Bellydancing and Belonging: Acceptance, Inclusion and Authenticity

On Tuesday, I facetime danced with Julz, who temporarily left class when the Pandemic surged again in October.  Not only was it great to dance with her again but, always the teacher, she helped me further fine-tune a move that I’ve been working on.

“Belonging is the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group. It is when an individual can [be] their authentic self.” Cornell University

The music, distorted and too loud, filled my studio.   Aicha, by Khaled was the first song that stood out for me when I began Bellydancing three and half years ago.  And now, alone in my studio, I was dancing to it with Kathleen, Emily and Kat in our Zoom Bellydancing class.

But in my mind I was back in the Senior Center where the class was first held.  Transported back in time by the music, my eyes welled with tears.

How is it that these women, who hardly knew me at the time, made me feel more known and accepted than the family I grew up in.    For some reason, I was able to trust them not to ridicule me when I couldn’t even step to the beat.  I still wonder what gave me the courage to open myself up to them.   In those first days, if they hadn’t been so patient and kind, I would have left and never come back.

But they didn’t give up on me, and still haven’t.

Yesterday, after losing myself in a Zoom chat with my 91-year-old mother, I found myself again as I danced that night with my Tribal Sisters.

I know now that any contact with my mother is a trigger and that will not change. She, like the other members of my family, spiral me back to a time when I was voiceless and unknown.  After our conversations, no matter how benign they may be, I sink into a place of self-loathing and confusion.  My confidence and ability to make decisions are buried along with my sense of self.

The contrast between the two Zoom meetings yesterday was striking.

I felt bad and guilty admitting this to myself, and feel bad as I write it now.   But it’s the truth.  And the truth, the facts, are the thing that pulls me back to reality.  Saying them out loud, without judgment,  reminds me of how I was able to become who I truly am since distancing myself from family.

For some reason, I always trusted the women Bellydance with.

From the beginning, I laid myself bare, allowing myself to honestly show my inabilities and my vulnerabilities.   Including literally exposing my belly for the first time since I was a seven-year-old in a bikini.

Last night as one of my teachers, Kathleen, was explaining The Ghawazee, a move I’m having trouble with, she talked about how every dancer has to find her center.  It’s like a carousel horse’s pole, that grounds you and lifts you at the same time.  “When you know your center”, she said, “you can shift your weight in any direction around it and never lose your balance.” 

A memory of being in art school when I was in my early twenties flashed in my mind.  I was trying to paint the sunlight on the wall of my kitchen and the words, “The center is missing” popped into my head”.  

For the second time that night, I felt my eye brimming with tears.

What Kathleen was telling me reached beyond my physical body and into my emotional and psychological self. Could I weather the outside forces that rocked me, as long as my center was intact?

Dancing brings me back to myself.  But I’m beginning to think it has as much to do with the women that I dance with. They’ve created an environment of trust where dancing together is a priority that we are all committed to.

I’m not sure, but I think it’s that commitment that holds us together. That makes us want to be kind and helpful to each other. It keeps us on our best behavior and helps us be tolerant of one another.

My whole life I’d been searching for a sense of belonging.  I found it in another person when I met Jon and then in my art when I began making quilts.  I feel it when I walk in the woods.

And now I know it with the women I Bellydance with.

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