I Quit Belly Dance
It dawned on me last month that I can no longer call myself a professional belly dancer. After 10 years, my interest in this unusual and misunderstood hobby has slowly waned to the point where I think it’s more correct to say “I was” than “I am.”
So why the change? Well, as with most things in my life, it’s a winding, odd story. I’ve always been a very active person, and thrive on challenging my body to do new and crazy things. I’ve played almost every team sport, done sword fighting with 16th century Italian rapiers, thrown grown men around in martial arts, practiced “zipping my ribs in” in countless forms of dance, worked as a personal trainer, and continued to teach and perform belly dance throughout a good chunk of it. I remember thinking to myself when I started, “Well, we’ll see how long this lasts,” because I know that my tastes can be extremely fickle. In fact, I’ve surprised myself with how long belly dance was an essential component of my life, and how many important decisions flowed from my passion for it.
Belly dance became my outlet to express a truly vulnerable, beautiful side of myself that didn’t crave the strength and challenge so much as to create art. There are many schools of thought in the industry, but I think at this point I’m qualified to say: Being an authentic, top-notch belly dance performer means delving into the culture and history behind the music, and bringing that forward to the audience through the lens of your lived experience. You have to tear yourself open to let something genuine flow out, and learning to do so is a complicated, often introspective process. My students would regularly tell me that after my advanced class they were equally mentally and physically exhausted, from both the technical precision of the work and the need to be fully present as a performer. It certainly is a tall order, but when I was able to bring all the pieces together in concert it was one of the more pure, fulfilling avenues of self-expression I’ve experienced.
Yet sadly, there are too few opportunities to reach this level of pure expression. Opportunities to compose and perform an interesting choreography, work on polishing individual moves, or get some exercise are plentiful when it comes to belly dance, and that’s not a bad thing. For me though, it is not enough any more. I was happiest with a full live band, my heart filled to the brim by my favorite classic Egyptian music, showing an enraptured audience something of who I am and my life experience. Lately it’s been too long between those kind of opportunities to keep me engaged, pushing the envelope, practicing and polishing my form. I still listen to the music sometimes, and find myself as consumed by emotions as ever, but not inspired to work on a piece for performance.
That kind of performing also paired well with the path of self-discovery I took in my late teens/early-20s. During that time, I was extremely self-reflective and introspective while I actively tried to figure out who I was (still haven’t figured that one out yet, but I’m letting unfold now instead of chasing). For a physical person like me, having a bodily avenue of expressing and exploring that process of maturation was wonderful. Perhaps even inevitable! Now in my mid-20s I’m finding myself at a place where I want even more physical challenge and artistic expression, but maybe a touch less tearing myself open emotionally. Having learned a lot about myself, I’m somewhat done navel-gazing for the time being, and I’m interested in building–whether it’s a business to one day support myself, or the slow, lengthy training to fly through the air on a trapeze.
I guess what I’m saying is, I ran off to join the circus (school) last year and it’s proven extremely addictive. I’m sure there will be more to come on that front very soon!