Here's a peek at five common concerns about the dance that women often struggle with as they attempt to come to terms with the essence of belly dance.
*** Concern: I'm not very beautiful and exotic looking.
Let's not kid ourselves; being attractive by a society's standards is a plus no matter what you do! But because belly dance embraces the uniqueness of each woman, this is much less of an issue than you might imagine. Moving well and with confidence IS beautiful, and transcends the merely physical aspects of beauty.
It is true that the "classic" belly dancer look is thought of by many as the smoky eyed, olive skinned woman with cascading raven tresses and enough gold jewelry on to open her own mall kiosk. But many of the world's greatest belly dancers do not at all fit this mold. So embrace your individuality. Striving to imitate others or to replicate rigid stereotypes is far less interesting, and less empowering.
*** Concern: I'm not young enough to be a belly dancer.
The gentle movement of belly dance is an ideal activity for all ages. Even older women who have no dance background often have a special grace of movement that comes from comfort and experience with their own bodies, and from a sense of self-confidence. If you want to shake a hip for exercise and fun, age is nothing to concern yourself about.
If you do have your sights set on dancing professionally, some venues do prefer a youthful look. In many cases, however, skill, style and an overall pleasing presentation are more important factors. And, as an alternative to the traditional nightclubs you might be imagining, you can also strut your stuff in festivals, showcases, and perhaps as part of a performing troupe.
*** Concern: It's a dance of seduction; I'll have to flirt with men
Belly dance aims to be sensual, not sexual. There are no poles to swing around or lap dances involved, trust me. While some light hearted flirtation with the audience may be part of a belly dancer's act, the vast majority of belly dancers are not interested in seducing anyone.
What they are there to do is enchant and mesmerize a varied audience. It is a society's rather body-phobic conditioning that is the source of confusion here. That, and the fact that Middle Eastern dance movement is unusual to Western eyes can make it seem suspect.
*** Concern: I'll have to show a lot of skin
For dancing at home and at dance class, you don't need to show anything you don't want to, including your belly. Many students choose to wear a full skirt or body unitard and a hip scarf adorned with coins, fringe or beads; this is a great way to look the part without baring your belly if you'd rather not.
For public dancing, how revealing your costume is depends on the circumstance, the style of belly dancing you choose to do, and your own preferences. The costuming for some tribal and folkloric styles, and even some Egyptian and nightclub dancing, is extremely modest and does not bare the torso whatsoever.
*** Concern: People will think I'm a show-off
Not necessarily! And probably not unless that's what they'd also think of a ballet dancer, a gymnast, a fashion model, or a sunbather. And at least belly dancing doesn't give you skin cancer! Many dancers deal with this issue by making it a point to chat with family and friends about the many reasons they choose to dance… from the challenge of learning new combinations, to the sheer joy of being moved by rhythm.
Freeing ourselves of these anxieties and limiting ideas about belly dance, as we grow as dancers, makes room for the joyful, creative spirit of our dance! And that's a goal worthy of the dance artist in us all!