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Belly dancing

January 21, 2014

My Boring-Ass Life

I’ve taken my first belly dancing class. I know several larger belly dancers, and Casey has written about her experience as well, and being able to see how graceful and beautiful they are, combined with an almost lifelong love of belly dancing started to get to me. So when my friend told me she was starting to give belly dance lessons this month I jumped on board. I went to my first lesson excited. It would be fun! Empowering! Energizing! I’d come away feeling great about myself and my body and loving how I learned to move!

Or, you know, maybe not.

When the other students showed up, it was clear that I was the largest woman there by far. The next size down might have been a size 10 or 12 (just guessing). I had always thought of belly dance as this awesome style of dance with a diversity of body sizes and I, for some reason, expected the class to be diverse as well. While the teacher was larger, she was still not as large as me.

So we all lined up in front of large standing mirrors. Then, the shame began. We learned snake arms first. She taught us how to “paint” with our hands as our arms moved. I felt clumsy,  I Stand Belly Dance  lumpy, uncoordinated, and, yes, fat. I know, I know, I am fat, but I felt like a giant. Among a group of skinny people, I always feel like a giant. I’m usually the tallest (and I was indeed the tallest student) and the largest. It makes me feel like a bull in a china shop. Huge and clumsy. It doesn’t help that I’m not all that graceful.

Anyway, we started learning a simple step, then we combined it with the snake arms. I didn’t get it at first, which made me feel even worse. Embarrassed. But mostly, I just hated looking at myself in the mirror. Everyone else looked great, but not me. I just looked like a waving blimp. Okay, maybe I’m being too hard on myself. In fact I know I am. After all, at a size 12 I felt like a giant blimp most of the time too. I hated myself immensely and did all sorts of horrible damaging things to myself. Maybe I am a blimp now, but at least I’m a happy blimp, right?

Except for when I’m not so happy. Like during and after that class. So many childhood fears resurfaced. Were people looking at me? What if they see me looking stupid? After all, we know a fat person looking stupid is far worse than a thin person looking stupid. When my thin friends get hurt, for example, people rush to see if they’re alright. When a fat person gets hurt, everyone stops to laugh.So, me? I just felt like the stupid fat girl who everybody laughs at.

I came home that night feeling defeated, self-conscious, embarrassed, and never wanting to go back. Know what though? I’m totally going back. I’m going to finish my eight-week class. I’m gonna practice my shimmy, I’m gonna wear my leggings, I’m gonna do snake arms and I’m not going to let it defeat me.

Maybe I’ll take another class afterwards, maybe I won’t, but this is something I’m going to conquer. I’m going to cross it off of my list of things I want to do in my life. Because internalized fatphobia will not keep me from living my life and doing what I want to do. Screw you fatphobia! I’m fat and I’m still gonna shimmy my ass off!

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2014 12:10 pm

    I had wanted to take belly dancing lessons since I was a child and collected yard-long strands of sequins to one day use to create my own costume. I wanted this because my mother used to belly dance. When I finally got around to taking lessons, those strands of sequins were long gone, and I was very fat. Like you I was the fattest in the class. There were other fat women in class, women who were larger than size 10 or 12. While our teacher was much smaller, she had been teaching long enough to remind us that different bodies look different when doing the same movement. I used to worry that I wasn’t doing a move right, and she’d remind me that my body was different and would look different than someone else. (She never said someone smaller or thinner, much to her credit.)

    It was initially difficult for me to be the fattest in the group, but something happened after a few months of classes. I realized that I was moving my body in new and wondrous ways, and I was having fun. That class helped me become less fearful of watching my body move in a mirror, and even less fearful of looking in mirrors. I hope you’re able to reach the end of the class with that enjoyment, too.

  2. January 21, 2014 12:29 pm

    My gym has an adult dance class (it’s an aerobics class, I guess, but it’s taught by a dancer and it feels like the dance classes of my childhood.) I went to two of them. I went to the second because I was damned if I was going to let feeling uncomfortable and bulky and having to look at myself in the mirror chase me away. I felt so uncomfortable both times. The teacher didn’t notice that I couldn’t keep up with the fast pace, didn’t offer any modification. I want to belly dance, too! I’m working on getting that brave. This helped! Thank you 🙂

  3. January 21, 2014 1:40 pm

    Good for you that you even tried! I tried several belly dancing classes over the years until I found a teacher with a style that I really liked. I relate to everything you share in your article; feeling clumsy, being the biggest in the room, etc. Taking those classes has helped me feel good in my own body and find a way to move gracefully with what I’ve got.

    I also wrote about my dance experiences – http://acelebrationofcurves.com/2009/03/31/confronting-the-wall-of-mirrors/

    Maybe belly dance isn’t for you. Maybe you’ll like contra dancing or line dancing even more. Whatever classes you take, I hope you keep dancing!

  4. Kara permalink
    January 21, 2014 3:02 pm

    I’m a size 20 and jus performed a bellydance solo last Friday. Starting to bellydance 5 years ago I was significantly larger than everyone else. And looking in the mirror was hard those first few classes. But, for me, and of course I can only speak toy experience, after a month or so of weekly staring at my stomach in the mirror things started to change. The early goat-having-a-seizure aspect of my attempts at the movements gave way to success, to grace. And my curves began to look good to me. Tremendous changes in my self-esteem took place as the months passed, as I learned to love my curves, as I became proud of the muscles I was developing that could create the dance’s undulating shares. Keep at it!

  5. Kerry permalink
    January 21, 2014 3:12 pm

    Although I was not the biggest person in my bellydance class, I was the oldest by about 20 years. I am also uncoordinated by nature, so you can guess what I looked like (and, of course, there is my weight…….}
    Still, I persevered and I am SO glad I did. It took me 5x longer than some of the others to get any move. Some took me a couple of YEARS to get. Really. But now i find myself, at 55, bellydancing every day for exercise (around 25-30 minutes) and for the love of it, and I’m pretty good. I’m flexible, cooridinated, and feel great when I dance. Stay with it, try some different teachers if you need to, and remember that you WILL make progress. No saying, I just can’t do …..
    Sure, you can’t do it yet, but one day, you will find that a move that you couldn’t do yesterday, you can do today. I don’t know how that works, but I know it works. I have excellent posture now, my back feels good, and i move with grace. YOU CAN ALSO!!!

  6. LittleBigGirl permalink
    January 21, 2014 4:26 pm

    I was painfully aware of being “the fattest person in the room” for – well…basically my whole life. I let it drive me out of a dance class in high school, and I stopped dancing for years. I was happy to find Zumba, but then I hurt my foot and fell out of practice. I am discouraged about rejoining because I cannot find exercise clothes that fit/support/are affordable. 😦
    The same issue comes up when I think about belly dance. I’ve always wanted to do it, and I love Arabian music. My hips were made to move – no matter how big they are.

  7. January 22, 2014 10:58 am

    Yeah it’s hard. I am a size 18 bellydancer. I’ve put on weight over the years, and I’ve opted out of paid gigs, unless the event is plus size related. And usually, clients will always choose the slimmer girls. I am the biggest woman by far in the class, and I know I might not have been picked for troupe, allowed to choreograph, teach workshops and perform solos at the professional theatre shows if my teacher was slim. Luckily, my teacher is fat like me. LOL. Usually, in classes people are focusing on themselves, and not paying much attention to others. But I know it can be hard. But…if I may offer my humble opinion….keep at it a few more times, and you might just fall in love. Sometimes I do a movement, and I love how it makes me feel, and by extension, I love what’s looking back at me in the mirror. 🙂 But good luck with whatever you choose, and like the commenter above…I hope you keep on dancing!xoxoxo

  8. January 29, 2014 6:01 pm

    Well done for going. And for going back. I am working on the courage to go to a belly dance class : )

  9. Bonnie permalink
    June 24, 2014 2:02 pm

    I am a size 18 and have been taking belly dance now for two years, including performances. I also have recently started teaching the beginners for our troupe, and SEVERAL of the ladies in our troupe are large women. I understand how you feel looking in that mirror, but please please let me reassure you that all of the other ladies in that class are feeling the same way about themselves. I know it doesn’t seem like it. It really doesn’t, but one of the things I’ve learned over the past two years is that we all have things we are really self conscious about. For me, it is my belly. Yes, the one that I uncover and shake around for hundreds of people to see several times a year. It was a huge moment for me the first time I was standing in front of one of those mirrors and my belly was jiggling all over the place while I tried to learn and shimmy and I giggled instead of wanting to cover myself up and go hide in the corner. I still have my moments, but I’m getting better primarily because of the love and support of the other women that I dance with of all shapes and sizes. If belly dance is what you want to do, don’t give up! If you are uncomfortable in your particular group after giving it a try, see if you can find another group with more diverse body types. It really has been a life changing experience for me, and I wish you all the best in your journey – whichever journey you choose!

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