Belly dancing is my favorite form of exercise. I first started back in ‘73 when I took lessons from a teacher named Rhea. But performing gave me terrible stage fright. The way I remedied this was to will possession by the Goddess. It was a process of self-hypnosis. Later I was to use this technique at the dentist to cancel out pain. The first step was to walk in a different way, than we were taught as girls; leaning back, hips thrust forward, and walk in such a way as to accentuate the hips. Back then, the usual belly dance costume was a coin-covered bra and belt, skirt and veil. Pantaloons could be added if you wanted your legs covered, but the belly was to show. Later, the look was more authentically Middle-Eastern and tribal, with a beledi dress made of black-dyed assuit, a netting fabric with pieces of silver colored metal beaten into it. That is what my teacher wore. I didn’t have the spare cash for assiut, so I fashion a cabaret style costume out of dyed tricot, and A belt or hip girdle I made out of a strip of canvas, and an old bra covered with fabric. Then came the laborious process of sewing the coins onto the bra and belt. I used dental floss, because it is tough. I trimmed the belt with black fringe. The coin belt and bra double as percussion instruments. When the dancer does the shimmy or any of the other moves that serve to accentuate the hip action, the coins jingle.
Belly dancing started thousands of years ago when the women of a group gathered around a member of their group, who was birthing a baby, and would mimic the movements of labor and delivery so that the woman in labor would know what to do. There was none of this silly lying flat with her feet in the stirrups business. No, the birthing mother squatted, leaning against one or two of her female relatives; her mother and a sister or aunt or cousin, and let Mother Gaea do all the work. I don’t know how the men caught wind of it, but somehow they decided that the movements were erotic, and they got melded with the folk dance steps of the Levantine to form what the French called La Danse du Ventre. Little Egypt popularized the dance, and then it hit the USA. Soccer moms adopted it as a new way to titillate their bored husbands. I started taking the classes because I was bored. I couldn’t find a job that utilized my BA degree in natural languages and there was nothing on TV worth watching, so I took the classes, which were in the evening, and introduced me to a whole new social network.
For me, belly dancing was liberation. It was at the very beginning of the Women’s Liberation movement. Belly dancing was a celebration of women as sensual beings. I had been brought up as a good little Lutheran girl from Minnesota. Lutherans aren’t as stringent as Baptists or Mormons, for example. I could play cards and dance, and oh, how I loved to dance. Some synods of Lutherans, such as the Missouri Synod and Wisconsin weren’t allowed to dance. My parents would rather I were on the brightly lit dance floor gyrating, than in a parked car making out. To be truthful, I completely agreed with them. I too would rather be gyrating on the dance floor than making out in a parked car. To this day, I would rather dance than have sex.
Back to la danse du ventre: When I was 6 months pregnant with my daughter, I attended a weekend workshop on this one dancer’s style of belly dance. And no, I did not got into premature labor because of it. I strictly limited myself to the easier movements. No flopping down on the floor for me, thank you very much. I came back home inspired, and I think that 3 1/2 months later it made my labor much easier than it otherwise would have been. When the day came that I was to give birth to my daughter, I expected to be in the labor room for a good 16-20 hours, but I was there for only maybe 2 hours. In all, instead of the 24-36 hours my mother went through with the 3 of us, I was in labor for only 9 hours, and slept through 3 of those. Skip forward about 18 months to TimeCon ‘83 in Palo Alto, CA. My friend Jasmine did nanny duty for me while I sat security duty at the Ames Space Center exhibit. She and my daughter Janvier chanced to go by a blood drive where a belly dance troupe was performing and luring people in to donate blood. I had dressed Janvier that day in a purple tunic, pantaloons, and my old coin belt, cut down to fit her snaky hips. I heard about this later when I had a lemonade with the leader of the troupe. Apparently Janvier joined right in with the belly dancers, and all of her movements were so right on that Nancy wondered who was this baby belly dancer? She wanted to meet her mother.
“Well, you’ve met her.” Children are great mimics. Mammals in general copy their parents’ movements. It’s how we learn. Janvier must’ve seen me practice, and she also copied the movements of this other belly dancer, just like it was the most natural thing in the world to her. It was. She grew up to have the perfect belly dancer’s build, shapely and athletic.