We have talked previously about how important your eyes are in dance. We scratched the surface on a topic I feel strongly about – how we look at ourselves. How we see ourselves is often not the same reflection that looks back at us in the mirror.
Dance class provides an amazing space where we can exist within our bodies. We can feel beautiful, capable and sometimes also a bit awkward. We will look in the mirror to check the shape and size of the movement that we are doing. This is when the change can happen. This is when sometimes the “real” world starts to invade our dance space. To let the views that we have been told throughout our lives come in and shade the beautiful feelings being created by our dancing.
When I can see it happening, I will talk about it in class. We will talk about how we, as women, are encouraged to view our bodies as bigger than they are (“Top diet tips” / “Best exercises to fight fat fast”) and to take up less emotional space (“Don’t get so upset about it”). I know how hard it is to fight these views. I know how they are latched onto our feelings of self-worth and how they fight to stay in place by making everything else seem less appealing. They need us to stay in our comfort zone because that is where they have power.
How do you get around it?
When it happens in class, I encourage the dancers to do 2 things.
First, we take all those views and thoughts and put them in an imaginary basket outside the studio door. I let the dancers know that the thoughts will still be there if they want them after class, but for now, they don’t need them. They’re also welcome to leave the thoughts there and not pick them up again. Only they will know they’re not carrying them any more.
Next, I ask them to only look at their shape in the mirror. Not to look at themselves, their hair, their body – looking harder won’t make the “real” world thoughts go away. But rather to look at their shape and at the movement they are trying to make.
The power in dancing and especially in belly dancing is in the shapes we make with our bodies. We don’t need to be contortion artists to make amazing shapes. Every dancer who comes out onto the floor finds a shape where they feel good. Sometimes it takes a few classes, or a few terms, or a few years before they realise that it’s happening, but it does.
It could be something as simple as standing in “home” position, or maybe it’s a particular movement that creates a shape you like. My current one is the one in the image below.
Where to from here?
Good question. I think something that is possibly the most difficult to deal with is that we never really banish this demon.
When learn a new move, we forget that they will look smaller than we want or take way longer to complete than we think they will.
Which is totally ok.
We need to remember to go easy on ourselves. We don’t have to love our bodies (although it would be great if we did), but we do need to give them a break. Love them for what they have done for us and for what they will do for us when we give them a chance.
It’s time to change our internal narrative. Instead of thinking of ourselves as less and bigger, let’s think of ourselves as able and capable.
It’s only a small change, but an important one.
Check out what it’s like in an APB Class or workshop. You never know, we may end up having just this discussion.