A month ago, I switched from years of yoga and tai chi to belly dance. A friend suggested it would help me to connect with the divine feminine. I thought she was crazy, but after a month of classes – sometimes three times a week, I can’t get enough of it. Though it has been associated with entertainment for men, it’s deeply and truly for and about women, and it’s one of the most womanly ways to celebrate us. If you love to dress up in soft swirling, vibrantly colored costumes without worrying about a flat belly and six-pack abs, it will make you feel like a beautiful, curvy princess.
This art form and exercise came to America in the 1860’s through immigrants. But long before this, the history of this joyous and exuberant dance dates back to ancient Middle Eastern times. Priestesses in Egyptian temples instructed the art of this dance to women to help them connect with their body temples, raise their energies and aide them with childbirth. My teacher, Iona Wilson, says that this folkloric dance was also done by a woman’s mother and friends around her bed while she was in labor to remind her of the moves that could help. Belly dancing has been a god send for Wilson, she says. She danced in a recital even when she was eight months pregnant and returned to dancing about a month after she gave birth. “It helps to strengthen the pelvic floor and all those abdominal muscles,” she adds.
She and many of her students dance when they’re tired, frustrated, angry, depressed and even when they’re grieving the loss of a loved one. It’s like magic in some ways. The movement literally moves depression out of the body. Part of what allows emotions and states of being to stick within us is that they remain blocked in one area of our being or another. But when you get up and move, especially with moves that are accompanied by shoulder shimmies that loosen up the energies in the solar plexus, and hip shimmies that literally shake and swirl the energy around – it’s virtually impossible to stay stuck in any lower emotion. This dance is elevating, rapturous and it embraces female curves. If you were dubious about having hips and real, womanly curves, this dance loves them – and helps you to love them too. In our society where media and magazines hold up coat hanger sized models to hang clothes on as examples of feminine beauty, this dance says, “No! I celebrate round, curvy, voluptuousness and this is what’s beautiful.”
“It helps women to gain self-esteem and improves their confidence,” says one dancer who performers at renaissance fairs and festivals. “And we have a wonderful community of women who join together. They’ve become like sisters.” If you look around, you may find secret belly dancers all around you. There’s a large movement of women who get together for “haflas” or belly dance meet ups to share the spirit of the dance, but you’d never know if you met them on the street. They’re mothers, women who work in high tech and want a feminine environment to feed their soul; they’re psychotherapists, business directors and law students. I’ve found the women in my dance class have a sense of camaraderie and we laugh together. Granted, it’s hard not to laugh when you’re wearing a coin hip scarf that jingles and your belly is hanging out. This is a wonderful way to play! So find a teacher, a hip scarf and some zils (finger cymbals) and enjoy. Here you don’t need to play any other roles. This is a place where my teacher says, “You get to be you.”
Bio: Debra Moffitt
Debra Moffitt’s book, “Awake in the World: 108 Practices to Live a Divinely Inspired Life” will be published by Llewellyn Worldwide in May 2011 (www.awakeintheworld.com). Read more at www.debramoffitt.com Her essays and articles appear in publications around the world and focus on drawing attention to the spiritual in a mostly material-minded world. She presents workshops in the U.S. and Europe.