The Emotional Aspects of Learning Belly Dance
What a Belly Dance course can bring up for a woman and how to overcome doubts and fears
I have been a Belly Dance teacher for many years now, and have seen how many of my beginner students come to class with a deep disconnection to their feminine body and the Feminine in general. In the West especially there is an epidemic rift between women and their femaleness. The reasons for this are based in the effect patriarchy has had on society over thousands of years. Many of the articles in www.ShemiranIbrahim.com will cover some aspect of this, such as Empower the Feminine and Find Your Beauty through Belly Dance .
Many Beginner Belly Dance students leave prematurely because of the emotional journey Belly Dance can give rise to. Having said that this topic is seldom discussed. It is my hope that by opening this subject up you will know you’re not alone. Also, I hope that this will help you ride any challenging emotions until you find the treasures that lie beyond them; the gems that hide deep inside your beautiful, luscious, creative and powerful feminine soul.
“ Through dancing people understand their feelings. Through the movement of the body the heart opens”.
Rosina-Fawzia Al-Rawi f rom her book
“Belly Dancing – Unlock the Secret Power of an Ancient Dance”
The movements of Belly Dance can awaken many latent emotions that are linked to our body. 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 also start to move parts of their female body that they are neither used to moving, nor are they necessarily comfortable with even the idea of moving.
Body image cultivated through the media, and the resulting social beliefs about what a female body “should” look like pervade our thoughts more than we’d like to admit even to ourselves. In the West especially, women’s breasts, bellies, thighs, hips and bottoms become a major source of mass scorn that ultimately leads to private humiliation. When a Beginner Belly Dance student starts moving the offending body parts, many deep seated emotions can start to surface such as fear, shame, self-loathing and anger.
When strong emotions arise it can be difficult not to react to them. Some students may find it too much and leave the course mid-term. Others may be more aware of what is happening and work through the fear. Self-knowledge is the key in such circumstances, so attention to yourself and what is coming up for you is the first step in pushing through limiting, sometimes debilitating, feelings.
Some of the common thoughts and feelings that come up in class are:
I’m not good enough
I’m useless, I can’t do this movement
Look at that woman, why can’t I move like that
My bum is too big, I’m ashamed to move it in public
My breasts are too small, I don’t look good
I’m too short; I wish my legs went on forever
I can’t move my rib cage at all, jeez I’m not good that this….
Some feelings are less articulate. You may simply feel horrid in class and not really know why. When I started Belly Dance classes I was so fearful of the Feminine in general that I felt sheer terror in class for a very long time. I really didn't know or understand what was happening at the time, but luckily I was self-aware enough not to run out the door and never return. I am very thankful for that; if I had reacted to my fear I would have missed out on all the gifts this dance has to offer. Reacting to fight or flight seldom really gives us an outcome we truely care for, unless of course it is a life-saving response such as getting out of the way of an oncoming car.
If you become aware of negative thoughts and feelings challenging you in class, it is useful to start a journal and write them down; this will help you get perspective and clarity on yourself. I repeatedly ask my students to become aware of what is coming up for them, and NOT REACT TO THE LIES. Just know that the mind will bring up things from the past all the time, but we choose wether or not we focus on them. Personal choice is the tool, and a decision made within yourself to help yourself is of utmost importance. The price may be to endure a certain level of discomfort, but that is the journey of a woman who is finding her true self. When fear stares us in the face, our only real option is to pick up our sword and slay a dragon. Any other action leaves us feeling smaller than we really are.
When fear stares us in the face, our only real option is to pick up our sword and slay a dragon. Any other action leaves us feeling smaller than we really are.
At the time of writing this 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 students' 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.
Stiffness around a movement is a messenger not to be judged by the teacher, other students or even ourselves. It is trying to tell you something and the most useful line of action is to be present with it, and feel whatever emotions that it gives rise to. Emotional blocks can stiffen the muscles and joints in the area that is being challenged. Breathe through the fear and other emotions that come up. Also, just knowing this information will help you be stronger in those moments.
Also, when in class make your first and foremost focus to have fun, and that will energise you through any negative thoughts and feelings. Becoming aware of what’s going on in your mind is empowering because only then does it lose its hold on you. Any journey will have dark places that need shining a light on, so too is a woman’s journey into herself; a journey which Belly Dance facilitates naturally. The upside as always is more joy that we are able to feel because of our discoveries.
“Dancing is an element that heightens life and a feeling of wholeness. Belly dancing leads to the deep dark cave, to the centre of the earth, before flying, in all its pride and life-force, up to the light, to inspiration, and to new awareness”.
Rosina-Fawzia Al-Rawi from her book
“Belly Dancing – Unlock the Secret Power of an Ancient Dance”
This article is an extract from Shemiran Ibrahim's "Belly Dance Student Guide". To read more and download click here.