March’s Question of the Month: How has belly dance transformed your body image?

written by Andalee on April 4, 2013 in Body image and Question of the month with 5 comments

Andalee contemplates body imageLast month’s Question of the Month focused on the physical transformations that we go through as belly dancers, but the March question focused more on the mental changes that we go through. I asked our readers about how belly dance has transformed their body image. I don’t think you’d be able to find a belly dancer whose body image hasn’t been transformed in some way. We often think about the positive changes, but that’s not always the case.

When I started belly dance, I was much thinner than I am now. At that point in my life, my body image was pretty good. I loved the way my body looked, even with my curves, stretch marks and extra fluff. I remember dancing in front of the mirror in just my bra and panties so that could admire my body when I danced. You’d never find me covering my stomach in class!

However, the more I progressed as a dancer, the more my weight creeped up on the scale and my body image actually started back-sliding. There are many reasons for this weight gain–dieting causing rebound weight gain, hormonal changes, health changes, being in a new relationship, etc.–and it took me a while to really start to comprehend those changes. I remember seeing a picture of myself after a performance and being shocked at my belly fold.

And of course at that time, I was starting to become a “gigging” dancer. I started noticing that most of the other gigging dancers around me were slimmer than me. It started affecting my body image. I was constantly comparing myself and telling me that I would get more gigs if I could just lose weight. Most of the time I felt pretty when I was all dressed up in costume or just dancing in class, but anytime I was getting paid to dance or bidding on a gig, I would really come down hard on my body.

It wasn’t until I stopped taking most gigs (I still do women’s shimmy parties) and learned about Health at Every Size(R) that my body image started making a comeback. My worth is not determined by my size. My health is not determined by my size. My body image is not dependent on what others think of me. I’m not 100% in love with my body yet, but I am starting to feel more comfortable in this bigger body.

So I definitely have had some ups and downs with my body image throughout my belly dance “career.” I can say that I’ve mostly moved in a positive direction, at least over the last year or so. And our readers have too. We had some great responses this month. Check out what these dancers had to say about the ways belly dance has transformed their body image:

“When I first started attending classes in 2003, it was not too often that I felt “graceful.” “Graceful” was something I had not encountered since my teenage ballet years. But bellydance changed that and convinced me that while, yes, I was a lot heavier and older, I could still do graceful! I got that confidence back.” ~ Tracy

“Belly Dancing has been my saving grace. By my senior year of college I felt I had exhausted all options on how to improve my body image and at this point my very unhealthy patterns I had adapted with food. I had and have been struggling with an eating disorder for half of my life. I am now 25 years old. I had been to counseling for ages, tried to get in-patient treatment, bounced around the different distorted eating patterns and was finally at a point where I recognized it as a problem and was afraid that nothing would help.

Green Mountain College offered a belly dance class free of charge and they put on wonderful shows where I found myself returning to my room practicing the moves I had seen. This, my last semester of college (five year run as my mom and grandmother both passed my sophomore year), I thought it would be a great idea to make myself really, REALLY uncomfortable. My teacher Susanne taught me the beauty of the human form and the spirit that come from ITS dancing. I quickly learned that my body, because of tribal dance, was something to be honored. I am and have been forever grateful to have her in my life and for all the knowledge I have received because of her. The eating disordered mind to recovery is a constant process and I have often said that I would be worried if I could no longer be a tribal dancer. I hope to one day hold classes for young girls in which I hope to teach them to love themselves and their bodies before society can give them any thought on a right and wrong embodiment.

Tribal belly dance has given me more then a new appreciation for myself and my body; it has actually given me my life back and I am forever grateful. <3” ~ Allison

“I’ve been taking classes in Egyptian dance from a wonderful, body-positive teacher for a year now, and I love it. For most of my life, I had internalized the message that a body like mine is worthy of nothing but scorn and derision, and could not possibly be graceful enough to dance. I had always wanted to take belly dance, but had been afraid to try. Finally, at the age of 41, I decided to jump in, critics be hanged. I don’t regret that decision for an instant. It has been wonderfully freeing and empowering to discover that I, too, can be graceful, powerful, and beautiful in the dance. I’ve developed core strength, have much more flexibility, and, perhaps most importantly, love my big, beautiful body and how it allows me to dance. Belly dance truly has transformed my body image, and my life.” ~ Amy

“Before belly dance.. I never took a picture since I avoided cameras… I would have such anxiety with people thinking I was always going to be rejected and had no female friends. Belly dance brought my mojo back,, my health.. my pride and many relationships that have taught me so much about acceptance and giving and expressing joy to be alive…and now there are pictures to prove it…” ~ Feiruze via Facebook

And finally, and most concisely…

“There are not words enough. I’ll think on it and try to describe it all…but that may take a while.” ~ Ylluria

It’s not too late to add to the conversation! Leave your comments about how belly dance has transformed your body image below!

And now for Aprils’s Question of the Month: What is your single biggest costuming challenge? You can only pick one! But please expand on why this is a challenge for you.


About Andalee

Andalee is the founder of Belly Dance at Any Size. She is an Oriental dancer and instructor from Durham, NC, now based in Montpellier, France. She has been dancing since 2005 and teaching since 2008. Her mission is to promote Oriental Dance (a.k.a. belly dance) as a respected and valid performance art.