Shimmies are better together: Bellies and You
To the reader: I would like to preface this piece by saying that I understand that Belly Dance at Any Size has followers of all political persuasions. When Andalee asked me to write about my experience participating in Bellies and You I struggled with how to put a piece together without offending anyone. The fact of the matter is that I cannot separate my topic from the political climate at hand. I hope you will understand as a reader that this piece is written with a loving spirit.
When I “grew up” as a belly dancer I was very lucky because my community was a strong group of women who loved each other fiercely. We encouraged each other to grow and learn as a group. My teacher told me then that it was a very rare thing to encounter such a closely knit belly dance community. At the time I didn’t realize the gravity of her words, and then I moved and discovered how right she was.
Well, I am happy to say that five years later I have found it again. A beautiful gleaming gem of a dance community full of sisters that lift each other up. Something I sorely missed and fills me to my very core with warmth and love. The beauty, strength, and love in the belly dance community of the Pioneer Valley in MA is absolutely humbling to bear witness to. These women come from all walks of life and are each individually incredible. Sisters, feminists, mothers, students, teachers, and friends. It is a hotpot of creativity and encouragement. When the events of November 8th, 2016 came to pass I was able to fall into the arms of this community for love and support. We got our hips together and never looked back. This is the story of Bellies and You, a charity event by Eidetic Belly Dance.
To understand how Bellies and You came about you have to understand Eidetic Belly Dance, the dynamic duo who will forever have my heart. Avienn Rose and Aralia Pearl make up a duo who represent everything I love about the dance. Both are students of Sahina, an amazing teacher and friend who has fostered a belly dance family like no other, and who has also mentored BDAAS contributor Melissa. Avienn is delightfully skilled in the precision and fluidity of fusion while Aralia is a sparkly enigma embracing the glitz and glamour of cabaret. I think that “better together” basically sums up Eidetic. If you have read Harry Potter, imagine how J.K. Rowling describes the feeling you get from drinking butterbeer, you get the same warm fuzzy feeling when you watch Eidetic perform.
In addition to their dance skills, Aralia and Avienn are some of the most open and caring people I have met. They are constantly involved in community service endeavors and always have an ear or a shoulder available for a friend. To say that the rising tide of intolerance concerned Avienn and Aralia would be an understatement. But instead of turning to anger, they decided to produce a charity event to benefit the community they so loved.
I, too, had been thinking a lot about the president elect’s opinions on women. I thought about how damaging they are to myself, my daughter, my sisters, and my friends. Belly dance has given me so many gifts and one of the most incredible is the ability to truly embrace what it means to me to be a woman. And this happens to be something light years away from the shallow shell of what Mr. Trump believes to be a “10”. When I think about the women surrounding me I know to my core that we are all unique individuals with no need to be affirmed as worthy examples of femininity by some offensive and arbitrary scale.
The measure of a woman is not the size of her waist or her bra cup size. Her worth is not determined by her ability to smile and play her part. Every roll, scar and wrinkle has a story to tell. I wanted to perform a representation of everything I love about being a woman. Bold and powerful, and yet soft and juicy. I thought about what I wanted my daughter to see: someone full of love, following their passion and not giving a damn what others think. I chose to embody both deep ferocity and deep tenderness at the same time. I was very inspired by the quote by plus sized model Denise Bidot, “There is no wrong way to be a woman.” I am so thankful to Aralia and Avienn for inviting me to partake and unleash my feelings in dance. It brought me such joy and my fellow dancers truly brought Bidot’s words to life. There is no wrong way, but many right ways coming together as one.
When times get tough it is truly amazing to be able to turn to the belly dance community for comfort and a sense of purpose. I think we were all feeling a bit lost and by coming together we were able to get our feet underneath us again. It was wonderful to make a small difference in the community while expressing our feelings through movement. On the night of Bellies and You we celebrated everything that our community means to us. We basked in the strength and love of our dance sisters and of the community that came out to support us. When I looked out into the audience there were individuals of all genders, ages, sexualities, and races. Little girls danced in the aisles with gusto to folkloric jug dances, and grandmothers beamed at their glittering, confident granddaughters. Everyone came together for Bellies and You. The proceeds of Bellies and You were to go to local nonprofits Black Lives Matter, Out Now, and Safe Passage.
In the words of Avienn Rose:
“When we woke up November 9th, we felt the need for action. We felt the need for connection. We wanted to offer an outlet for our community to support the amazing work done locally in service of the members of our community who are in need.”
And in the words of Aralia Pearl:
“It’s easy to feel helpless right now, but it’s important to remember that there are good people, doing great work, right here in the Pioneer Valley.”
The dancers in our community had a lot of feelings stewing leading up to the event. The air the night of the show was thick with raw energy. When I looked into the eyes of my fellow dancers I saw myself reflected back. They knew what emotions filled my heart because their hearts were also heavy in the same way, and in that evening we were one. Yes, we felt anger, sadness, and fear…but we also reached out to one another with love, passion, and hope. This was by no means an end, but a beginning. Together we would stand for what we believed in and dance like we had never danced before. As is customary for events led by Eidetic Belly Dance, we met before show time for a large group hug. I looked around the circle and soaked up the power of the women I saw around me. We came from all sections of belly dance life: fusion, cabaret, theatrical, folklore, etc. I took heart in the faces of women who were both hardened warriors and tender spirits. It was like a healing salve upon my soul to be one with them.
The performances varied widely and were incredibly honest. I don’t think anyone had to suck it up and find their stage face that evening, the emotions were pure and unfettered. In front of a room of approximately 100 people I watched troupes joyfully present folkloric and cabaret pieces showering the audience with feelings of hope and togetherness. Fusion pieces brought to the crowd the feeling of deep rooted strength and calm, and theatrical pieces ranged from comic relief for the weary to deeply romantic and introspective dance. Each dancer put so much feeling into their pieces.
One of the performers, Sephira, prefaced her piece with this and I love her for it:
“I struggled to select a piece of music that would reflect how I felt about the political dumpster fire we lived through and continue to live through. This song is titled “Drowning” and is by the Minneapolis-based band Boiled in Lead. It has been a favorite of mine for many years, and though its title may suggest hopelessness, when I listen to the song I don’t feel hopeless. Instead of feeling swallowed by despair, I feel buoyed by the love in our community, and hopeful in our ability to see a challenge and to seize upon it with a wild determination to improve the lives of our fellow humans.”
Much like Sephira, I had a lot of thinking to do when Eidetic invited me to perform. As I searched for the right song my sense of powerlessness began to fade and I let the feelings I had to support belly dance and to support local nonprofits who work tirelessly each day to support those in need. In the end the event raised $1,500 for Out Now, Safe Passage, and Black Lives Matter and we reaffirmed the pure tenacity and strength in our belly dance community. Thanks to the initiative and hard work by Eidetic Belly Dance we were able to come together and find the light again. I am so thankful for the experience and I know I will only continue to dance harder in the days to come.
To read more about Eidetic Belly Dance visit: www.eideticbellydance.com