Less than a week until a performance and I am fighting my anxiety. I am nervous about my endurance. Nervous about my injuries over the past few months. But more than anything nervous over my body and how it will be perceived.
This performance marks 4 years since I started taking belly dance lessons. My life was so different back then. I was in a long-distance marriage in addition to the legal marriage I am still in now. I had a girlfriend and was only barely flirting with Warrior. I was trying to please a Dom who lacked the consistency I really needed and craved. I was still recovering from being outed and I was in a job that was safe but utterly boring. I was feeling stuck in a pattern of my own fear, constantly focusing on what I seemed to lack especially when it came to having an outlet.
I realized not too long ago that I have been a dancer my entire life. Tap, ballet, figure skating, flamenco, ice dancing, the list goes on. When I went out clubbing I was proud to be one of the women to watch…and I used that power to urge otherwise neglected men onto the floor with me. Some of my favorite moments happened while dancing in a gay bar in Chicago during their salsa night. I was the only girl there who knew salsa and was a lifesaver for all the gay boys who only knew how to lead and not follow. Later that night I seduced one of the only straight men there and came while we danced on the floor. I’ve been involved in the arts in some way or another, but it is only in dancing that I feel like an artist.
Despite the hours that I work on my dancing, the fact that I can sustain a shimmy for 4 straight minutes and I continue to work on conditioning I am simply not what people expect to see of a belly dancer. my belly is lumpy and riddled with stretch marks. I am not lean and lithe like most dancers. I am curvy to an extreme. And while I have made significant progress toward accepting and loving my body, still the prospect of performing for an audience always puts a heavy dose of fear into me.
I have overheard people comment about my size, especially after fetish shows. Some negative and some positive. And for all the positive commentary I do receive, the negative sticks in my head even more. And as I put on my choli, bra and hip scarf I have to overcome those messages of “why the fuck do I want to see a bunch of fat notches dance?” that have become so internalized from a history of body issues.
I take some responsibility for allowing these messages to permeate but what bothers me is that people say them at all. Whether they hurt me or not is irrelevant. What bothers me is someone in the audience may overhear the comment and decide not to try out this form of expression (which is incredibly liberating and challenging for any gender or body type). What bothers me are the standards within the belly dance community that encourage us to cover our “less than perfect bellies” with mesh cover-ups. What bothers me is that message…from the shitty audience member or the belly focal queen who thinks she is preserving modesty in the community…is absolutely the wrong message.
The message I prefer to send when I am dancing is full of joy in my craft, openness in my every moment, gratitude in sharing this space with others and a freedom of expression nothing else in life can ever offer me.
So here I am showing this body, saying it is okay for me to be a little bit nervous…but even better for me to be proud of all the amazing, snake-like movements I can execute…and to surprise even myself a little with the curve of my body and the freedom and power in my spirit.