A belly dance teacher’s promise
With January come and gone I have had time to reflect on the traditional “weight loss” season where we often get an influx of students into our classes. Many enter the classroom for the first time unsure, and positive that they have to shed a few pounds before they are worth anything. Most of us have been there before and can relate. I am always thrilled when these students come into my class. I am usually bursting with hope that they will realize that they can “Belly Dance at Any Size” and they will begin to embrace their own unique beauty. My classes have never had a focus on weight loss, despite the fact that belly dance is good exercise. Instead, like most teachers I know, I focus on building strong, confident, and fluid dancers no matter what the packaging is like. After reflecting on the January season I decided to write a manifesto of sorts that applies to what life should be like in the belly dance classroom. Here it is:
Today is your first belly dance class. I saw you wander in dragged by your bubbly friend who has already brought her own hip scarf she found online and is totally ready to go. You keep looking down and are quiet when you introduce yourself. I know exactly what you are feeling, believe it or not I was once in your shoes. You are probably wondering “How the heck am I ever going to get my hips to move like that?” “Can I really show my belly? It is the dead of winter, I look as pale as a beluga whale!” “I don’t look like the other girls in this class, look at that one in front, she is so lithe and beautiful. Why did I let my friend drag me here?” Little do you know, as you shuffle through my pile of loaner hip scarves, I am already bubbling over with excitement at the chance to have you in my class. As you take your first unsure steps into the dance studio, here is my promise to you for as long as you choose to study.
Welcome to my classroom, it is my safe haven and now it is yours as well. You belong here just as much as anyone else does. Here I promise that you are safe from judgement. You are free to be yourself in the moment. You will feel many different things in this classroom including joy, confidence, frustration, sadness, fear, love, and hope. I welcome you to open up your heart to the wonders that belly dance has to offer. It is my hope that with us you will learn how to let loose and love your body in ways you never dreamed possible.
I will never ridicule you for what you look like. I will never say that you are too thin, too fat, too short, too tall, or any combination of the sort. What I will tell you is that you are beautiful and I will teach you how to carry yourself like the goddess that you are. I will never judge you for your past nor tell you what to do with your present. Neither will I pass judgement on your abilities based on your age, skin color, or sexual orientation. All that I ask is that you let me be your guide as you learn to shake and sway with growing confidence. I ask that you reach into yourself for the bravery to take the first step and to try.
Student, I promise that I will hold your hand when times get tough. When you struggle with getting it right I will use every tool that I have to ensure that you can accomplish your goal. The only way that I can succeed is if you do. I live for the light in your eyes when you complete a movement you never thought possible, and for the warm glow that you get when you realize how much you are beginning to love how your body can interpret this art. Your personal growth and achievement mean the world to me. I promise to push you outside of your comfort zone and to test the boundaries of what you believed you were capable of. I promise to provide compassionate critique when you struggle. I promise to also tell you what an incredible person you are.
I promise to always remember how it feels to be in your shoes. The world can be a cruel place for those of us who don’t conform to societal norms, but know that you always have a place here. I promise to provide a warm and caring environment where you should never fear to be yourself and to love yourself. If I do not live up to this standard then I have failed as your teacher.
On your first day of class, know that you do in fact belong here. In this classroom we are of all different shapes, sizes, ages, and races. We have wrinkles, cellulite, stretchmarks, acne, disabilities, and more. Some of us are loud and boisterous, some of us are more quiet and reserved, and yet each of us is capable of captivating an audience. Some of us are longtime athletes built of whipcord muscle while some of us are soft and sensual but with just as much strength. We are passionate and powerful individuals who each has something special to bring to the classroom. And each and every one of us is perfect for belly dance. You belong with us. This I promise you.
Your Belly Dance Teacher