Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Step out of your comfort zone and belly dance with gusto

Life is short. Belly dance--with gusto!
Imagine yourself in a mirrored dance studio, wearing yoga pants, a camisole and a scarf tied around your hips. You're standing in front of the mirror, and you realize you're the largest woman in the class. A year ago, I couldn't have done this.

But I'm the new me--50 pounds lighter and 400 times braver--and I'm up for almost any challenge. Even a daunting wall of mirrors. And standing in front of thinner women, shimmying my hips. And grinning.

About a week ago, I found myself moving my hips and learning to shimmy in a belly dancing class. Belly dancing is completely out of character for me. I'm the sporty woman who paddles a dragon boat and hikes. How did I get here, and how did I convince two girlfriends to try it with me?

I'd never given belly dancing a thought until a couple weeks ago. I'd just tried downhill skiing after a 34-year hiatus, and was feeling triumphant. I could do anything. Belly dancing was the next adventure to tackle on my bucket list. 

I am not a natural dancer. When I was 6, Mom signed me up for ballet lessons. I don't know why. The poor teacher couldn't even help me point my toes properly. When I took a ballet class in college, I was equally frustrated.

Yet, two weeks ago, I had a hankering to try belly dancing. Amy, a newsroom colleague and belly dancer, referred me to Viscount Dance on Sandy Boulevard in Portland. I posted on Facebook that I was trying belly dancing on Saturday. Did any brave girlfriends want to join me?

Immediately, friends began replying "This sounds like fun" and "I've always wanted to try belly dancing" and "I'll see if my husband will watch the kids." One fellow paddler and writer said, "Okay, you officially qualify as FEARLESS in my book now. And you must blog about this."

Facing a wall of mirrors with other women can be daunting. If you're like me, without meaning to, you begin comparing yourself to every woman in the room: "I'm bigger than her. I'm fatter than her. My rear is way bigger than hers...." 

Over the past year, I've been retraining myself to replace that negative self-talk with positive self-talk: "Yes! I conquered my fear and I'm standing in a dance studio with other women--facing a wall of mirrors. I look pretty good!" And my favorite mantra I repeat as many times as needed: "You can do this!" 

It's challenging to break my lifetime cycle of negative self-talk, but I'm working on it every day. And whenever I have the opportunity, I mention the benefits of positive self-talk to my gorgeous, young adult daughter, who is finding her own way and facing her own wall of mirrors.

Let's face it: women, particularly American women, have a body image crisis. We give our girls Barbie dolls to play with and indoctrinate them early into what the ideal woman should look like. If Barbie were a real woman, she'd be 5’9” tall and would weigh only 110 pounds. Barbie would have a BMI of 16.24 which is severely underweight. Her cartoonlike proportions--39” bust, 18” waist, 33” thighs--would make it impossible for her to walk upright on those tiny size 3 feet (molded to fit stiletto heels, no less). Barbie would have to walk on all fours.

We are bombarded with images of anorexic models and actresses on the magazines at the supermarket checkout stands, on billboards, on TV and the movie screen. Everywhere we go, girls and women are told we should strive to be like these waif-like creatures: extremely tall and severely underweight.

I am the antithesis of a model. I am extremely short and until last summer, I was obese. Now, through mindful eating, paddling a dragon boat and other exercise, I've lost 50 pounds. I'm no longer obese, but technically, I'm still overweight according to the evil BMI (body mass index) chart. 

I still have 20 to 25 pounds to lose, but I'm learning to love my body, just as it is. I'm no longer afraid to step beyond my comfort zone and to have fun. I was definitely up for belly dancing.And unlike me, the dragon boating diva, top-heavy Barbie would not be able to belly dance on those tiny feet. 

And dance we did! Wendy, Kathleen and I moved our hips, shimmied, swooshed our veils through the air--and we had a blast. It was empowering to belly dance with gusto beside two friends. I felt brave. Even sexy.

I may have even pointed my toes!

Wendy, me and Kathleen--the belly dancing divas!


  1. I hope you don't mind that I shared this with The Healing Dance Network


    The Healing Dance Network: a web between the various healing dance studies, theories, practitioners and proponents through which to find, share and expand the study of healing through dance.

  2. What a wonderful post, as awesome as I'd hoped it would be! And that phrase "facing a wall of mirrors" - ! That's a fear I have yet to conquer. You have gone where I can't yet go. Power on, girl!

  3. Also great to see a picture of you...the woman who used to avoid the camera. You look terrific and I'm so happy to see you doing good things for your!

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