“Join me in bellydance class. It’s fun!” That’s my usual invitation to our weekly classes. Then, often with a coy smile, the reasons a woman gives for her hesitation come flowing: I am too shy to dance in public, especially bellydance. I have two left feet. I don’t look like a bellydancer. My body doesn’t move that way. I need to lose ten pounds before I even think about doing anything physical in public. I am afraid that I’ll make a fool out of myself. I don’t want people seeing me flailing and failing. I don’t want to do this alone. I’m too old. I’m too fat. I’m too skinny. I’m too busy. I’m too busty. I have no hips. I am just plain scared.
I get it. The bellydance stereotype is daunting, even when the antithesis of that image is staring you in the face with an invitation to try it on for size. From its arrival to the United States in 1893 to the modern-day depictions in movies like Charlie’s Angels, the dance has been presented as the purview of women with unattainable model-like figures who are using bellydance to seduce men. What sane woman wants to deal with that hot mess? And then there is real life—a woman’s personal experience of being repeatedly shut down, shut out and made invisible.
The reasons are real and are not going away any time soon. But here’s a more important consideration: How do we begin to get past these barriers so that we can grow as women into our best selves? A good friend of mine recently reminded me that the world will give you 99 reasons to have anxieties about whatever is going on in your life. But a greater spirit will give you one good reason—the one that really matters—to move you forward, anyway.
A round of high-fives at the end of our Monday night class and the squeals of joy after Wednesday’s session let me know that that spirit was in the room and on the dance floor. After a few weeks of working on shimmies, snake arms and other moves, the women tried a short choreography. For many, getting the moves down is one thing, but putting the steps together into a recognizable presentation would be enough to send them running for the hills. Not these women. We were a little shaky at first. Words or movements that made the steps click in the body of one woman didn’t work for another. Eventually, we all arrived to the same destination. Joy! The joy of enjoying one’s body, the joy of sharing a sense of triumph with a community women and joy for its own simple sake is reason enough.
So consider celebrating International Women’s Day today by boldly tapping into your joy! Do whatever makes you happy and serve as an example of a fully realized woman for the countless number of young girls—not to mention women your own age and older!—looking for role models of liberation. And maybe try something new, like putting a bellydance class on your calendar next week. See you in class!