Thursday, March 19, 2009

What belly dance has taught me about myself

QuarterLifeFinances talks about what belly dance has taught her about herself. Now this is near and dear to my heart! I wrote a similar post in a personal blog a looooong time ago about what I've learned from belly dance, and I'll reproduce it in part here.

I am too beautiful for chewing gum, for biting my nails or other unseemly habits. Things like this drive my troupe director up the wall, and she always calls us out on them. It seemed a little nitpicky at first, but she's got a point--when I notice someone (male or female) doing these things, I'm startled at their lack of awareness for the people around them and they kind of seem...gross. I can't imagine Michelle Obama or Princess Diana smacking gum or picking at their cuticles, can you? I'm still trying to break myself of all these habits, but eventually I'd like to be able to just sit without fidgeting. And I no longer like gum.

There is power in everyone in the room looking AT YOU—if you don’t shy away from it. The first time I had to do a solo, I was terrified beyond belief. I can't quite carry a room like the director or some of the more experienced girls in my troupe. But to know that ALL EYES ARE ON YOU, when you know what you're doing and you're thriving off the crowd's energy--it's really intoxicating. This applies to public speaking as much as dancing--when thrust into the spotlight, you have to own it. That's the only way to keep the crowd from noticing or criticizing your mistakes, your missteps, your stumbles.

Practice makes perfect--but you will never be perfect. Every once in a while, I will completely lose a choreography that I've been performing for year. I can do it hundreds of times, and still mess it up. However, the flip side is that it's really hard to overpractice or overprepare. Sometimes I will be frantically thinking, "What's the next move?! What's the next move?!?!" and my body will do it without my brain knowing what's coming next. It's muscle memory, it's habit.

Learn to read the crowd. We do a lot of audience participation in our shows, so I've danced with lots and lots of strangers. In most cases, we finish performing, hold the pose for pictures, and when the DJ starts playing "regular" music, we go out to the tables or seats and pull people onto the dance floor. The worst is to pick someone who refuses to get out of their seat, so you have to learn to read the crowd and find those who are dying to be out there on the dance floor, desperate to be picked, even if they're sitting still in their chairs. I've learned a lot about body language and how to trust my gut.

Professionalism really doesn’t vary from the office to the nightclub—it’s about backing up your word. We, as a company, are a bunch of classy, word-keeping women. We show up when and where we say we will. We dress to impress. We deliver what we promise, and often more, but we aren't pushovers. We don't do things we're uncomfortable with. (At one particularly memorable job, we packed up and left rather than acquiesce to a request (by a PARENT) to give a 13-year-old boy a lapdance. Hello, we are not strippers!) All of this can be applied to dancing, to work, to relationships, to life. It's about being real, meaning what you say, and only saying what you mean.

I can be glamorous. This one still cracks me up. I know myself as the person who sometimes crashes into doorways and doesn't shave her legs often enough. I was the girl with the bizarre curly hair and huge plastic glasses in junior high. But with just some lipstick and heels and attitude, I have made people blush and stammer, ask to take a picture with me, or thank me for making their day. I've been to some phenomenal parties with celebrities, and not as a hanger on--as the focal point of the night (!!). It's playing dress up and trying on another character for a few hours--a bit of what I imagine drag queens experience. It's a hell of a lot of fun, and I'm glad I have it as a part of my life.

I am strong and it's worth it to keep myself healthy. Dance gave me an awareness of my body that I never had before. I'm lucky to be naturally thin, but dancing has made me care about being healthy as well--to be strong and flexible, to stay injury-free, to pay attention to what I'm consuming and try to cut out the bad stuff like smoking, soda, and junk food. When I am depressed or angry, a class can help me lose myself in music and movement and I always, always feel better afterward. The ache of a good workout lingers a few days and reminds me that I can do something really cool and worth the time and effort to master.

What you put into something informs what you get out of it. I am a better dancer when I go to classes and rehearsals regularly, and when I practice on my own at home. I haven't had time to do that since I've been in school, and my dancing has really suffered. This is a skill you have to work to keep. As with other things, you have to do the time to get the reward.

A group of women really CAN be supportive and loving without getting catty and diva-ish. This is one of the first things we tell new girls--we don't have divas or princesses or drama queens or even principal dancers. We're a team. I have to admit I didn't quite believe it--I've never seen a group of women that are always, always nice to and about each other. But in the four years I have been with this company I have never seen anyone hurt anyone else, make fun of anyone else, belittle or gossip about someone else. I've seen us (literally and figuratively) support one another, back each other up, help one another, and care. These girls aren't my very best friends--aside from dance, some of us have little in common. But I trust every single one of them in ways that I can't trust a lot of people, and that's a really cool feeling.

Having a hobby that pays for itself is awesome!


  1. I feel that way during interviews and presentations.

    I fake it until I feel it. Then it just becomes natural. And people think I was born with confidence and I was def. not.

  2. HeHe - learning to Belly Dance is on my 101 Things list!

  3. You mean you can be someone who crashes into doorways (me too!) and also be a graceful glamorous belly dancer? :)

    I liked this.

  4. great stuff! Some good points to keep in mind. :-)

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone!

    @SP--yes, apparently it's possible. I just noticed a totally inexplicable bruise on my arm this morning (probably from walking into a wall or something) but I performed last night and was definitely graceful! It's weird. :)


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