I am super excited about my guest blog for Bellydance at Any size.
When I started bellydancing, my teacher told me that the great thing about bellydance is that women (and men) of all shapes, sizes and ages can bellydance. My teacher threw a hafla that drew over a hundred people in the audience and showcased professional and amateur dancers that demonstrated this point. This was somewhere around 2003, when interest in bellydance was at it’s peak.
Since then, the overall interest in bellydance has waned. It is harder to get enough students through the door for classes, there are less performance opportunities. As a result, most professional dancers (including myself) have to turn it up a notch. I spend more time on my website, pictures and video now than I did when I started. Besides having to work harder on promotion, I noticed how the audience and dancers are more critical about the dancer’s body. Most of the dancers that travel, teach and perform at the few festivals that are left, are thinner, younger and often cosmetically ‘enhanced’. They work hard and it shows in their tight technique, complicated choreographies and a quick turnover of choreographies (a higher pressure to create new work). This makes me wonder: Is bellydance still an inclusive dance form?
Bellydance images on the internet
What do you see when you search for ‘bellydancer’ on the internet? I dare you to try it, just now. I’ll wait.
How many of those women were over forty? How many of the dancers were plus sized? Or, for that matter, how many of the images you found showed women of color or pregnant women?
There is something seriously wrong with the perception of the female body in the Western world. It is fueled by technology: smartphones, apps, social media allow us to consume more information at any time we want. And even though bellydancers don’t consciously reinforce the image that women should be young, slender and gorgeous, we unconsciously worship an unobtainable or unsustainable ideal view of what a female body should look like. By gushing over pictures that are so photoshopped that the dancer doesn’t look human anymore. By seeing students in our class and thinking ‘she’s got talent, but not the looks to be a professional bellydancer’. By looking at ourselves in the mirror and thinking ‘I am getting a bit too old to be in bellydance class’.
I sometimes get offended when I receive my images after a photoshoot and the photographer took the liberty of smoothing everything out, narrowing my waist, enlarging my breast, smoothing my skin, removing the wrinkles and folds around my eyes and throw in a filter or two. Because it isn’t me in the picture anymore. Sure, I use Photoshop to enhance my pictures. I chance the color balance, tone and hue. I remove blemishes and things like ‘exit’ signs in the background. But I want to recognize myself in the picture.
What can we do about it?
This negative self talk has to stop. I refuse to stop doing the thing I love because people I don’t even know disapprove. People on the internet are hostile towards women that don’t look the part. Women that are determined to enjoy their live and put on a bikini when they go for a swim are being chastied and shamed for showing themselves in public. I can’t stomach all the hatred and vitriol so I won’t post any links, just search for ‘fat shaming’ if you want to know more.
I encourage you to check out Bellydance at Any Size, an initiative by Andalee that encourages dancers to share stories and write useful blogposts for dancers of any size. I wrote a guest post about my own experiences with bellydance through different life phases because it helped me accept the changes in my own body. If you believe bellydance is for everybody, think about contributing in small ways. Post pictures on your social media of you having a good time bellydancing, no matter how old/young you are. If you’re a teacher, point your students to sources from all over the world, of all shapes and sizes. Make the effort to find teachers that inspire you, even if they are lesser known and not as glamourous as the dancer flown in for the festival closest to you. The workshops with teacher with over twenty years of experience still linger in the back of my head because they were teaching from experience. Bellydance truly is an activity suitable for any size, it celebrates the female form and helps women to feel good about themselves.
I am not saying we should not get on the internet, ditch photoshop all together and not care about our bodies at all. But I plan on living a long, happy life and I don’t want to spend it hating my body, reinforcing other women’s negative views on body image or even giving up the activities I love because I don’t fit into the idea of what a bellydancer should look like. How about you?
I am a professional bellydancer and costume-a-holic living in the Netherlands. My dog has a habit of ruining my costuming workspace and brightening my day by her sheer enthusiasm for life. I am expecting my first baby in November 2015 and am now rapidly growing an impressive belly. If you enjoyed this post and like to kept in the loop, please like Kyria Bellydance on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.
Thanks for reading and see you soon!