Why I Love Bellydance
– by Ainsley
The first time I saw bellydance, it changed my perception of the possible.
It wasn’t exactly that it looked challenging, though it did. I had seen athletes, martial artists, and ballerinas before then who had achieved a perfection of movement that could only be gained by pushing your body to the limit one day, then pushing it a little further the next. But I had never been moved to master those arts.
It wasn’t exactly that I had never seen the human body move that way before, though I hadn’t. I had been wowed in the past by gymnasts, breakdancers, and contortionists whose bodies flexed, balanced, and coiled into shapes I had never imagined. But I had never said to myself: “I have to learn how to do that.”
I had never been drawn to physical activities. I didn’t trust my body. I scrutinized its faults: its small chest, its wide hips. It seemed unattractive and uncontrollable. So I put my focus into intellectual, musical, artistic pursuits. “I” was my mind, and “I” had an uneasy relationship with my wayward body.
I still wasn’t sure what I was looking for when I found my way into my first dance class a year later. But when I produced something resembling a hip figure 8, when I managed to undulate and walk at the same time without tripping over my own feet, when something finally clicked and I was able to layer shoulder shimmies with chest circles, I walked a little bit taller in the studio and outside of it, my body felt a little stronger and a little less unfamiliar.
Last spring, six years after taking my first tentative steps toward learning this dance, I danced a drum solo, and my hip drops felt precision perfect, my undulations deep and internal. In that moment, my body became my instrument. And I realized that I no longer felt unattractive. It wasn’t just that I saw the beauty in my own body, but that, suddenly, being attractive was no longer the point. My small chest, my wide hips, these parts of my woman’s body that I had learned were for pleasing others, were for being looked at by others, were mine now. I had taken control over them. I could use them to express myself, so that when people looked at me they would see my message, not theirs.
My body was transformed, and I recognized the possibility I had glimpsed that very first time I had seen someone dance this way. With all the meanings this dance has had for men and women over time, and the personal meaning it had for my Palestinian friend who had danced in her thob that day and made me fall in love with this dance forever, for me it fundamentally changed my body from everyone else’s object to my instrument. I love bellydance for many reasons, but I love it most for that.