I just realised the other day that I've been dancing for four years, near enough exactly. I can't remember what date I first went to dance class, but I can remember the class, which shows what a huge impact it had on me. It must have been around August or September 2004, and the class was rehearsing for a performance coming up at the beginning of November. They were still learning their routine, so it was fairly easy for the teachers to break the moves down for the beginners (there were a few of us, but only two have lasted from that particular batch of newbies!). We didn't start off with drilling moves, which is what my teacher tries to do with beginners, but I think the hurried learn-a-bellydance-routine-in-a-couple-of-months technique worked for me. I got to see what the moves were actually for - how they ran together and became combinations, and eventually a whole routine. If I'd started with drilling eights and circles like everyone else, I would have got bored, I think.
I remember sneaking a look in the mirror in that first class. I was so self-conscious. I was wearing a skirt, for goodness sake! And dancing, actually moving in front of people! And the teachers (there were two in that class) kept looking at me to see what I was doing!
I expected to see what I'd seen in every photo taken of me (mostly as a teenager, but I was in my early twenties at that point). A gangly, uncoordinated, awkward mess of limbs and long tangled hair. And a big belly (pretty much imagined, I have to admit).
But I didn't see that. I saw myself, dancing. Actually dancing, and the moves didn't look like I was just swinging myself about. My vertical figure 8's looked like vertical figure 8's. Nowhere near as controlled as the teachers, but a proper dancy move nonetheless. That's still my favourite move :)
I'd only tagged along to the class because my boyfriend suggested that I go with his aunt and her friends instead of sitting around being bored all evening. (And he probably had images of sexy belly dancer ladies in his head too. He's male, after all!) But I wanted to go the next week too, to learn more. To make my body move in pretty ways, and actually control how it was moving. This was a revelation for me, that I could control my body's movements.
So I went the next week, and the week after that. And I performed at that hafla in November. Hiding in the corner, but I was dancing on stage with other people looking at me, and I loved it!
I've done a few things I never thought I would. Danced in front of strangers at various places, even been paid for dancing! Someday, I'll have to write about the more memorable performances. I haven't started teaching yet, but it's something I can see myself doing at some point in the future. Me, teaching, telling other people how to do something! It's unbelievable, but I'd like to pass on what I've learned, open up this world to other people.
I still love it. I love that feeling of being on the stage, and having everyone else watch me. Bellydance crowds are very kind and appreciative, which helps! I love to dance to people, I'm even getting eye contact down! Bellydance gives me a way to express myself. I'm very shy, and terrible at talking to people. I stutter, and lose words, and then run out of things to say. But for some reason, I can dance in front of people. And with people, in a group. I can engage with people, actual live people, and they're not so scary when I'm dancing.
My relationship with myself has benefited enormously. I'm a stone (14lbs) heavier than when I started, and I'm constantly losing that stone then putting it back on, but I'm more comfortable in my body, even if it is bigger. I still worry about it, what western woman doesn't?, but I know I can live if I put on a few pounds. Seeing other dancers has really opened up my eyes to the fact that you don't have to be skinny to be good at something, or worth anything. Egyptian dancers especially, it just doesn't seem to be fashionable or desirable for them to be tiny little things. They're women, with women's bodies, and I look at them dancing so beautifully, and I realise I can have a woman's body too, and be a woman. Myself. I am a woman. It's taken me years to get past the fact that I'm not a little girl, and I don't need to struggle to keep a little girl's body. And I don't think I would have managed it without bellydance.
I can't wait to see what the next four years brings for me, in dance and life. I'm so glad I found this art form, that seems to fit me so well, and that I love so much.