Discovering Bellydance, Discovering Myself

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Etang's blog headshotI did not grow up with dance. In fact, I grew up self-conscious of the way I moved in the world. I was a fat biracial black girl raised in a white family. I took up too much space and not enough space. I grew up receiving a lot of unwanted attention for my full, developed body. I thought I was just a body. I tried to hide in oversized clothing. Though I was a big girl, I tried to move like I was tiny. Visible invisibility or was it invisible visibility? From my teen years through most of my twenties, dance for me consisted of bopping my head to music and shuffling my feet back and forth in an awkward two-step. The musicality gene did not make its way to me. I was generally off beat and forever behind the music. I was so not a dancer. You know that saying, “dance like no one is watching”? Well, for me everyone was watching, and I was watching. I could not let go and enjoy movement. I could not release what I thought I looked like to other people. I envied women who danced. They closed their eyes grooving to an internal rhythm. They were attractive to me. I wanted to be them. I thought they possessed a powerful secret that was out of my reach. I wanted to know their secret.

Etang as a baby dancer in her 2nd solo

In 2001, when I was 29, I stumbled upon a bellydance class taught by Asata Iman. I never sought out bellydance, bellydance found me. I was interested in North African history and culture, but I had very little knowledge of the dance. I just knew that I was not the stereotypical image of a bellydancer at all. A woman on a local e-mail list announced that Asata was teaching a class in Albany geared for full-figured women. I went and tried it out only because I felt safe knowing there would be other women like me. I took that step. I don’t know if I would have stepped into the class without that comfort. In the routine of the class, something sparked for me. I looked forward to going each week and signed up for an additional class. I had spent my entire life disconnecting from my body. Here I was forced to feel the music and feel the movements of my body. At 29, I was a baby dancer. Learning choreography was over my head, and I often got my left and right mixed up and just forget about spins. But those things did not matter. I was learning to connect to myself and unlock my own power, my own secret. I found myself when I relaxed into a tuck, opened my arms and raised my chest. I found myself when I sunk into a hip drop framing my hip. I found myself when my hips swayed and rotated in an unending figure 8. I found myself when I grounded into a strong, powerful shimmy. There’s nothing invisible here. I took my space to account for my whole luscious self.

In the eleven years that have passed since I walked into my first bellydance class, I have claimed the identity of dancer for myself. I am still conscious of an audience when I dance, but it is totally flipped. When I dance now, I perform. I play to the audience, connect, share my joy, tease and flirt. I see them, and they see me. I embrace my visibility. When I tell people that I am a bellydancer, I see their wonder and curiosity. I think they want to know my secret.

We invite you to take that step and join us in our classes. We are working intentionally to create a warm, welcoming community of women. We want to dance with you! Join us and discover your own secret.

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