A couple weeks ago, I attended an Eating Disorders Awareness event at a local college campus. The annual event features testimonials, performing art and visual art in an effort to affirm those who are recovering from disorders and support those who are struggling. The evening draws from you every emotional response you are capable of expressing. This year, the final presentation was a delicate Hispanic woman who had been in recovery for about three years; she stepped to the podium in a brightly colored costume and briefly told her story. Her counselor had suggested that she revisit some activity that she once loved as a hobby to empower her. She decided to find some place to dance because she had so enjoyed it as a girl; in the process, she discovered belly dancing. At this point in her presentation, she invited three women with whom she dances to the stage to perform with her.
These women were full-figured, curvy women, also clad in vibrant costumes with bared midriffs, jingling coin belts and sparkling jewelry. As they moved, their faces shone with the pleasure of the movement and the music. With yips and calls, they supported one another, empowering each other and heightening the experience for the audience. We, the onlookers, could hardly express the joy we were experiencing; applause just didn’t seem to be enough. Somehow, despite the twisted perception of beauty we are bombarded with today, these women have learned to enjoy the female form as it was meant to be. All I could think was, “If there was ever a perfect prevention for body dismorphia, belly dance must be it!”
I remember Audrey coming home for a weekend during grad school, all excited about belly dancing. She had worked at a cultural festival and had befriended a seven-year-old girl who belly danced with her mother and sisters. The little girl wanted to take Audrey on a picnic and teach her to belly dance. This whimsical exchange during some high stress times spoke volumes to Audrey; several years later, she learned to belly dance and looks forward to every hafla (belly dance celebration). I wish she had learned about this performing art long ago.
According to WorldBellyDance, belly dance is one of the oldest dance forms and has roots in culture and spirituality. It was never meant to be indecent or vulgar; rather, it is an expression of femininity. Belly dancers come in all sizes and shapes, one no more or less beautiful than another. Today, most women belly dance to affirm one another, to express their beauty, and to exercise control over their musculature. I would have little girls aspire to share such goals much more readily than the unattainable and superficial beauty of the current pop stars. I would want them to know that happiness comes from liking who you are and supporting on another, rather than from what you have and how well you compete for the ideal image. I would like for every little girl to watch the belly dancers perform and see beauty and movement and pleasure with no shame in their own physical appearance and no guilt over not being good enough.
If you want to see some real fun with belly dance, check out Ellen Learns to Belly Dance.
If you want to see some amazing children belly dancing, search children belly dancing on youtube. If you have ideas about other ways to promote positive body image in American society and change the current culture of beauty, please share them with us. I look forward to your comments.