Belly Dance; A Journey in Womanhood
How Belly Dancing Teaches Us to Be True Women
Womanhood seems to be misunderstood. It seems to require an apology. It seems to be not right in its natural state and needs modifying to make it palpable. Womanhood and all things Feminine have been degraded over thousands of years the world over. Many girls around the world feel like second class citizens. Many adolescent girls don’t have physically and emotionally healthy feminine role models who can show them what it really means to be a happy female.
Belly Dancing, with its roots in ancient wisdom, helps women unfold and grow physically, emotionally and spiritually. Belly Dance has a unique ability to connect us to our inherent beauty at every stage of life – it is truly a multi-generational dance allowing a female to travel gracefully and joyously from girl to grandmother.
Belly Dance; a Dance of Initiation
Engaging in Belly Dance over time opens up consciousness, same as other mind/body/spirit practices that have roots in ancient wisdom. Belly Dancing can be a facilitator of initiation from girl to woman. Being a woman is not dictated by age. Some women can be in their fifties and still have the emotional or spiritual maturity of a five year old. Belly Dancing can unfold womanhood for each individual gently and organically.
Rites of passage in tribal peoples involve the child who is being initiated into adulthood to face their fears. When beginner Belly Dance students start classes, they have a lot to deal with. Not only are they plunged into a whole new world of movement and music, but they may also need to deal with latent emotions which start to well up through the movements of Belly Dance. Like sleeping dragons that have been slumbering for years, forgotten fears and powerful emotions can rise through using parts of the body that have been denied, ignored, berated, shamed, forbidden or simply forgotten.
“Especially in the West, women’s breasts, bellies, thighs, hips and bottoms are a major source of both mass scorn and private humiliation.”
Largely due to five thousand years of patriarchy, and its denigration of women and the Feminine , our mass social outlook is heavily skewed against womanhood – including women’s bodies. Especially in the West, women’s breasts, bellies, thighs, hips and bottoms are a major source of both mass scorn and private humiliation. When a beginner student starts moving the offending body parts, many deep seated emotions can start to surface such as shame, self-loathing and anger (if you are a Belly Dance teacher, it is good to be sensitive to the emotional journey your students embark on when they start your classes).
In patriarchal societies such as the West, many girls are brought up severely disconnected from their feminine bodies, and this can stay with them throughout adulthood. True womanhood involves a whole body experience of life, a sensual existence. Belly Dance has the ability to heal long term disconnections to the body in a very organic way.
At the time of writing this article, I have been in professional Belly Dance training for eight years. It has seriously taken me up to last year to conquer my fear of the shimmy. Now I can actually have a smooth and balanced out shimmy for longer, and I have the ability to flick the switch in my head that had stopped me from enjoying a free shimmy for such a long time. It only took seven years! My hips were so locked, and my pelvis carried so much shame.
As a teacher of Belly Dance I see these switches or fuses go off in student’s heads all the time. Whether you are a student or a teacher, it is useful to understand that each woman has a different relationship to her body in general, and to the different parts of her body as well. Some students will happily shake their bottom and thighs for the entire world to see, but will have trouble expressing emotion through their face and upper body. Other women will have locked hips and blockages around the pelvic area, while feeling much more comfortable using their arms, hands and face for the emotional expression of the music.
“True womanhood involves a whole body experience of life, a sensual existence. Belly Dance has the ability to heal long term disconnections to the body in a very organic way.”
The Body; a Map to the Soul
Difficulty of movement in a part of your body can correspond to the energetic properties of that part. Many beginner Belly Dance students will encounter some difficulty due to areas that are “congested”; areas of the body that are ignored or do not have a flow of energy in them. Areas that have shut down over time. Each part of your body corresponds to your energetic and emotional self as well, and each Belly Dance movement will mirror back to you your current state of health in the area that movement utilises.
For instance, difficulty in moving the chest in a circle or up and down can come from a block around the heart area. The heart represents what one loves in life, the emotional centre, the realm of the Feminine . If a woman is shut down emotionally, or denies what she loves on an ongoing basis, she may not have much feeling or movement to start with in the chest area. After a while of Belly Dancing, she can start to sense that warm all compassionate feeling that lives in the centre of every chest.
On the other hand, stiff hips and pelvic movements can remind us of a rift between us and our sexuality, our connection to the earth, to survival and money and reality; our relationship to the Masculine , and so on. For more on the Feminine and Masculine principles in life and how Belly Dancing relates to them read the three part series Empower the Feminine .
“Through the healing powers of Belly Dance, a woman can start feeling more love and compassion, and become more centred, grounded and alive.”
By practicing the moves of Belly Dance for each area, that area loosens up physically and opens up energetically. Through the healing powers of Belly Dance, a woman can start feeling more love and compassion, and become more centred, grounded and alive. Belly Dance opens a flower in the heart, and lights a fire in the belly. The freedom works from the outside in, using our body to free our energy and our spirits. As the Sufi proverb goes “Dysfunction is the window to the soul”.
The initial stiffness around a new movement is an indicator; a messenger not to be judged by the teacher, other students or even ourselves. It is there to tell us something and the most useful line of action is to acknowledge it, be present with it, and feel whatever feelings and emotions that it may give rise to. Remember this next time you are in class and are having trouble getting a movement, and remember to breathe through the tough feelings.
Belly Dance does not lie. It will give us a true picture of where we are at in relation to our bodies, our hearts and our power at any given time. If we allow Belly Dancing to talk to us, we can get to know ourselves better, which is the first step to becoming the person we know we really are.
“Belly Dance does not lie. It will give us a true picture of where we are at in relation to our bodies, our hearts and our power at any given time.”
Awaken the Wise Woman
Recently I heard a saying; “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit not a vegetable. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad” (source unknown). The child’s mind is busy gathering knowledge. A cornerstone of true adulthood is connecting to that deep knowingness that comes from within, that feels right, and that sometimes cannot be explained but always smells of the truth.
The systematic reconnection to our bodies that happens through Belly Dance gives us the gift of being able to hear that inner guidance. Only by becoming present in our bodies, and hence in our moment, can we hear our inner voice. Like my grandmother recently told me, there are two voices inside us at any given moment, and especially in moments of conflict; one is loud and spurs us to fight, the other is always soft begging us to love. And as she sagely put it, absolutely nothing good comes out of following the voice of fear for neither ourselves nor those around us, and that the only way to get what we truly want, and indeed make ourselves and everyone else feel good, is to come from love.
A child will come from fear because they are operating out of their mind. By connecting to our bodies, we have a chance to be present enough to hear the whispers of our hearts, always tugging at us gently to spread peace, love and joy. A huge gift of Belly Dance is this reconnection to our bodies and a training ground for presence in the moment, which gives us back the ability to consciously choose our words and actions.
Truth and Belly Dance
True adulthood, not as marked by age but by fearlessness, involves truth of expression. Honesty to self and others. Speaking one’s truth while moving through life. Belly Dancing can be a trainer in this.
As in the craft of acting, truthful feeling and expression of emotion is needed to Belly Dance beautifully. The dancer needs to drop out of her ego into her soul, to feel the music and to channel it out through her body. What we sensually feel when we dance is what the audience will feel. If we are faking joy, the audience will feel plastic. If we are in anxiety, the audience will feel constricted. If we open our heart, the audience cannot help but feel a warm, fuzzy loving feeling which will then be sent back to the dancer. To the extent of which we can express our feelings honestly we move the crowd.
Highly technical aerobic Belly Dancing that doesn’t breathe the dancer’s spirit out can be impressive to the mind, but seldom moves the audience to tears. To be able to melt and be vulnerable, and light up the face with true emotion is a training ground for honesty in life. We learn that we have nothing to hide, we practice dropping our masks.
Creative Heart-Driven Expression
True womanhood involves self-expression, one that is beyond serving others. Beyond the kitchen, homemaking, the kids, the man, the job, the boss, the career ladder, the parents or any other entities women give of themselves to through necessity, or donate themselves to by addiction. Most women are so stretched they have no time for their own souls.
Belly Dancing in itself is a beautiful form of self-expression. But its gifts go further than that. Through its movements and imbedded ancient wisdom it opens the heart. By re-connecting women to their emotional centre it reminds them of what they truly want to express in the world.
Every woman has a deep ocean of creative ability and energy that lives inside her. By healing the rift between mind, body and heart Belly Dance enables a woman to dive into this ocean and investigate. It is all part of the alchemy of Belly Dance, and its mystical healing powers.
“With the help of time, a wise teacher and a willing participant, Belly Dance spins its magic and alchemises our inner beings, reconnecting parts of ourselves that may have suffered disconnection.”
Posture, Breath and Power
Good wine, fine chocolate and great sex; once you’ve tasted them you can’t go back to a lesser version. So your body responds to good places within itself. Once you have felt a better posture your body will want to live there all the time. Belly Dancing trains us in correcting our posture and breathing, giving us a taste of what it feels like to stand in our own power, in our own centre.
How we hold ourselves and how we breathe are a reflection of wether we are in the moment, or we are in fight or flight. An open posture, wide open arms, lifted chest, relaxed shoulders and holding the head high like a Queen; all these are basic Belly Dance postures. Sometimes, a woman’s first Belly Dance class is the first time she experiences standing like this! Breathing consciously into the belly, and breathing through movement is also a staple of any solid Belly Dance training.
These two practices combined take our body/mind system out of the fearful space of fight or flight, into conscious being. It is my belief that only then do we get a chance to feel good standing in our own skin, and claim our space in the world.
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The great difference between children and true adults is that one reacts to fear, and the other can choose love. Be it in the way we hold ourselves physically or our energetic posture. Be it in what we say to ourselves and to the world, and wether or not we speak our truth and express our inner treasures. In each case a child will come from fear, and an initiated woman from fearlessness.
Fear with all of its mutations of anger, jealousy, shame, arrogance, competition, comparison and criticism of self and others doesn’t make us or anyone else feel good. If you actually feel your body when you are in such moments, there is zero joy to be had in them. Fear and its mutations may create short term results we think we want, or momentary hits of an artificial sense of power, but it never creates long term effects that are truly important.
A true adult has the ability to transmute fear into something that can feel good for everyone involved. This ability comes from being self-aware enough to know what’s going on for us in the moment; this comes from a two-way communication line between mind and body. By healing mind/body rifts, Belly Dance gives us this self-awareness which allows us to choose how to behave in true adult form.
With the help of time, a wise teacher and a willing participant, Belly Dance spins its magic and alchemises our inner beings, reconnecting parts of ourselves that may have suffered disconnection. As we start to feel whole again, we reclaim our natural ability to choose love over fear, and to create a life that gives us back the joy that is our birth right.