Friday, May 24, 2013

Fears and Anxieties of the Plus Size Dancer Addressed

Hello out there in Bellydance Land! So I have a special topic to cover that is brought up a lot regarding bellydancing. It is ranked up there among the top questions of would-be and beginning bellydancers, and I felt that I should talk about this to help ease concerns, hesitations, fears, and any anxieties. Not to mention that this topic is close to my heart as well.

Plus size bellydancers!

That’s right! This is for all those who are of the plus size category because many of us tend to feel very overshadowed or isolated in some aspect because a lot of people have this idea of what a bellydancer should look like and not what a bellydancer is. I have touched on this topic briefly in one of my earlier posts and thought it would be a good idea to go more into depth about it. This is not only to help educate, but to empower as well.

For plus sized dancers, it is very easy for us to get discouraged in learning this dance form. It is not just because most, if not all, of the students we may be learning with have the “ideal” body type of a bellydancer, which does tend to play one’s psyche. It also has to do with how difficult it is to even find the proper clothing for our size for performances or, in some cases, practice wear. It is almost like pouring lemon juice over a wound. Those of us in the plus size category are looking to feel empowered when we get involved in bellydancing because this dance does help you feel more in tuned with yourself and enjoy an art form that has been around for quite a long time (longer than most dances such as ballet). Many plus sized dancers end up discouraged at one point (or many) and this shouldn’t be the case. Quite honestly, it shouldn’t happen at all. Each dancer is unique and has a lot to gain from this dance. Regardless of what insecurities you may have about yourself, this dance is meant to teach you more about yourself that you may have not have known before. Especially when it comes to your own outlook on your attitude and how you perceive yourself.

One of the biggest issues that plus size bellydancers have is finding proper performance or practice wear. At this point in time, many vendors who sell costuming and practice wear don’t carry anything for the plus size women. Of if they do, they only go up to the lower end of the plus size category. Even those vendors out there that may sell something labeled as an extra-large turns out to be something that runs on the smaller size. Meaning that most of the time it’s a misses extra-large, not a woman’s extra-large. So it leaves a lot of us scrambling to find something that works. Most of the time though, learning how to sew becomes a valuable skill.

The quantity and quality of the costuming also depends on what style of bellydance you are learning. The cabaret style dancing has fewer options for plus size dancers compared to costuming that can be found for tribal style dancing. Because of the limited option for plus size dancers, this is why learning how to sew is encouraged. Simplicity has a number of patterns for plus sizes available for renaissance fair use to tribal. They also have patterns that are close to the cabaret and bollywood look. These patterns you can tweak to make it work for the styles of cabaret and bollywood you are wanting. There are other patterns you can purchase from vendors that are not commercially sold (like the Simplicity Brand) which can be found on some of the bellydance vendors websites, but be advised that these can be a hit and miss in being the correct advertised sizes. Some do claim to be for a woman’s size and end up running close to a misses size. It is advisable to make a mock costume piece with the pattern using cheap material, try it on and then make notes when you go to make the final piece. Last thing you want to do is spend a few hours making a full costume with your desired material only to find that it won’t fit and you don’t have time to fix it before a performance.

Another issue that many dancers, not just those who are plus sized, are scared about is regarding the showing of their midriff. You are not required to have your stomach showing for any style of bellydance. If you are insecure about your body or feel it is inappropriate to show off that much skin, there are plenty of costuming/clothing options to keep your midriff out of sight. Wearing a leotard under your costuming, creating temporary covers tacked in place, making a one piece dress, full length blouses, etc., are all options that are acceptable. The issue of the midriff is something that most people use as one of the reason why they are not comfortable learning this dance and this is effects most plus sized people. Even for practice, you are not expected to show skin. Only those who are comfortable or are instructing will do so to better see their movement when working on bodywaves or how chest lifts affect the abs and ribcage.

So how do we come to terms with ourselves in order to enjoy this dance?

Well the first step is always the most difficult one for some who already suffer from some sort of negative self-image or fear. You need to love yourself. By understanding that being a different size is not a negative thing will help you overcome some of your apprehensions. Size honestly doesn’t play a factor once you begin dancing because if you are enjoying what you are doing, it shows more than what you look like. Most of the time, plus size bellydancers are more enjoyable to watch than those who fit the ideal look. Why is that? Because invoking the mood of the dance is what people connect to, not the shape of the dancer. Besides, it is usually the shallow and judgmental people who choose to focus on one’s body rather than one’s personality or expression of the dance. So why waste time worrying about those people when their opinions are of little consequence or don’t matter? It’s those who have a love of the dance and who support you that count as well as how good you feel when you dance.

Next step is to understand that there are just some moves that you can’t do as well as others. Everyone’s body has some dance step or movement it is unable to perform because of how your body is built. This shouldn’t be used as an excuse or as a reason for discouragement. Even those who are thin can’t do a movement because their bone structure doesn’t allow it. I know a dancer who is in shape and she has problems doing a simple maya because her bone structure doesn’t allow the hip to move away from the ribcage properly. She has to slide out her hip first before moving it up for the movement. Altering the move a little is acceptable to be able to perform it based on what your body can do. For me, certain shimmies are hard to do because I do have extra meat on my thighs. I can’t bring my legs together to execute certain shimmies others are able to do. So I compromise by bringing in my legs as close as comfortably possible and do what I can. As long as the instructor knows you are doing your best and doing what your body allows, there is nothing to worry about. Even those with disabilities who enjoy bellydancing do make compromises so the dance works for their body type. You make the dance work for you. It should never be the other way around where you are hurting yourself to fit the dance.

The final step is to confront your fears, hesitations and excuses. Once you have done so, you will find that learning bellydancing is a lot easier because your mind will not be so quick to throw up roadblocks and hinder you from learning something new. Going with the flow, doing your best, being patient and keeping an open mind on how to learn a move is what keeps you moving forward and getting the most out of this art form. Don’t be so quick to judge yourself as being incompetent or a disgrace if you are not getting something. Remember that it does take time to learn the movement and that you always have your instructor to go to when you are unsure if you are learning something correctly. Your instructor is there to give you pointers on what would work best for you and give you a positive critique on your movement. If you are embarrassed to say something in class, you can always ask the instructor to look at the movement you are concerned about before or after class so you have that one-on-one time without others overhearing or watching. Also remember that even asking in class may help someone else who is possibly having the same doubt or issue you may be having. There have been times where I was embarrassed about asking how a movement works in class to only find out that there were at least 2 other people who were having the same issues. So never feel ashamed in not understanding how a move works as there is always someone else who is not understanding the mechanics of the move or had been learning it wrong based on their observation instead of asking.

There is one thing I would like to note on something I had mentioned earlier in regards to making the dance work for your body. As I had stated, you are allowed to alter some of the movements so that you can do them easier, but you cannot ignore or gloss over the required dance form, meaning that you still need to keep everything open, shapely and free. Don’t let your arms sag if you had to alter a chest movement, they should still be out away from the body in order to frame the move. If you have to alter a hip movement, keep your tailbone tucked. You are still adhering to the body basics and structure that allows you to move in this dance while creating a variation of a move in order to work better for you.

If you have friends who are looking into learning bellydancing but are afraid to jump right into a class, have them come to events with you that has open floor dancing (such as haflas), renaissance faires that have dancers who offer free mini classes, or any free/discounted classes that your instructor might be offering as a promotion for her teaching. I would also suggest going with your friends to help ease their anxiety. This opportunity should not be used to show off your abilities. Your friends are already aware of what you can do and rubbing it in can turn your friends away from learning. You need to use this opportunity to explain that you are always happy to go as support for friends who are interested and that you also use these chances to recheck your basics (which is not a bad thing for you to go over every now and then to make sure your dancing isn’t becoming sloppy). The last thing your friend wants to experience during their first time attending a lesson is the feeling of neglect or being overshadowed by a more experienced dancer as they are the ones who are learning something you already know. They should have the special attention from the instructor during the class and your role is to give your friend encouraging statements and positive feedback.

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