I had a fun, new, and most unusual—for me--experience this weekend. My daughter-in-law Hiroko invited me to a performance of her belly dance class. That’s right. Belly dance!
The studio where she takes belly dance lessons is Dance Life Studio & Fitness, in Madison, owned and managed by Arielle Juliette. The performance—a sort of dance recital for adults—was a glorious celebration of music, movement and womanhood.
|Photo: Ilyafarfell/Wikimedia Commons|
What I was first surprised about was the audience. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but there was a full house/standing room only turnout of family and friends of the dancers. Ranging from families with babies and toddlers to seniors of all stripes, the audience was lively and appreciative of the novice dancers and their performances.
What I was even more surprised about were the belly dancers. These were not exclusively your stereotypically young, lithe, sexy women. The performers were women of all ages and all body shapes. And I mean all… One man in the audience urged his young son to “sit quiet and watch grandma dance.”
While some of the women had fit tummies, a significant number of them surprised me by their willingness to let the audience see them with their midriffs exposed. I found it a bit disconcerting at first. Why would they do that? Then as I watched their pride and enjoyment at showing what they had accomplished during their dance lessons, I got it. This wasn’t about showing off your body—or not showing—it was about celebrating a lifestyle that allowed them to work at being fit while have fun and being sensuous.
And yes, the women were sensuous, regardless of their age or body shape. Regardless of how little or much they wore. In fact, some of the costumes showed very little skin. But they all sparkled and bangled.
According to ethnomusicologist Lucy Pappas in her article, “The Forbidden Dance,” belly dance—which in Arabic is called Raks Sharqi, meaning "Oriental Dance"—was a form of Goddess worship in ancient days, and began as a ritual for childbirth preparation. Ms. Pappas says that before Islam and Christianity came into existence, sex and childbirth was a sacred part of Middle Eastern worship of the Mother Goddess. In ancient matriarchal societies bellydancing was performed by women for women.
I would like to say to all the women who put on the gauzy costumes and bangles and put themselves out in front of a live audience to shimmy and show off their moves, “You go, girl!” I love that they have embraced their passion, worked hard to accomplish something that is most difficult, and then put on a show and invited the rest of us to come and join in the celebration.
You go, girl!