Although I felt almost giddy every time I saw people dancing in movies (remember when "Footloose" came out?), I had the mistaken notion that you had to be petite, or thin, to be a dancer.
When I visited my sister in Victoria about 12 years ago, she was taking a belly dance class; I attended one lesson with her, and lo and behold: I was a natural! It might be our Irish Washerwoman Birthing Hips, but the women in my family can belly dance! It was a revelation to me! I didn't seek lessons when I returned home, but a few years later, I was living in a one-room schoolhouse, beside an old general store that had been converted into an apartment/studio space. One day I saw a poster advertising belly dance classes...and that was that.
I learned quickly, practised diligently, and started performing and teaching not long after...spending way too much on sparkly, jingly costumes that bared my belly in a way I'd never dared before! Belly dancing brought so much to my life; self-acceptance, physical strength, improved balance and posture, a saucy swagger...even when I went to the grocery store in sweats, I knew that underneath it all, I was a BELLY DANCER! My curvy shape was an asset! Belly dance tradition embraces a woman's soft figure, celebrates that little pooch under your belly button, loves rounded arms and graceful hands.
Of course, as with many of my artistic passions and pursuits, having children seriously curtailed the time and energy I had to put into dancing.
I did do one performance after Jude was born, bravely baring my newly-rounded mama belly:
(yes, I've enlarged it from a postage stamp-sized picture...photo by Ben Anderman)
Then, after Violet was born, I spontaneously decided to do an American Tribal-inspired opening for a band; a dancer friend and I hand-sewed our costumes the day of the performance with two toddlers and a preschooler at our feet...this was a real "coming out" for us, as there was yet more belly to our belly dance, having both had babies within the year:
Feeling like a goddess, crowned with flowers
The dancer's figure represents her bountiful love and generous spirit.
The point here is, anyone can dance. And it doesn't even have to be performance art. If I lived in an urban centre, I wouldn't perform anywhere, but belly dancers are few and far between in our rural haven...big fish in a small pond kind of thing!
Having children has changed my direction a bit; before, I was really INTO the costumes, and showing off my belly (as I'd recently lost quite a bit of weight and was just amazed that I felt comfortable baring it to audiences!). Now, with a few stretch marks, a strange belly button, and a load of laundry on the "washboard", I feel shy about it again. I'm getting to a point where the DANCE is the most important thing, and am considering doing a class for my colleagues after work, at their request. Belly dancers don't HAVE to bare their torsos; in fact, some of the most evocative, graceful, and sensuous dancers I've seen have worn neck-to-ankle, loose-fitting caftans.
I would like to continue learning new techniques, but for now we just dance in our kitchen. I love watching my kids dance; Jude watches his reflection in the oven door, Violet twirls a lot, and Margot does this squat-and-pump-your-arms kind of move (she's also adding a little side-to-side bum twitch which is so funny and cute).
Just dance! Forget about what dancers on "So You Think You Can Dance" look like (bare feet, strong muscly legs, short-shorts, barely-there tops...and all of 18 years old!)...dance in your apron! Your sweats! Your hippy skirt! No one's watching. Close your eyes if you're shy. My favourite dance song these days is Janel Monae's "Tightrope"...I dare you to listen to it and sit still. I've pulled over to dance on the roadside to this one...like a complete geek and lover of life. Just dance.
Before you do, though, watch this: