“I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
“So, I signed us up for belly dancing lessons” my mom said to me in September of 2002. I had no idea how that simple mother/daughter bonding experience would forever change my life.
At that time in my life, I was a quiet teenager with very few friends, and I hid behind an over sized fleece jacket—or variations of that jacket—for about three years. I was not sure or comfortable with my body, and I had very little self esteem, due to the fact that I was molested at a young age.
I have never really been into sports. I suppose you could call me the artsy type, and this belly dancing was the perfect excuse for my mother to get me to exercise.
How can a dance form with a varied past change one person’s life? It’s simple, it changes the way you think about your body and how you move throughout your daily life, even when you aren’t performing.
Belly dance has its roots some were in the middle east/India, though it is not known for sure. In the middle east is called Raks Sharqi. The term belly dance is from the west, and can also be called middle eastern/Arabic dance.
There are many different forms and styles to the dance depending on what area of the world you are in, and this includes the different costumes that are worn.
In the middle east everyone dances belly dance, men and women. It is taught to you by your family.
Belly dance is used by the women (while behind closed doors, and with other women) to help prepare the body for child birth. I have no idea if it does or not, I don’t have children. However, I do feel that it has strengthened my muscles (in such areas as the abs and the legs), and that might help with the acts of child bearing and birth.
Belly dancing is not meant to come across as sexy, but as sensual, and there is a difference. Granted we dance around in bras and dress’s, we still have 90% of our body covered, just different areas than most people are use to.
In fact it is good, old fashioned family fun. There are even young girls in some performances.
This is a fast history lesson that every novice dancer gets. Think of it as a welcome talk. The history of something is very important. It helps you identify with who you are and want to be.
I am not super model skinny and I never want to be. I am a quarter Arabic, and a full figured girl with hips and chest, and in my high school I stuck out like a sore thumb.
In this dance form, that’s accepted and is normal. You do not have to be lean and trim, and stick figure thin to enjoy and share in this dance.
The first thing that I learned from belly dance is to not pay any attention to others in your class. Focus on yourself. What other people look like does not matter. Much like yoga, you set your own pace.
Dancing in this way teaches you to close off the world and influences around you.
Belly dance is by no means easy, and in your very first class every muscle, including your mind, is worked fast and furiously. When you start the dance you learn how to stand and present yourself so as not to hurt your back.
Right off the bat you are focused on your body: am I holding myself in the right way, why does this stance feel so strange, my thighs and arms burn! After a year of practice I started to notice that I had abs without doing a single crunch or sit up.
There was another noticeable change as well, I stopped wearing the over sized fleece jacket. I was also talking to people outside my little group of friends, and I started to care for myself and feel self worth.
Self worth was something that was torn away from me at a very young age because of the sexual abuse I encountered. This act, that made me so uncomfortable in my own skin, an act that made me not want to connect to my body and the outside world, had somehow been reversed. The wound that was left to fester began to heal, and I started to love myself.
I went to yoga, started rock climbing, started to go to parties, worked, went hiking, started working on my relationship with family, and my grades started to pick up. These things are a direct result from my participation in belly dancing.
Ceasing to listen to unkind words about my body has changed me as well. I can now say that I have no need, or want, to look like the supermodel type of woman that our society places so much value on.
Aside from this new found confidence, I found my sisters in arms, the beautiful women I dance with. Some of the most important relationships that I have are with these women who are my belly dancing sisters.
I can go into my dance troupe and tell them all of my problems while being met with trust, support, and strength.
There is a kind of openness within a group like this that is hard to find in the norms of western society cliques. There is no double meaning to what is being said, the group is open.
Most importantly, I can wipe away the stress from the day when dancing.
So what has belly taught me? Belly dance taught me the art of dancing meditation. The mind stops moving when the body to starts to move. I learned quickly that if you do not shut off your mind, you end up over analyzing every movement and not enjoying your time. It gives you a keen since of self not just mentally but physically.
Belly dancing showed me that I can be outgoing, happy, free, and mindful of myself and others. The most important thing that belly dancing gave me was my love for myself, and I have taken that love and given it back to my family and friends.
I have found my voice.
When was the last time you looked into a mirror to shake what your mama gave you, looking at yourself thinking, damn, I look good? I do it every day.
Editor: Jennifer Cusano/Kate Bartolotta
Jena Sadd is the Arabic spelling for Jenna, and I am rarely sad (the Arabic translation for my name is Jena=paradise/ beautiful garden, and Sadd= at the end; unintentional on my parents part but ironic). I have always been attracted to the Arabic culture, Egypt being one of my main interests. Ever since I was a little girl I always wanted to be an Archaeologist but more to the point an Egyptologist. I now have a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology with an emphasis in Archaeology with a Certification in GIS . I now work as a shovel bum and travel around the country helping to identify archaeology sites, both prehistoric and historic. There are many things that I love to do but Belly dancing, Egypt, Archaeology, and Yoga are four things that are at the top of the list.