When I first moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2001, I got a job teaching belly dance at 24 HR Fitness. I had never taught dance before but I quickly fell into the role of fitness dance teacher. I needed a job, but didn’t know it would be sooo fun! Belly dance is alluring to people for its fluid beautiful lines and body conditioning potential, but it can also have a deeper purpose in its body awareness that can surprise and awaken people. I LOVED teaching it. It often felt like I was acting from a separate new part of myself. A wiser part of myself. I carved out technique exercises for the class, but the places I would lead them to through the dance and the things I found myself saying would surprise even me. It was as though I was speaking from a higher self. I experienced a high after classes that would last for hours. I felt like when I was teaching I could really truly see people and together we reached great natural heightened awareness. I remember looking out at the crowd of sweating smiling women who had been dancing for an hour and feeling such appreciation to be leading such beautiful people.
But then inevitably, as I was trying to pay San Francisco rent prices, I got another job. My accounting job. I hung onto the teaching for awhile, then I had Aleister and I had to make choices between belly dance and flamenco. Flamenco is much more challenging for my body type and so that desire won out and belly dancing mostly feel by the wayside for a number of years.
So of course recently as I saw my accounting job coming to an end, I wanted to seriously ask myself, “What do I want to do?” And very important to that: “What would be fun to do?” Any time I contemplated getting another accounting job or doing bookkeeping even on a freelance basis, my heart would sink. I’d log onto Craigslist and as soon as I clicked on Jobs/Finance, I would feel nauseous. Well, my body didn’t need to shout at me any longer. It was clear to me, whatever I do next it would not include a lateral move to accounting. It was time to get back to where I belonged.
Naturally I remembered my belly dance teaching days and realized I had several very good reasons to teach it.
Belly Dance is accessible to many people. One of the things I love most about belly dance is that it is so accessible to so many people. While it is true that it can take years to really master a movement, it also is true that it can take only one hour to learn a few movements and be dancing it, even if you don’t consider yourself a “dancer.” The movements may be rough and not as refined as you desire, but you can still get the satisfaction of dancing from the minute you begin learning.
Belly Dance allows you to appreciate where you are. There is no other dance form as forgiving and accepting of your body’s fitness as belly dance. It meets you where you are. Truly. Go ahead. Wiggle and shake your jiggly thighs. Bless them. You can see the movements best on thicker women anyway. I remember when I was 22 years old traveling the world, and I
spent some time in Egypt, dancing at a three star night club in Cairo. The dancers there are beautifully voluptuous and large by Western standards. By the time I had danced there for three weeks I was so slender from all the dancing that the patrons were regularly complaining about me. “We can see her ribs” they were saying. “Eat eat!” They chanted at me in Arabic. When I began there, I was a fun anomaly “We love America!” they cried. But they got tired of watching my skinny body move. Move over Skinny, there were “real” women to see. I never felt more appreciative of Arabic men as in the moment I realized I was in the wrong place.
This generality about belly dance has become a core value in my teaching as a whole: If you truly desire transformation, then love where you are now. By accepting and blessing and embracing all of yourself, you allow yourself to “catch up” to your expansion of all you desire to become. In belly dance class this philosophy is in plain sight: Bless those curves, bless them!
Belly Dance has props! One thing that is so fantastically fun about belly dance is there are about a million different props and things you can add to it to make it more fun, use different muscles, or simply switch it up: colorful veils! add rhythm with finger cymbals! and let’s not even talk about balancing things on our heads? swords, trays, candles . . .the list is endless.
It’s great for the core muscles. Let’s just speak to what everyone is thinking. Belly dance can have a tremendously thorough effect on your core muscle tone. No amount of pilates, yoga, or crunches can compare to the nuanced workout of belly dance. I remember when I was teaching at 24HR Fitness, there was a young woman there who was a bit on the pudgy side. Not really overweight, just sort of shapeless. As she came to class week after week I noticed that her clothing went from baggy tshirts and boys’ sweatpants to more slimming fitness gear. After a couple of months, she came up and gave me one of the most memorable testimonies I have ever had the pleasure of receiving, “My body has CHANGED!” she said to me with enthusiasm. “I’m telling you, I never used to have a waist. At all. No waist line. Just a block of body from my chest to my hips, but now there is a WAIST THERE!”
And finally, like I said from the beginning, teaching belly dance is fun! Teaching belly dance is only one piece of my new career. I also do creativity coaching, choreograph, and perform. But being a belly dance teacher is such a natural fit with all of that. I love having an influence on women’s lives and I love that belly dance can reach so many women. I love the non-exclusivity of it. It has a wide loving embrace. I love that women can come to my class and love themselves, every part. Dance has the power to transform the way we think about ourselves. Physical movement can usher the internal movement of our minds and spirits – providing new resources through metaphor. The body has its messages and wisdom to impart. I can only hope to provide a space for those who want to
Holly is a full-time dancer, choreographer, coach, and mom living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She currently teaches weekly BellyDance for Mamas classes in Oakland and Berkeley. Click here to find out more about BellyDance for Mamas classes.