I am a daughter of empowerment, but I am still growing in my understanding of the concept. It has become so overused and everyday that its own power and punch have become weak and trite. Is there a beginning, middle and end to empowerment? Does one cycle through a process and come out the other side somehow newly whole, strong and “empowered”?
On Saturday, we had the wonderful opportunity to perform in front of an estimated 700 attendees at the 27th Annual Empowering Women of Color Conference at UC Berkeley. We fully enjoyed the conference and got a lot out of the workshops, speakers and the conversations we engaged in throughout the day. We are thrilled our performance was so well-received, but we wonder what images and stereotypes surfaced when people found out that bellydance was part of the entertainment lineup. Is there a contradiction for some with empowerment and bellydance? Did the image of the slight, fair, seductive dancer gyrating for a male gaze come to mind?
When Tammy and I dance together, we flaunt our rejection of stereotypes about the dance and who has access to the dance. We are a spectacle. Big-bellied. Black women. Loving every inch of our bodies. Fully present. Jiggling, shaking and shimmying synchronicity. Heads held high. Fierce technique. Expressing our secrets, passion and joy. How dare we? To shimmy our hearts out and dance our truth on a stage in front of hundreds of sisters of every hue, age, size and shape is an empowered homecoming. That is empowerment that flies in the face of the image preferred by American media and culture.
The theme of this year’s conference strongly resonated with us: “A Holistic Approach: Justice, Access & Healing.” At Your Body Raks, we know that there needs to be a holistic approach in how we see our own wellness. We celebrate body diversity and dance at every size, age and ability. Through bellydance we strive to inspire women and girls to live lives directed by a sense of agency about their health, well-being and community. Empowerment indeed.