Excellent article by Jehri St. James!
I would like to share some of my observations as a student/teacher of belly dancing about many healing personality changes I have seen. Fortunate to share this dance with ladies of many ages from nine to 85 years, I have witnessed many transformations, including my own…
In classes, I was always so moved by the commonplace, squat, middle-aged waitress with short cropped hair who became absolutely gorgeous while dancing; by the fat girl who made obesity look absolutely ravishing with how little movement she had to do to get a great shimmy going; by the old lady who danced with decades of experience, and the light in her face when she performed for us–all of them obliterating any body judgments. I clearly saw some unique female nurturing energy that was being liberated in our dance.
“It’s the dancing that keeps me from falling.” (Runi)
Fast Forward to the 21st Century:
Jill came to my classes as a 14-year-old soccer player, wearing big shorts, tennis shoes and a T-shirt with athletic embellishments. Now I see her at 19 and she is a soft, entirely feminine and confident young woman.
When Charlene joined us, she was a six-foot celebrity in her volleyball world. One day, I suggested she would look good in pink. “Pink!” she spat. “Yuck!!” Within a couple of years, I started calling her “Pinky” because she was hooked on the color in her costume wardrobe, had married and had a little girl who was also wearing lots of . . . pink. She has often mentioned the welcome changes she has seen in herself.
Lydia was a 38-year-old pediatric nurse who was very sad that she had never found a husband and had a child. Her biological clock was ticking. Through another student, she met a guy she at first thought was gay, but by New Year’s Eve they were dating; by Valentine’s they were engaged; got married on Sweetest Day, and have a charming little 8-year-old girl.
Some women resist the changes belly dancing offers. One lady was a lawyer with very short hair and a hardened courtroom demeanor. She had excellent dance technique, but never smiled. I suggested she put a little grin on her face and she became furious, left class and never came back, after explained she was already “doing everything she could and to try to smile was just too much.” I saw her a couple of years later, and she approached me and said, intensely, “Jheri, I’m smiling now, I hope you’re happy,” with a definite edge of anger. Of course I was happy she was smiling.
I so enjoy the mystery of how belly dancing affects us. Some leave before they get the experience I am describing; others never quit, even in their 80’s and 90’s still dancing and shining in their own female power. We were talking one day about what it means to be a belly dancer. All the speakers agreed they had more confidence in themselves as women.
I always say if I could get out there in front of the world half naked and dance, I can do anything. At many points in my life, belly dancing has been a refuge from deep anxieties and life problems. Having no control over them, it was such a relief to just go and dance for awhile, think about nothing more serious than the next show and the next costume. And you know what? The problems were all eventually resolved without me having to go crazy after all! Many of my students come to class saying how they anticipate classes all week long, through the tedious career or domestic lives they lead.
How has belly dancing affected you? I would love to hear about it. In the meantime, shimmy from the heart!