Wednesday, September 5, 2012


I have a friend whom I have known since we were children.  A few years ago, a mutual friend shared with me something the first one had told her, and that was that she had never been told she was pretty as a child.  Needless to say, we were both appalled.  Apparently, her mother thought that would be encouraging vanity, but that's not all that pretty means.

Every day after I finish brushing Alice's hair, she declares herself pretty.  I love that she does this.  I want her to know that she is the most beautiful girl who ever walked the earth.  If he's home, she'll go and show Daddy just how cute she is.  Why do I think she's so beautiful?  Well, it's not just that Jamie and Mindy are attractive parents with good genes, but that she freely tells us she loves us, likes to share, hugs her dolls with fierce affection, and is genuinely a kind little girl.

As a belly dance teacher, I hear women lamenting the various flaws they perceive, and it saddens me.  See, when I look at these women, I don't just see their height or size or hair color; I see the way their hips sway with feminine grace, their easy laughter when encouraging each other, the determination to get that 3/4 shimmy on the left hip as strong as on the right, the fullness of their womanliness shared through their movement.  And to me, that is amazingly beautiful.

I hope Alice never forgets that she is pretty, and that pretty goes far, far beyond her sky-blue eyes and soft, white skin.  I wish the women in my life could see themselves the way I see them.  Yes, I tell them, but I know my words are crowded out or just plain forgotten.  And yet, I know that these women, because they have belly dance, have a much more positive view of themselves than the average woman. 

And that's why I remind Alice every day that she is pretty.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Is It Enough...

Last week, a friend left a comment on my Facebook wall thanking me for raising a daughter who will never feel inadequate, and who is being taught that she is worthy.  Naturally, it warmed my heart and made me feel extremely smug (my very favorite feeling in all the world). But then this week happened, and I was reminded of the uphill battle I face.

Once again, or news cycle has women being forced to face the notion that men simply don't have a lot of faith in us.  Now, this isn't a commentary about abortion, but rather the things that people in our society say about women, and the messages that are being sent behind those statements.  When Mr. Akin made the now-famous statement about "legitimate rape," what he was really saying was that women cannot be trusted to know or understand what our own experiences are.  The underlying message was that women are just hysterical, and making mountains out of molehills.  Women are crazy, right?  We're guided exclusively by our emotions and aren't capable of having a rational thought in our pretty little heads.  Unless we're ugly.  Then we're allowed to be smart and logical.  Gotta throw the ugly girls a bone, right?

Of course, our overwhelming hysteria is not the only thing that one little "misspoken" phrase pointed out.  It also made clear that, on the off chance we're not just being melodramatic, we secretly enjoy having a man overpower us and force something that is supposed to be intimate upon us.  Because, ya know, we're also all vixens who cannot be resisted by the poor, unsuspecting male population.  They can't be held responsible for their actions!

Now, I know a LOT of really amazing men.  I'm not hear to bash the opposite gender.  After all, women perpetuate some of these insidious ideas as well.  It's our society as a whole that needs to recognize how invalid these sweeping generalizations are, and, more importantly, how dangerous they are.  Women need to speak up and out.  Women need to believe their own minds, and stand firm when they are challenged.  Women need to exercise their right to vote- a right that women before us literally died for.  Women need to acknowledge when they overreact, but understand that doesn't mean they were wrong.

How am I supposed to raise my daughter in this society?  Everywhere she is going to be inundated with a distorted view of reality, from the unnatural "beauty" of photoshop, to the male-dominated Congress.  Every day she is reminded of her physical beauty when I brush her hair, and when she smiles that vibrant smile at me.  Every day she is reminded of her intelligence when she counts, or figures out puzzles, or works the iPad better than I do.  Every day she is reminded of her responsibility too her family and community when she puts her toys away.  Every day I am reminded of her kind heart when she hugs me, or her stuffed animals, and tells us she loves us. 

But is it enough?  Her father and I are just two people.  We cannot shelter her from the ugliness of the world forever.  Will she be prepared?  Am I equipping her properly?

I pray that I am.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Feminine Beauty Revealed

Today I need to talk about something serious.  It is a topic that is often on my mind, but this past week, with the focus on negative language being used for women, it is especially heightened.

We often waggle our fingers at conservative Muslim cultures for placing women in burkas, and yet, in our American society, we are not very different.  It is often accepted that sexual responsibility be placed on the heads of women, whether it is to prevent pregnancy, to prevent rape, or even to spare boys from having naughty thoughts.

Thanks to male western orientalist harem fantasies, those of us in the belly dance world are often faced with this more than the average woman.  I often hear the myth that belly dance's purpose is to "turn the man on."  Those of us who study its history and culture academically have an uphill battle when it comes to educating a population that doesn't want to be educated.  And since people can post whatever they want on the internet without having to back it up with research, myths are continuously perpetuated.

However, we also have our own to contend with.  Some women are so offended by the overt sexualization our society has forced on belly dance that they have sought to make it completely asexual.  This is not the answer either.  See, we have been socialized from an early age to be ashamed of our sexuality.  Why?  Why are women so afraid of their feminine beauty?  We go back to the idea that it is our responsibility to keep our men on the straight and narrow.  Well, here's an idea: how about we get to be womanly and feminine and beautiful without fear or shame, and boys learn to practice self-control?

I actually don't care for performances in which dancers "act sexy."  In fact, I often tell my students that they do not have to sex it up, because what they are sharing is womanliness, and that is beautiful and sensual already.  I am female!  I have round hips and soft angles and am a glory to behold!  When I perform, I am not trying to get anyone hot and bothered; I am telling my audience that I love them, bringing a visual aspect to the music, having fun, expressing joy.  Am I pleasing to behold?  I hope so!  That is my goal.  I love my feminine beauty.  It is something to share, not something of which to be ashamed.  Does a rose hide behind its leaves?

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not advocating that women should all start running around in pasties and hot pants.  I remember watching "American Muslim" and one of the guys was describing the power his wife has because she wears her hijab.  He was saying she chooses who sees that aspect of her.  I thought that was interesting.  I still don't buy it completely, but I suspect there can be a happy medium.  It's what I shoot for.  I was raised here and the battle against body shame still rages within me, though much, much less loudly since finding a voice, a sense of empowerment through belly dance.  I intend to raise Alice to know that there is a time and place for everything, and that if she is comfortable with her own extensive beauty, she will know which is which.  I hope she never runs around in scanty clothes just as a desperate cry for attention as well as never feeling like she has to cover herself because she is embarrassed by her own body.

Women are beautiful, and in that beauty lies a certain power that petrifies many men.  And you know what it is that is so scary?  The idea that they must learn to be responsible for their own thoughts and actions.  I, for one, am so over it.  When I was sexually assaulted when I was 22, I wasn't wearing a push-up bra or spike heels.  But even if I had been, would that have made it my fault?  Of course not, though there are people, still, in our society who would say I would have carried some of the blame.  It's just an excuse so that boys don't have to be held responsible.  Really, that's not fair to anyone.  It's depriving boys the opportunity to be mature men, and it's depriving women the opportunity to be wholly, completely, wonderfully female, because we're forbidden the enjoyment of being beautiful.

I think it's time women allow themselves to be proud of their feminine beauty.  Without fear of nasty names.  Without fear of shame.  Without fear.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Alice Shimmies

Alice loves to help me practice, until is distracted by books....

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tribal Alice

In January, an event was held in NoHo called Tribal Dance Jam.  Basically, a bunch of  FatChanceBellyDance format dancers gather together, and, just as musicians like to do when they get together, jam.  Since American Tribal Style is group improvisation, everyone who knows the vocabulary can dance together.  I knew it would be fun partly because lots of my friends would be there, but also because it was a belly dance gathering without performances.

It's very rare that I get to go to shows without being part of the line-up, and because of this, I often leave Alice at home with the spousal unit since I can't care for/watch/save her from doing things detrimental to her health while I'm getting ready or performing.  I knew this would be the perfect thing for Alice, and I was not wrong.

Held at Remo Drums, it was in the back in a huge auditorium with the fabulous drummers of Twisted Gypsy on a platform leading the music.  The place was packed with women in cholis and 25 yard skirts, hair up with flower adornment.  Alice and I paid and she was sure she was in a sea of Mommies.  No sooner were we in the door, and she was hugging women who knew me, knew OF her, but whom she'd never met herself!  It was a wonderland of color, movement, and rhythm, and Alice could not have been more delighted.

I knew that Alice, being two, and, well, being Alice, would not sit demurely in the corner, so I had already anticipated not getting to dance myself.  She was so excited and I'm fairly certain I burned a thousand calories that day chasing her around.  However, she didn't really dance much, like I expected.  Rather, she made her home with the drummers, and thankfully most of them thought she was really cute, so let her bang on their drums.  Several commented that she had excellent rhythm (which she actually does!).  I'm not really sure why I didn't anticipate this.  Drew keeps his doumbeks out and accessible, and she regularly plays them, either with her hands, or by finding to objects to use as drumsticks.

I'm so pleased that Alice had fun, because I really want to raise her in an environment in which art is practiced, women are empowered, and community is celebrated.  This is definitely the case more often than not in the greater belly dance community, which is one of the reasons I love it so.  And particularly the tribal belly dance community honors the strength of women.  My daughter is going to grow up being a part of a tribe that spans the earth, a tribe that will be familiar to her even when she's never actually met members, a tribe that loves and welcomes her, and of whom many helped make her mine.

* Photos by Roger Hendrix