A meditation on body love.

I’ve never been a small person, in any dimension.

I’m tall and muscular, not petite or skinny. My shoulders are broad, and I don’t fit in a lot of clothing made for women. My arms and legs are long; when I buy tailored shirts or long-sleeve cholis, sometimes they barely cover my elbows. And skinny jeans?  Forget it. They barely fit over my calves. I take up space.

Bracelets made for dancers’ upper arms? Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I can wear them on my forearms.  I’m not kidding.  I’ve seen my troupemates wear the same bracelet on their biceps that I wear as a bangle.

Sometimes I find this discouraging, but this is how I’m built. I’ll never be petite.

In my non-dance life, I’ve been going to a truly wonderful gym with truly wonderful trainers and community, and I’ve been lifting heavy things and building muscle. Just this week, I deadlifted my own bodyweight (and trust me, that’s a significant number).

And this morning, despite the number on the scale, I’m grateful that I have a strong body, a reasonably flexible body.  Not all of us are so lucky.

Today, I celebrate my ability to lift heavy things, shake my shoulders and hips, wear and shimmy with two skirts with ease, build a hair garden of epic proportions and not have it look out of place. Today I celebrate that ATS® looks good on my body, just as it looks good on every other body around the world.

The hair garden of epic proportions. Backstage at TF 15.

The hair garden of epic proportions. Backstage at TF 15.

What do you celebrate about your body today?

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We are all “real” bellydancers.

So, I’ve joined a gym. I go through this phase from time to time, where I’m feeling like I’m not in touch with my body, not moving in the ways I want to be moving, not feeling like I’m as strong as I’d like to be.  And it’s good!  I’m delightfully sore all the time, and I’m enjoying the way my body is changing and getting stronger.

One thing I love about the gym I just joined is that they explicitly celebrate bodies of all shapes and sizes. No matter where you are on your fitness journey, they’re happy to see you exercising, getting strong, moving your body.  They don’t shame you or tell you you’re overweight, or not good enough; they just push you to be better. It’s a really positive (and butt-kicking!) experience to go there.  There’s no competition except with yourself, and the trainers are loving and patient.

When dance class is good, it’s the same way. There are natural variations in our sizes, shapes, and flexibility levels, and there are variations from day to day, and we all need to work with the bodies we’re given today, in this moment.  We all strive to be more skilled and expressive, but the only real competition is with ourselves.  Not all of us can do a back bend or floorwork, or hold a plank for five minutes, or do ten burpees in a row, and that’s okay.  We don’t have to match someone else’s arbitrary standard of thinness or flexibility.

The nature of ATS® is that it works on many different bodies.  The standard costume and the new Bessie skirt look good on bodies of many different shapes and sizes.  (Go check out the super cute fashion show to see the new line in action!)  And because the costume is flattering on so many different shapes, we get to focus on the joy of building community and creating art.

Audiences, too, are inspired by seeing dancers of different shapes and sizes and ages and races and whatever – all celebrating their bodies moving together. They love witnessing a social, community-based experience that is welcoming and expansive.

This is not a call for sloppy technique, however.  Work your body. Get stronger and more flexible. Practice, and come to class, so you can execute movements with skill and precision, and be a better dance partner.

It is a call to love your body where it’s at, today.  That will let you focus on the artistry and community you’re engaging with.  Build yourself up, and build up your dance partners.