had with your stomach, I have with my legs. You have helped me to see how much I beat myself up over it, and your writing from the pit of your soul has encouraged me to deal with the issue. After reading over all these comments, I hope you realize what a gift you have for healing.
It’s so interesting Kristi how that works. How we want what we don’t have. Thank you for your words.
Thanks for continuing to be my power of example.You can touch my heart ,make me cry and get me out there trying to walk through my fears.You are so empowering.Love you, Cindy
Love you too Cindy.