I continue to marvel at how good I always feel after my Bellydancing class. Not only am I less achy but my spirits and confidence are lifted. And as much as I’d rather dance in person with the other women in my class, dancing alone in my studio, with everyone else on my computer screen has the same effect.
I didn’t see much of my teacher Julz because she was teaching three new students, which made me feel hopeful. Because of Covid, we haven’t had any new dancers in a long time.
My teacher Kathleen has mastered teaching virtually. And Emily who set up her computer so we could have a Zoom class was so generous and thoughtful about keeping me in the loop. She moved the computer set up around more than once so I wouldn’t miss out on anything.
And even though it’s not perfect, I’m still dancing and learning for those two hours.
When I’m Bellydancing, I feel like I waking up muscles that have been dormant my whole life. And for the first time, my body is fully alive.
I love this photo that Julz took of us at the Hafla. We were just standing around when she snapped it. She made us laugh by saying “Smile’s Everyone” like Richardo Montalban in the TV show Fantasy Island.
That was Julz’s way of getting us to remember to smile while we were dancing. Something most of us were doing only sometimes or not at all.
The photo also makes me think of a John Singer Sargent painting. Not one in particular, but a combination of his paintings of women. I’m not familiar with all of his paintings, but in the ones I have seen, the women are all strong and confident.
Seeing us all dressed up in our billowing skirts, coin bras, hip scarves, jewelry, turbans and makeup, is a vast contrast to how we looked when we arrived.
I couldn’t help noticing the difference between the hallway where we hang our coats and leave our shoes outside the classroom. All those dark winter colors and heavy boots. It’s as if we shed an outer layer of skin and are transformed into butterflies for a few hours.
Bare feet and bellies, we jingle when we walk, as the coins on our hip scarves sway against each other with each step. There’s something bewitching about it.
But this transformation doesn’t just happen once a year for the Hafla. It happens every week when we come to class. Even if our clothes and jewelry aren’t as elaborate, we step out of the everyday world when we gather for our class.
It reminds me of the quote by the French philosopher Nicholas Malebranche who said, “It is necessary to deceive our imagination in order to awaken our spirits”
Is Bellydancing with its costuming, movement, and music enough to take me so far outside of myself that it awakens my spirit?
I know that Bellydancing has changed me in tangible ways. It’s made me more confident and made me like and understand my body and what it’s capable of.
Maybe I did deceive my imagination and continue to every time I dance.
Because I never even dared to imagine that I would be able to dance. Not even when I showed up for the first class. I wanted it, but I never really thought it was possible. Yet something made me keep going back to class each week and kept me from quitting.
Maybe the process of deceiving my imagination began the first time I saw the Bennington Beledi Bellydancers perform. Maybe I was enchanted by the way they moved, their confidence and attitude, the costumes and music. It sparked something inside of me, touched a sleeping part of myself that had been hiding until that moment.
My first painting teacher in Art School told me that I wasn’t a very good painter, but there was “something there”. Similar to what Julz wrote about me on her blog... “It seemed a bit hopeless for the first few months, but she (referring to me) showed me little signs that she could dance.”
Maybe what motivated me, (along with the support from the other people in the class) was that I felt there was “something there” too.
Jon always says that when I’m dancing it’s who I really am. I still don’t quite know what he means. I guess because even though I’m doing it, I still don’t see myself that way. As a dancer I mean. Like my body knows, but my mind hasn’t caught up with it yet.
But I think I’m getting closer. Like I wrote yesterday, I’m starting to have a new understanding of myself.
It would be a big change in my perception of myself. But looking at that picture that Julz took of us helps. Because there I am, in a group of women who look like they just stepped out of a John Singer Sargent painting.
“It happens all the time, to all of us, ” Julz said. ” If you don’t dance spectacularly, you think you danced horribly.” Both she and Kathleen had stories about the many performances they had where they thought they didn’t dance well only to watch a video of it the next day and see it wasn’t so bad.
That’s exactly what happened to me.
Yesterday in class we watched a video of the dancing we did at the Hafla. I was truly surprised at what I saw. I wasn’t awful at all. I could see my mistakes, but I could also see the things that worked and how I’d improved.
I loved hearing that what I was feeling was perfectly natural. Something the other women in my class felt often.
After watching the videos, we all danced. It was the most fun I’ve ever had dancing in class. I was relaxed and ok with my mistakes, knowing it’s all part of learning.
There are no classes for the next two weeks. I feel like something is changing inside of me. A new understanding of what I’m really capable of. I don’t quite understand it all yet, but I’m going to think about it over the next two weeks. Maybe I’ll be bringing a new awareness to our first class of the new year.
We were gathered around the food table filling our plates when I looked down and saw a spider walking across my belly. I flicked it off and watched it walk away.
I didn’t think about the spider again till I got home.
I didn’t want to admit it, but after the Bellydancing Hafla, I was discouraged. I felt I hadn’t danced well to the fast song I had chosen for the Hafla. I went over the things I had done wrong feeling that I should be further along. That, by now, I should be a better dancer than I am.
I began to wonder if Julz and Katleen, my teachers, were regretting asking me to join the Advanced class in January.
I was sitting by the fire with a cup of tea, all these negative thoughts spiraling through my head when out of the corner of my eye I saw a spider making its way up the lamp next to me.
There was spider again. Surely she had a message for me. Hopefully, something to help pull me out of myself.
The first thing I read on the website Spirit Animalwas that spider, like my bellydancing sisters, is a strong feminine and creative energy. Then it said…
“Like the spider waiting for her prey patiently, the presence of this spirit animal in your life could point to the need to show patience regarding a project or some ideas that you are trying to realize.
On the website Spirit Animals Totems I found…..spider symbol makes it clear that what you see before you is the result of your thoughts. If your current reality does not suit you, then it’s time to make changes. …The spider is a spirit animal whose purpose is to inspire you to gain perspective on an issue or project you contemplate taking on.”
Patience, perspective, and change. I got it.
Kathleen has been dancing for 26 years, Julz for 19 years and they talk all the time about how they are always still learning. What I needed to do was see things clearly and honestly. What I needed to change was my belief that I can’t dance. My belief that I’ll never be able to do what the other women in my class do.
Even after four and half years, I was still seeing myself as the “new” person. Someone who wasn’t expected to be able to dance as well as anyone else. Because I had never danced before or played an instrument, I felt I had an excuse for not doing well. I was seeing myself through all the things I couldn’t do and not seeing all I had learned.
I was becoming a person who whines and feels sorry for herself. Someone I don’t want to be.
The next day I talked to Emily who confirmed the difficulties of Bellydancing. How we’re moving our bodies in ways we never have before. How the dance, because it’s improv, is constantly changing and we don’t really know what to expect from one moment to the next. And that unlike working alone in our studios, all our mistakes are out in the open for everyone else in the class to see.
If you want to have an idea of what learning to Bellydance is really like, read Julz’s piece.
She wrote about all of us, with pictures too.
Julz wrote about how when I first started bellydancing I couldn’t “step to the beat or hear it. She wrote... ” Maria had never danced before and had zero body awareness meaning she was not aware of what the parts of her body were doing when she was moving or standing still. We had to teach Maria how to walk first, then dance.”
” It seemed a bit hopeless for the first few months, but she showed me little signs that she could dance. Maria didn’t believe me, but with patience, instructions, corrections, and building her confidence, she improved week after week.”
When I read this, I could finally see what Julz had been telling me all along. That I was getting better. And I saw that she had more confidence in me than I had in myself.
“When Maria began taking classes, Julz wrote, “she wanted to dance with an attitude and confidence like we did. After many attitude and confidence lessons, she “gets” it now and is more confident and has a baby attitude, not giant ones like Kathleen and I have when we dance. Lol”
So with the help of my sisters in dance and spider’s counsel, I’m going to bring a new attitude to Bellydancing in the New Year. Instead of believing that there are things I’ll never be able to do, I’m going to work on acquiring the attitude that first drew me to belly dancing. That attitude that says, “look at me, I am so worthy of being seen”.
It might be just a baby attitude right now, but that’s a good place to start.
I have so many photos from the Hafla, I want to share some of them. Then, this morning Julz texted me more and those have me in them too. I’ll write more about the Hafla later, but for now, here are some photos of the dancing that we did.
Julz and Kathleen did a slow and fast dance working their skirts into the moves. I’d never seen that before, it’s something new they’ve been working on.
Callie and Trish danced with swords. I didn’t get a good picture of their dance, but it was impressive. In the photo below Kathleen is helping Trish adjust her turban. And you can see Callie standing next to them, balancing a sword on her head.
Callie, Emily and Trish danced a slow and fast dance together.
I danced with Callie, Emily, and Trish. Julz sent me a couple of photos of us all. During the fast dance, I looked terrified. But I did have a ghost of a smile during the slow dance.
Kat, a founding member of Bennington Beledi Bellydancers, no longer comes to class, but she’s there at the Tribal Workout and comes to the Hafla and dances a few dances with us every year. She also helped me tie my coin bra so it kept my breasts from sagging, Bless her.
When we all first got there, Julz went around to each of us and took a selfie with her.
I’ll write about the Hafla tomorrow and post a few more photos. But for now, I thought this one captured the swirling skirts and movement of the dance. That’s a reflection of Callie in the mirror, watching Julz and Kathleen dance.
Wet, skunky, and bright sunlight with long shadows, made it smell and feel like an early spring morning, even though we’re in the darkest days of the year.
This afternoon I’ll be going to our yearly Bellydancing Hafla. I’m bringing some fabric to help decorate the room where we dance. We all bring food and this year we’ll sit on pillows on the floor instead of at tables and chairs. We all dress up in pantaloons, long skirts, coin bras. We wear makeup and wrap your hair in turbans and flowers.
Everyone will be pairing up with different people to dance with.
I chose two songs a fast and slow ( Boire by Rachid Taha and It Don’t Bother Me by Allison Krauss and Robert Plant) and will be dancing in a quad with Emily, Callie, and Trish, my tribal sisters. Julz and Kathleen, our teacher will dance together. Emily will dance solo balancing a basket on her head and Callie and Trish will dance a sword balancing duet.
Then we’ll dance with whoever we feel like. Kat (aka kitty) will join in those dances. One of the founding members of Bennington Beledi Bellydancers, and the person who introduced me to Bellydancing, Kat comes every week to class for the Tribal Workout, a warm-up at the beginning of class.
This is my fourth Hafla and I can honestly say I’ve come a long way from the beginning. Next year I’ll be joining the rest of the dancers at the third level, the advanced class.
I still have so much to learn and I never imagined I’d get this far.
“Looks like you may be having a private lesson tonight” my Bellydancing teacher Julz texted me.
That means everyone else can’t make it to class. In my other life I would have asked if she wanted to cancel the class, but I know better. We figured out ways to dance through the Covid Shut Down, we’re not going to stop now just because I’ll be the only student tonight.
Julz told me to think of stuff I wanted to work on and songs I want to dance to. Everything, is the first thing that comes to mind, but with a little thought, I can break it down and be more specific.
So I’m closing down a little early today to do my Bellydancing homework before class tonight.
Here are the potholders I made last night and this morning….
Last week instead of Bellydancing class we had our annual dinner. Last year Kathleen invited us to her house and we all sat in her yard, six feet apart, wearing masks. This year we got to sit next to each other around one table at Emily’s new house.
My contribution to Pot Luck dinners is always the same. I’m good at cutting up fruit and putting it in a bowl. It works out because there are a lot of really good cooks in our Bellydancing class.
I’m writing this because I want to invite anyone who loves to dance or has never danced but wants to try, and lives in the Bennington Vermont area, to come to our class.
We are finally able to open the class back up to anyone who would like to join. New sessions start this Wednesday, July 14th at Time for Yourself, 160 Benmont Avenue, Bennington, Vermont.
You can get all the information about the class here.
I have not only learned how to dance in the past four years of Bellydancing Classes,(I couldn’t even step to the beat when I first began) I learned how to love and appreciate my body in a way I never had before.
Julz and Kathleen are patient and generous teachers and the spirit of sisterhood is inherent in each class.
So come join us, because it’s also a great workout, a lot of fun, and the music is fabulous!
I put on my Bellydancing music to practice, but all I want to do is walk.
Hands on hips, I take determined, grounded steps. My heel goes down first, loudly pounding the floorboards of my studio, then the ball of my foot. With the first step, my shoulders slide down my back and my chest naturally lifts as it never has before. With each purposeful step, my hips move up and down, up and down. My chin is parallel with the floor and my gaze straight in front of me defying anyone to get in my way.
“Walk like you own the space around you,” Katleen said.
Walking this way makes me feel like I’m defying gravity. It’s more than confidence. I have a right to be exactly where I am at that moment.
And amazingly, all my body image issues vanish.
I imagine the air in front of me parting, the way the Red Sea parted for Moses.
I’m owning it.
Now I can’t remember if it was Julz or Kathleen who first noticed that when I walked I stepped on the ball of my foot first, then my heel.
“You’re tip-toeing around.” Julz said,” like you’re afraid someone is going to hear r see you”.
Heel first, I watched myself as I walked toward the mirror in the dance studio. I couldn’t believe the difference in my posture, in my attitude. I walked back and forth amazed at what I was seeing and feeling.
Has this person really been inside of me all along I wondered? It was like a spell had been cast and suddenly I was the person I always wanted to be.
Kathleen, Julz and Emily watched as I walked back and forth. I was in awe of the person I saw in the mirror, I didn’t want to stop.
“This is the attitude you saw the first time you watched us Bellydance”, Julz said.
This was the reason I started Bellydancing.
Kathleen said that when we dance, that walk, that attitude is saying, here I am. I am worth watching and it’s great if you like it, but if you don’t it doesn’t matter to me, I’m still dancing.
“When people enjoy watching us dance it’s the sprinkles on the ice cream,” Kathleen said. “It’s nice, but it’s not going to change what we’re doing one way or the other.”
“You do this all the time”, Emily told me, “You put yourself out there with your art. And you’d keep making art even if no one ever bought it. It’s the same thing. Just a different way of doing it. ”
That’s when I almost cried. They couldn’t have been more kind, encouraging, or supportive.
This kind of walk is about attitude, but it’s also about grounding.
It’s about my feet being rooted and sturdy. As if with each step I’m making direct contact with the earth. The energy flowing down from my hips and lifting up from my waist.
Walking heel to toe naturally improves my posture. Instead of leaning slightly forward, my weight shifts back, finding support in my hips. The separation between the bottom half of my body and the top half is more defined. It’s easier to carry myself.
In terms of dancing it will help me keep my balance. And with practice, there will be a noticeable shift, for the better, in all my dance moves.
Practicing will be easy because I’ve always loved to walk. And now I love it even more, with each and every step.