This I Believe

Dani - Palo Alto, California
Entered on February 27, 2009

I believe in bellydance.

I believe in bellydance because of what it represents to women.

Bellydance is by no means a dance that ‘belongs’ to women. As an art form should be, it is open to anyone who’s curious – but the dance seems to hold a special sway over women in particular.

I believe that this is because bellydance boldly defies all the myths about sexuality, humanity and female-ness that keep women in chains. For example, while all humans have some degree of dual thinking (duality; the belief or feeling that the mind is a separate entity from the body), this thought pattern implies something special for women; the archaic religious morals that pervade society tell girls that not only are body and spirit separate, but that women should seek to distance themselves from their bodies, which are unclean and imperfect. In this way a woman’s body becomes no longer part of her, but an extension that she uses like a tool. A woman’s body becomes a mere property. In some ways, the women’s movement succeeded in that it gave us custody over these ‘properties’ of ourselves, but it failed to abolish property-oriented thought altogether.

Bellydance, in contrast, teaches us that not only are we wholly connected to our bodies, but our physical and mental selves are all but one and the same. Bellydance appeals to the female instinct to move, soulfully, passionately, expressively. In bellydance the soul seeps out through the skin.

When I dance in public, I find that often it is not men (who are sometimes, but happily not usually, immature in their own way) who object or try to hyper-sexualize my dance. It’s other women. They protest, say that I’ve shown too much skin, that the silky undulation movements I’ve practiced so hard to make fluid are bawdy, dirty, obscene. But why? Did I flirt crudely with the male audience? Did I let people put tips in my bra or hip scarf, touch my body? Did I do anything to degrade myself, or you as a fellow woman? I’m showing my skin because I know that it’s beautiful, because I accept my body. The hip movements I’m doing are figure eights and circles, shapes which represent the eternal wholeness of the universe and the cycle of life. I’m undulating because my body is powerful enough to do so, because when I do, I am powerful. What is obscene about this? Please, tell me. I’m sorry if I’ve offended your sensitive perceptions with my expression of female power and creativity.

Women have become locked into the mindset that sex is obscene. Therefore, the female body, notorious for it’s allure, sexual prowess and enigma, is by default an obscene object. So it of course follows that a dance which celebrates the creative and expressive ability of the female body would be written off as crudely sexual. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Sex is one facet of bellydance, but this is because like other art forms, bellydance can be utilized to explore all aspects of the human experience.

I believe in bellydance, because I believe one day women will live in acceptance of themselves and one another. I believe in bellydance because everyone thought the first feminists were crazy, but look how far we’ve come since then. I believe in bellydance because years ago my great-grandmother stood her ground at a protest in New York and was ultimately arrested for asking for the right to assert her womanhood.

Bellydance is not a fix all, it is not the answer, it is not the cure, and it is not for everyone. But for me and some others, it helps. It helps us to cope with our lives as creatures of this perplexing world, it helps us to accept ourselves, and it brings us closer together as women. We dance not only to the music of ourselves, but to the music of the universe.