After class this week I wanted to get some feedback on whether or not the material I was teaching was meeting my students’ needs. So I asked my beginning students why they decided to take belly dance. I got a range of answers from exercise, strength and improved self-image. The last one got me to pondering to where I was 10 years ago. Back then I was competing in half iron mans and climbing mountains. I thought I was pretty tough and I was in great shape. Then I saw this photo of myself. I shudder looking at it now. How is it possible that the hunched over woman in that photo was me? She didn’t represent the adventurous, strong and energetic woman that I was.
Years of ridicule for my appearance left me low with self-esteem. Back then I was more likely to shy away from the camera than to be in front of it.
A few years later after that photo was taken a car accident left me with injuries that forced me to seek my love for outdoor recreation in less extreme ways. I was on a road to rehabilitation when a friend suggested taking belly dance as a form of low impact exercise that could help me regain some mobility. Well, it helped me regain a lot more than that!
I didn’t know it at the time but little by little the change in me was happening without me knowing it. My self-esteem was like a bunch of Lego pieces scattered on the floor, but piece by piece the tiny details that my teachers would drill into me helped to build my self esteem whole.
It’s funny because when you start belly dance performing is the LAST thing you want to do (as always there are exceptions, but those people are much fewer than the later). The moves are new, the rhythms are new and you feel really awkward! So when my teachers would say look up! Look at the “audience” in the mirror or “look at yourself”, I would cringe and try to not allow my focus to narrow in. I was so used to hiding that it made me very uncomfortable to look at myself. It took years of practice to finally be able to look at myself without judgment. Over time I started to look beyond the surface and began to focus on the details, such as am I completing the movements, are my lines clear, what message does my posture convey, etc.
The other piece that helped to build my confidence was working on posture. Rib cage lifted, shoulders down, and head up. It sounds so simple, but once in motion it’s hard to maintain. I had been walking around for a few years with kids in my arms and hips. My normal stance was one that was sunken in. I had caved into myself and it was showing in my posture as well. Breaking free of that relaxed laid back posture was difficult and I fight it everyday at my computer desk. But without putting in the time and effort to work on the strength needed for that posture I don’t think I could have learned to walk with confidence.
Every now and then you find a teacher who is just amazing in her own wacky way. She gets you to do dumb things, like pretending to swim in the ocean with fishes or shake ‘em like you just don’t care. I was very lucky to have just such a teacher. She was the opposite of everything I had to that point, which was very structured training. Indigo is a carefree red haired spirit with a belly laugh you can recognize in any crowded room. She helped me let go of the inhibitions. If I would say, “oh, but people are watching!” her response would be “Who cares!” and would remind us that we’re there to have fun! Once you learn to let go and become absorbed in the freedom to express yourself then you stop thinking about everyone else. You become too busy being lost in the ecstasy of dance and forget about the judgment and learn to be happy with where and who you are at that moment.