And I’m Free

I was about four years old when I settled upon my career choice: I was going to be a bellydancer. Many, many people were convinced that I must’ve meant BALLET dancer, but I assure you I did not. I had seen some footage of bellydancers on PBS and found myself completely mesmerized by their sensuous grace. And that sensuous grace was for me. I decided on the spot: That’s what I wanted. I wanted to be lithe and smiling and let my hips undulate to hypnotic drumbeats. I didn’t dance much on my own, or really gravitate toward physical activity, but it didn’t matter. My four-year-old mind fixated, and for a long time there was no arguing with me.

But I grew, and eventually puberty hit, and I gained a bunch of weight and sprouted a bunch of zits and realized exactly how klutzy I could be. I started to purposely avoid physical activities, especially anything that required coordination and fluidity of movement. I retreated into my brain, and didn’t come out until I’d turned 23 … at which point I finally began to exercise regularly. Albeit grudgingly. I’ve explored my physical side, and now I love biking and dancing and feeling my muscles at work. But I still struggle to love and accept my body as a whole.

Looking back, I wonder if my frank admiration of those bellydancers wasn’t a portent of things to come. Is it possible that, even at four years old, I knew that I’d feel awkward and unhappy in my own body as an adult? Did I simply covet agility and beauty, or could I sense that those women felt free and happy in their physical forms … and know that such freedom and happiness was hard to come by?

Many bellydancers have actual bellies, pronounced pooches that roll and ripple and lend their owners nothing short of mouth-watering sensuality. They are not ashamed of their non-six-packs. On the contrary, they embrace their curves, flaunt them. Many bellydancers are rail-thin, and lack the lush figures that many associate with this dance form. But they are not ashamed of their slenderness, and they sway and twirl and tantalize us just as skillfully as their curvy counterparts.

I have never taken a bellydancing class. Friends who have done inform me that even a novice can get a taste of that liberating body-acceptance, can touch that freedom. But I am loathe to take my belly out for a spin. I have a really hard time with coordinated moves and get pretty anxious trying to decipher choreography.

But I’ll keep my eyes peeled for some other activity that might do it for me. Because I want to feel free and happy in my physical form. And I’m getting closer all the time …

All images via VelvetJAM’s bellydance set.

Originally posted 2009-04-06 06:04:00.

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35 Responses to “And I’m Free”

  1. Nicole

    You should totally try a belly dancing exercise video! I have one and love it. You can do it in the comfort of your own home and it really is a good work out.

  2. Christina Lee

    This is how I was about cheerleading-the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders to be exact-and I wonder, did I want to be a well-toned, teeny shorts, bare stomach sexpot? I also LOVED football (and still do) at a very young age and so I think this just happend to be about balancing my tomboy and feminine sides….

  3. Couture Allure Vintage Fashion

    There is also a belly dancing exercise show called “Shimmy” on the FitTV channel. Check it out!

  4. frรถken lila

    you should really give the belly dancing a try. the whole coordinating your arms and legs thing is hard in the beginning (i tell you, i have huge issues with coordination and everything that involves differentiating between left and right), but the training will make it easier after only a few weeks, plus training your coordination is actually good for your brain! it really is a great form of excercise and i miss it a lot..

  5. Kate Coveny Hood

    It should be easy enough to find a class. Belly dancing is huge now. And really – gyms are offering almost anything these days – POLE DANCING even!

  6. Samantha

    Ever thought about fencing? I could talk to you ad nauseum about it, but I’ll just say that I’ve been fencing for 17 years and I love it beyond reason. It’s fun, good exercise, and something that anyone, regardless of shape, size, age, ANYTHING, can learn to do. And you don’t have to show off your belly. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Cupcakes and Cashmere

    what an insightful 4 year old! and i think next time a belly dancing class pops up in your area, you owe it to yourself to attend!

  8. sallymandy

    Sal, I have the same non-love of my belly pooch. But I have to smile; there must be something in the air, because last night I was inspired to post this thought for the day on my blog: “Remember who you wanted to be.”

    Happy Monday.

  9. bekster

    Oh! You sound just like me. When I was around 4 I wanted to be a figure skater (that was a Winter Olympics year), although I couldn’t (and still can’t) ice skate at all. (I also wanted to be a jazz and/or rock singer, which I suppose is still a possibility.) ๐Ÿ™‚ I also grew up completely non-athletic. When I was 5 or 6, I had the option of taking either ballet or piano lessons, and I went for piano. I have never regretted this choice, as my music training has been of such use and enjoyment to be, BUT now that I am in my early/mid-20s, I am starting to get serious about taking dance lessons (for the fun and the exercise… I certainly need it for health, if not for looks). At least I’m seriously thinking about it. However, I also am intimidated by the thought of figuring out choreography. I do fine shakin’ it out to a rock band, but I am incredibly clumsy with purposeful movements. Still, I’m thinking of maybe doing tap or some kind of Fred Astaire-esque dance. If I can only find something that isn’t too expensive…

    As for the belly dancing, I say GO FOR IT! (Although I can certainly understand your reluctance.)

    BTW, my e-mail is if you want to chat.

  10. Sheila

    I’m hopelessly uncoordinated and I was terrified to do a belly-dancing class…but I loved it! It’s a great workout for your core.

    Fencing is an excellent workout as well, and like martial arts (which I do: aikido), it emphasises a mental discipline as well as physical.

    Try something new, Sal! You can do it!

  11. Herbee

    You should try (hoola) hooping! Parts of it are very similar to belly dancing and a lot of people incorporate belly dance moves into hooping. I’ve been hooping for almost a year and it definately makes me feel free and centered and brings me much joy.
    The hoops are NOT the kind you buy in Walmart’s toy aisle! I make my own hoops, but you can buy them online in various places. They are larger, both in diameter and weight.
    Here’s a video (this is not me!) of an excellent example of hoop dance.
    (sorry, I can’t figure out how to make that link click-able!)

  12. Christa Nicole

    Alright Sal, here’s the deal: you find a beginner’s bellydancing class up there in Minneapolis, I’ll find one here in Austin. The pursuit for self-appreciation and sexiness can be shared cross-country! Whee!

  13. Vanessa

    The most experience I have with bellydancing has been misguided workouts on OnDemand (love). They were misguided because I tried to convince myself that if I followed along with beginner’s Bellydance Cardio Awesome Fat-Burning Awesome Fun Blast, I would be able to actually… follow along. Nope. Of all things, I think it’s my lack of coordination that would keep me from bellydancing, not that I’ve really reached a point where I’d be okay with showing my ample tummy to a bunch of strangers. I’d be more embarrassed about taking a jingly tumble onto my face.

  14. Gladys

    I’m going to ring in with take the classes. I loved it and I’m a total goon when it comes too anything athletic or arobic. I loved it because it taught me how to control the movement of my muscles.

  15. K.Line

    Belly dancing is so fun and it’s amazing exercise! (Only challenge is you need to be able to follow choreography – not my strong suit.

  16. WendyB

    Took a bellydancing class once. Felt dumb. Back to regular cardio.

  17. Kayleigh

    Great post, as usual ๐Ÿ˜€

    You know what book you might like, a book that might resonate with you? It’s called “The Woman’s Belly Book” — check it out at Amazon. I found it, to borrow your phrase, liberating ๐Ÿ™‚

    And you should try belly dancing, even if you just get a DVD and close the shades and kick out Husband Mike (tho he may want to stick around, wink, wink)

  18. Kira Fashion

    Its an amazind dance!
    So rich ๐Ÿ™‚

    I am planning to get back to ballet, I am so excited!

  19. lisa

    Sal, go for it! Try a beginners belly dancing class. 4 or 5 years ago I thought I was too much of a sedentary uncoordinated klutz to do something like salsa. I signed up for a beginners class and haven’t looked back. It’s so much fun.

  20. La Belette Rouge

    I went to a belly dancing class one time and I felt tragically uncoordinated. I did take fencing lessons because I LOVE the outfit and my fencing coach tried to talk me into taking yoga. He thought I needed to mellow out before I put a saber in my hands.

  21. The Seeker

    Sal, you should totally try a bellydancing!!!
    That will tottaly set you free!!!!



  22. Nina (femme rationale)

    i admire belly dancers, too. not only the way they move but how confident they are. i’ve never tried belly dancing but i hear it’s a great workout and self esteem booster. so is pole dancing, apparently. but that may be an LA thing. haha

  23. seenatsave

    So cute — I can just imagine a bunch of adults thinking (and hoping) you said “ballet” dancer.

    You should take dance/fitness classes at The Firm in Minneapolis. I don’t like exercising either but I loved The Firm when I lived there!

  24. Summer

    Ya,i think Nicole is right.For a first time like you who want to dance a belly dancing.You must buy a video tape of basic belly dancing.That will help you a lot,even if your just at home.;D
    That will be great for you,have a great day friend.;D

  25. Tess M.

    You should definitely try belly dancing. I started as a freshman in college and fell in love. I started ballet at age 4 and had been dancing ever since but had never felt as good as when I was in a belly dance rehearsal. I think part of the reason was because of how it was introduced to me. The instructor explained that one of the origins came form areas of the middle east where women stayed in one part of the house and men in another. The women would dance together just celebrating friends, family, and their own bodies. I don’t think I’ll ever stop belly dancing. My good friend and roommate who you know as saturdayjane belly dances with me too.

  26. saturdayjane

    Haha, like Tess said, I’m also a bellydancer! Not a GOOD bellydancer, which I think is the best part of it.

    For bellydance, all you really need are some How-To Youtube videos and the willingness to have some fun. In our bellydance club on campus, we’ve really emphasized that belly is an art created BY women FOR women, that it isn’t about appearing sexy for a man, it’s all about ladies enjoying the sensuality of their own bodies.

    In that way, it’s an absolutely wonderful way to build some confidence. ๐Ÿ™‚ I really suggest you find some YouTube how-tos and play around with it on your own.

  27. Shawn

    I have belly dancers that rent my theatre one night a week—they do tribal style, and I keep encouraging them to do a show—cause I want to see it!!

  28. Solo

    Go for what you really wanted to do.;D
    Love your post as always.;D

  29. Sharon Rose

    I keep thinking I might try yoga, but not sure if I’m just too lazy, LOL!


    pooches that roll and ripples are considered sexy in some cultures…where do we apply for the visas Sal???

  31. Melissa de la Fuente

    Oh, sweet, lovely Sal…I so hope you take a class one day. I bet you will have a wonderful time! And I love that your little 4 year old self was set and determined to be a belldancer, that is just awesome! When my little girl was 4, she wanted to be a ninja/farmer! ๐Ÿ™‚

  32. CrankyOtter


    You won’t regret it! I had a yoga instructor for a while who had been a bellydancing teacher and got me moving my decidedly apple shaped tum in some bellydancing moves. One is to plant your feet shoulder width apart and make a sideways eight with your hips (also and infinity sign). Move your right hip forward and out to the side and back then do the crossover and lead your left hip forward and left, curving it around. repeat. then start moving your hips up and down to exaggerate your womanly hips. I have none and even I could rock it.

    Me? I wanted to be a linguist at 4. I can say “sorry, all the first class seats are sold out” in greek. ah well!

  33. tis serendipity

    Hey you should totally give it a try! =) I mean if it was a childhood dream… don’t we all want to live out our childhood dreams? Though you might feel you’re not coordinated enough, you really won’t know till you give it a try and it might actually be fun for you.

  34. Nadine

    You really really have to do it. It will be the best thing in the world.

  35. rubybastille

    Hi! I got linked here by Jessica/Saturday Jane, because we’re both in a belly dance club and she posted about it. The club has been one of my favorite parts of college, and I wound up being its president for the last two years. I learned pretty much all I know from the last president, but there are also a whole lot of training videos (or at least clips) on YouTube, and I would guess the full DVDs can be rented.