A Very Special Bellydancing Hafla

Our Bellydancing Class. Some of us have been Belly dancing for just a few months and others from almost 30 years.

We stood in a circle facing in.  Julz led us in Gratitude, a dance we do at the beginning of every class and performance.  It’s a way of giving thanks to each other, our teachers, the music, and space we dance in.

Then, when Gratitude was done and the music continued, Julz kept leading us in improvised dance.  After a few moves, she looked at Kathleen who was to her left and Kathleen picked up the lead.  We worked our way around the circle passing the lead to the person next to us until the song ended.

We didn’t plan this, we didn’t talk about it. This is not how we change the lead when we dance, yet we all knew what to do.

How did we know?

I can only say that it speaks to our connection to each other. That we have learned to listen to each other without words and to trust that we will be heard.

This is how we communicate when we dance.  Not with words, but with our eyes and our bodies.  With lifted eyebrows or a hard stare, an exaggerated shift in the shoulder or a turn of the head.

And this is how we began our Hafla last night in my Bellydancing Class.   Our yearly celebration, where we dance, eat and dance some more.

In the past, we’ve had Hafla’s where we practice dancing to certain songs or invite other dancers and family to join us.  But this was the most casual Hafla I’ve been to in the five and a half years I’ve been dancing.

And it made me realize that my feelings about Bellydancing have changed.

Instead of being nervous and worrying about what I was doing wrong, last night I just enjoyed dancing.  I had fun. I wanted to dance every chance I got. And when I wasn’t dancing I was standing on the side watching and Zilling.

It’s as if in the past few months, I’ve come to see that I really can learn to dance.  That I can continue to get better and better. But it’s more than just my ability.  It’s my attitude that has changed.  I now understand that dance is a part of me.  An important piece, that I’d been missing most of my life, that makes me whole.

Last night when Julz put on a playlist and asked who wanted to dance, I was the first one to step up.  And I took the lead.

Soon there were four of us, Emily, Callie, Trish, and me.  I didn’t think of it at the time, but the idea that I could dance comfortably with those three women, not afraid to make mistakes, and really enjoy it was unprecedented for me. (click here to see a short video where I do make a mistake)

At one point Julz and Kathleen showed us a new fusion of Bellydancing and Tango that they’ve been working on.  Then Emily and Julz danced to a song they only recently realized they both loved.

In between, we snacked on Emily’s homemade parmesan and black pepper sourdough bread and Julz’s mini gluten-free cheesecake cupcakes.

At the end of the night, I wondered out loud what it was about Bellydancing that always made me feel so good, that made us all come back week after week, year after year.

I thought that maybe it was in the way we moved.  But everyone had their own ideas.

I don’t remember who said what but we all agreed that it came from working together and creating something new each time we danced. That the dance is collaborative, the leaders constantly changing, and understanding that we need to work together to make us all look good. This means we have to leave a certain amount of our egos behind. There’s no showing off to make someone else look bad.

And when we take the lead, we trust that the people who are behind us, who we often can’t see, will follow. Trust is a big part of it.  We couldn’t dance the way we do without trust.

I do remember Julz specifically saying that dance is in our genes. “When the men went out the hunt” she said, ” the women would dance.  They danced as they walked to the stream to get fill up jugs of water. It’s what they did.”

When I got home I told Jon about the night.

That’s when it came to me that our conversation was just like our dancing.  We all listened and got a chance to say what we felt, and what we were thinking.  One idea led to another until we felt we understood why we were all there together.

Last night’s Hafla was very special.

Maybe it had something to do with the Winter Solstice.  I have no doubt that women have danced together through the ages on this longest night.  Perhaps we tapped into that.  But Solstice or not, it wouldn’t have happened without each of us who was there. Each of us dedicated to the dance and each other.

Julz told me that Bellydancing saved her life.  I know what she means even though our circumstances are different.

Bellydancing brings me back to myself.   Or as Jon says, it’s who I really am. It’s still hard for me to believe that sometimes, but it’s getting even harder for me not to believe it.

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