Ten ways to honor our limits at belly dance intensives
It’s that time of year again, when many of us are either attending multi-day belly dance festivals and intensives, or preparing for one a little later in the year. I’m personally gearing up for 8 Elements Phase III right now, which is exactly one month away as I sit here writing this (and don’t think I’m not thinking that I should really be reviewing flashcards instead…).
Belly dance intensives are a wonderful training experience, but they can also test our sense of self-love and body acceptance. I’m never more judgmental about my own body’s limitations than when I’m pushing myself to the edge for an entire week. Even when I should be focused on myself, I can’t help but look at the other dancers who are younger, slimmer, stronger, and above all, more flexible, let alone more skilled, and feel lacking in return.
When I mentioned this story idea to this site’s founder and editor, Andalee, she shared her own stories of dealing with limitations and a teacher who wouldn’t honor them, and that inspired me to ask around. I wasn’t surprised to find that a lot of dancers had issues that they struggled with, and ways of modifying, coping, and finding acceptance while tackling the most challenging training.
Here are ten key ways to surviving a belly dance intensive with your self-esteem and body image intact:
1. Be aware of and accept your limitations.
Know what you can and can’t do, and honor that fact. Don’t push yourself too hard in the early days of the intensive and risk injuring yourself or making yourself ill, thus missing the rest of the training opportunity!
2. Know what modifications you can make.
Talk with your doctor, physical therapist, or personal trainer about your upcoming training and ask for their advice. Explain what particular aspects of the intensive you’re most worried about and get ideas for adaptations.
3. Quietly let your teacher(s) know about your situation.
I find a simple “I’m recovering from a foot injury and I can’t dance at my full potential again yet, so I may spend a lot of the class sitting to the side taking notes, is that OK?” usually goes over well. Likewise, if you experience vertigo, you can explain ahead of time why you’ll be just marking through the turns rather than going full-out. Most belly dance teachers know that a lot of us come to this dance later in life, with bodies that have an assortment of quirks, and they tend to be accommodating.
4. Don’t let anyone bully you about it.
If a classmate starts to tease you about sitting out, calmly say, “This is what I need to do for my health.” And if a teacher harasses you about needing to make modifications, then you should simply not study with them in the future. Don’t trust anyone who pushes you to hurt yourself or make yourself sick.
5. Avoid comparing yourself to others.
Look, I know how hard it is when everyone else is on the floor in side splits and your legs are still in a stubborn V. That’s me, I’m that girl who is struggling not to cry doing Salimpour-style glute squeeze exercises. Don’t let yourself get bogged down in the fact that you don’t have a body that does what everyone else’s body is doing. Do what you can, breathe through it, and know that everything is temporary, soon you’ll move on to an exercise you can do.
6. You may not even want to compare yourself to yourself.
Although quotes about trying to be a better dancer today than you were yesterday can be inspiring and encouraging, they may not apply to everyone. If you have an autoimmune disorder or degenerative disease or are recovering from a major illness or injury, the truth is you may be a worse dancer today than you were yesterday. Instead of looking at your past self, look at what you CAN do today, and do it as best as you can.
7. Let yourself have a good cry or rant if you have to.
Don’t melt down in the middle of the workshop, but if you need to have a quick cry in the bathroom or call your spouse or bestie and share your deepest insecurities, sometimes that emotional release lets you move past your frustration. Talking to someone sympathetic can especially help as they’ll usually give you a pep talk.
8. Be prepared for self-care.
Come to every intensive armed with what you need: emergency snacks, tiger balm, your foam roller, a good book to read after class, fancy tea to drink in the morning, bath salts, whatever it takes you keep your body and mind in good shape for the entire week. When I did Tribal Massive, my rolling foot massager was my best friend!
9. Sit classes out if you need to.
Some intensives require you to attend all sessions in order to get a certificate, in which case you may need to tough it out and just pace yourself as best as you can. But some have classes that are optional, such as extra yoga or workout classes. Others that have more of a retreat feel make everything optional. Don’t feel guilty about skipping a class or two if you need to sleep in or take a bath or call home.
10. Above all else, remember that you deserve to be here.
No matter what body you have, what illnesses plague you, how old or fat or whatever you are, you did the work to be at this intensive. You’re passionate enough about dance to dedicate a significant amount of money and time to sign up for this intensive. You have accepted your body, flaws and all, and turned it into a tool to make beautiful dances. Don’t sabotage that.
I hope this helps you have a fun and successful intensive season! And I’d love to hear your own experiences in the comments.