Costuming tips for (and from) a plus-sized dancer

A saidi galabeya can be flattering for the curvier figure as it smooths and elongates lines.

A saidi galabeya can be flattering for the curvier figure as it smooths and elongates lines.

Holidays can be a time to plan or make a new costume. Here are some suggestions from guest blogger, Obsi. Who previously wrote a blog here about being a plus-sized belly dancer:

Costuming can be quite hard for the “plus size” dancer.  Especially since we come in all shapes and sizes.

We often fall into the trap of wearing loose-fitting clothing, to try to cover up the body – but I find that can often look less flattering than tighter fitting clothing can. I was originally taught that putting more fru-fru on your hips can make your waist appear smaller – so embraced  the large skirts with big poofy tucks on the hips. However I have definitely found that when I’ve worn tighter fitting costumes people have commented on how much weight I’ve lost, or how much more flattering that looks. The first time I had to wear a tight-fitting Saidi dress, I was really concerned that I’d look horribly fat, but I was pleasantly surprised!  I do still like my big skirts and tucks, but it is nice to wear something more slinky now and then – it definitely does create a different look.

I have what I call a “double belly” – a roll above my bellybutton and one below.  Which is a harder body shape to be able to disguise, I think. Some larger women like to wear mesh bodysuits to cover their belly.  There is even “powermesh” that supposedly sucks you in a little, but I find that’s not enough for me.  I confess that I like to wear “shapewear” (those elasticised tummy sucking in undergarments) to smooth out some of the lumpy belly. I also like to wear a black bodysuit because black is slimming and disguises some of the bumps. Which means I can’t get away with looking like I have an exposed belly like you can if you’re wearing a flesh coloured mesh bodysuit.  Although from an audience perspective, I can tell when people are wearing a flesh coloured cover (usually because they have no bellybutton!), which I find more distracting than a naked belly would be.  But I understand that the dancer needs to feel comfortable.

I tried once wearing a flesh coloured and less constricting version of the shapewear (so that it just looked like a flesh bodysuit), because I felt uncomfortable being the only person in the group wearing a black bodysuit when everyone else was bare bellied.  But I ended up feeling more uncomfortable dressed like that.  Every photo from that night just made me want to cry.  So I made the decision that I would rather stand out and be a bit different to everyone else, by wearing something I felt more comfortable wearing.

I think that is really a key point.  You have to feel comfortable in your own body when you dance.  If you’re feeling self-conscious, you won’t be able to dance as well as you could, and you won’t be enjoying yourself as much as you should. Your audience will probably notice you aren’t comfortable too. If you can’t look back on photos without never wanting to eat again, then that’s no good either.

So part of being a dancer really is to have confidence in your dancing, and feel that you are beautiful.  Costuming obviously helps the audience see what you’re doing and makes a better show for them (you can dance in a T-shirt and jeans, but it’s not going to look as good) – but it can also help you to feel more confident about yourself, which in turn makes you a better dancer.

A troupe needs to dress the same and it can be challenging to find a style that suits all figures.

A troupe needs to dress the same and it can be challenging to find a style that suits all figures.

Unfortunately when you dance with a troupe, you usually have to wear what the troupe wears.  Slimmer ladies can often buy costume pieces online and at cheap prices.  Whereas there can be much less choice for a plus size dancer, and often higher prices.  Trying to costume for a bunch of women of different sizes can be a bit tricky!  But it is important that you all can feel good about what you are wearing.

Even just finding class-wear can be a bit problematic sometimes.  I find the decorated portions of regular sized hip scarves and coin belts are nowhere near big enough for those with large hips.  Even in some of the so-called “plus size” ones they sometimes don’t cover enough.   Or if they do physically fit, often they only *just* tie up, and you’ll see the slimmer women with longer hanging ties, and feel jealous!  I have found though that searching specifically for “plus size” or “XL” and checking measurements, will sometimes allow you to find costume pieces that will fit.  Ebay is getting a better range of “plus size” costuming pieces all the time – which is great!  It means not only is there more variety for us, but it also means there must be more demand for it!!!

With shorter hip scarves that only just do up, I’ve taken to wearing them so that they tuck in at the sides of my hips and the rest dangles down the sides, rather than trying to do them up and looking obviously too small.  You can sometimes use one of the long rectangle ones at the front, and tie it to a triangular hip scarf at each hip, letting the extra bits dangle down.

As you can see from this gorgeous group of curvy dancers, they have tied two hip scarves together at the sides to extend and flatter.

As you can see from this gorgeous group of curvy dancers, they have tied two hip scarves together at the sides to extend and flatter.

If you’re a bit crafty, you can do things like sew 2 smaller skirts together to make one wider one, or add extra panels in to extend clothing to fit.   I’ve altered several skirts that were too narrow, by opening up the side seams and wearing them as a sort of “lap lap” style skirt with another skirt underneath.  Sometimes you have to be a bit creative to find ways to work around problems!

I quite like the idea of wearing a fitted galabeya (“Saidi dress”) costume, as it can cover some of those problem areas (belly and arms for me) while still allowing your movements to be seen.  Particularly those cut to allow your decorated bra to be shown.  These can be worn with bare legs if you’re happy to do so (if your thighs won’t rub together – hello bike shorts!), or with a full skirt or harem pants if you want to cover more.  The modern galabeyas are usually made from very stretchy lycra, so I’ve found that especially the plus size ones, can stretch to fit a very ample dancer!  I have also seen some dancers where I suspect they took regular size ones and opened up the side seam, adding an extra panel down the sides – which is a great idea to get extra room if you need it.  The same can be done for tighter fitting skirts and harem pants too.

Beaded fringing that hangs in a straight line across can make the torso look shorter.

Beaded fringing that hangs in a straight line across can make the torso look shorter.

Over the years I’ve come to realise some things that (in my mind) flatter or don’t flatter the fuller figure.

I’ve learned that a decorated bra without any fringe, isn’t as flattering for a fuller bust as one that has fringing – the fringing helps distract the eye I think.  But also too much fringe, or too heavy fringing can be unflattering.  I have one decorated bra I made with very long chunky fringing (to hide the belly) that mostly went across in a straight line just above my belly button.  While it hides the part of my belly I’m most uncomfortable with, it just doesn’t look attractive, and makes my torso look very short. It’s better to concentrate fringing to a V shape at the front of the bra –  the part you want to focus people’s eyes on.  The V shape is far more flattering than a straight fringe.

If you haven’t been blessed with a large bosom, and want to give yourself more, try giving your bra a more 3D effect.  This can be done with things like the cupped flower shaped sequins, rather than using flat ones.  I’ve seen people using ruffled fabric.  You want to make sure the cups fit, and by all means try some bra inserts to give you more lift.  But if you can add extra oomph with the decorations on the outside of the bra, it can create the illusion of fuller breasts without any worry of any “chicken fillets” falling out mid performance!

With belts, likewise I have found that straight belts aren’t as flattering as ones that have a curved or pointed front and back section.  I also find belts with some sort of fringing look more flattering than plain ones.  I think it has to do with creating an illusion of your body being longer than it is.  Straight lines just cut straight across and can make you look shorter and chunkier.  So breaking that straight line with fringing or dangles, and not using a straight line, can really help.  Sometimes I think a little protruding belly hanging over the belt can look better than a “muffin top” effect by wearing a tight belt across the belly.

I see a lot of plus size dancers wearing their skirts on their waist instead of the hip.  I can understand the reasons for this – when I started dancing I wanted to show as little belly as possible, so wore my skirts up high.  Then as I grew in confidence, my skirts lowered. I know there is often a practical reason to wear skirts higher, as some body shapes make it difficult to wear a skirt on the hips without it falling down (nobody wants that!).  Wearing a skirt on the waist can disguise the “double belly” thing too.   However wearing a skirt lower on the hip can elongate your torso, making you look slimmer.  It also means that the belt will be on or closer to your hip, so that hip movements can be accented properly.  I’ve found the point on my hip in which I can wear my skirt without it falling down, but since I also wear a bodysuit, I pin pin pin!! just to make sure it won’t slip down!

Wearing sleeves has the added bonus of not only feeling less self-conscious about flabby upper arms, but can balance out the hips visually. Tucking skirts up into the hip belt can make the waist appear smaller.

Wearing sleeves has the added bonus of not only feeling less self-conscious about flabby upper arms, but can balance out the hips visually. Tucking skirts up into the hip belt can make the waist appear smaller.

My upper arms are also quite flabby, which makes me very self-conscious of my arms.  I don’t feel comfortable going sleeveless  (not even in class).  Luckily there are a few different options for sleeves – and it’s not something that looks out of place if you have a bare belly but with a little sleeved vest.  Obviously if you’re covering your belly with a body suit or something, you can opt for one with sleeves (short or long) which covers 2 problem areas at once.  But if you’d like bare belly but sleeves, you can go for a little vest with sleeves attached, a “shrug”, a tie-top or choli etc.   You can go for full coverage or use a coloured mesh or lace if you’d like to just disguise things a little.  If you have larger arms, it might be a good idea not to draw attention to them by having upper arm jewellery or decorations.  Focus the decorations on the forearms or wrists to draw the eye away from where you don’t want people to notice.

But make sure you don’t hide.  Wearing loose-fitting outfits can sometimes make you look bigger than you are, while hiding some of the body movements.  Try to work out which features you’d like to show off, and design the costume around that.  Got a great set of legs?  Maybe you’d like a skirt with (tasteful!) splits so that you can make the most of them. Want to hide the front of your belly, but the sides and back are fine?  Try a costume design where you have a covered section (perhaps glittery mesh) attached to your bra and belt, that covers just the part you want to cover and leaves the rest bare.

Use colour wisely.  Black is obviously slimming, and light colours can be unattractive, but unless you are after a dark look, you may find an all black costume doesn’t have the effect you want.  Using brighter colour in the areas you’d like to highlight and darker ones in the areas you’d like to disguise, you may find you can create something flattering for your body.  I found out the hard way (back in my belly baring days) that an all white/gold bra and belt set doesn’t always look flattering from a distance on very pale skin.  I had the unfortunate effect of looking almost naked!

The coverage of the bra must be ample enough to cover without "spillage".

The coverage of the bra must be ample enough to cover without “spillage”.

One thing to watch out for is to make sure your costume fits well and nothing is spilling over.  I have seen a few “Plus Size” dancers who looked larger than they probably are, due to the fact they were squeezed into costumes that really weren’t suitable.  You certainly don’t want people to be wondering if you are going to pop a seam or fall out of your bra!

Bras that are cut too low can seem like the cups are about to runneth over, even if they are perfectly secure.  So sometimes you may need to add an extra section to the top of the cup to give extra coverage.  Tight fitting clothing can make you appear slimmer than baggy clothing, but make sure it doesn’t look like you’re wearing a costume several sizes too small.

Luckily there is a great amount of flexibility you can have with bellydance costuming – there are many different styles and designs out there.  So you have the freedom to create something to suit your body shape.

Vale Stella Young

Stella Young and her awesome shoes of power.

Stella Young and her awesome shoes of power.

Today’s blog is filled with grief, as I learned today that Stella Young died over the weekend, aged 32.

Stella was hands-down, no-BS awesome. And NOT because of her disability. And not IN SPITE of her disability. She was just an awesome, funny, quirky, intelligent person who happened to also have a disability.

She will be greatly missed. Here is a TED Talk she gave earlier this year, maybe you will be able to see what I’m talking about. It’s called: “I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much”

I first met her many years ago, when she worked at the Public Program at Museum Victoria (where my husband works) one of the annual events the Museum used to hold was a “scientists versus comedians” night, where the scientists would talk about a particular scientific aspect, theory etc and the comedians would work out if it was true or not. I went to the night, very proud of my husband who was one of the scientists, and thought he was funny and entertaining. Then Stella came up to do her bit and blew me away. She had me at Cloaca. I’m serious, a cloaca. Yep, a ducks’ bum, then she moved on to the penis of a duck ( the Argentine Lake Duck). I was in tears of laughter. Her argument was that this particular duck had a penis that was 42.5cm long, while the bird itself was only 20, and that the female had dozens of cloacas so she could choose which male duck got the correct opening, so to speak, to fertilise her eggs. The comedians guessed it was untrue. Nope, true. And her final comment – “I thought it was appropriate for me to be the one to comment on this particular duck as it’s penis being 42.5 cm long is EXACTLY my sitting height!” LOL

After she left the Museum, I followed her career as a disability advocate closely, cheering from the sidelines.

“Being a disability advocate, I suppose, just means being stroppy about stuff that is not

Stella Young stirred the pot, put herself out there and never held back her opinions. Thought-proking, and funny.

Stella Young stirred the pot, put herself out there and never held back her opinions. thought-provoking, and funny, she will be missed.

fair, and raising and discussing issues that affect people with disabilities I guess.”
she told MammaMia. She enjoyed her job, as well as her work (up until last year) as Editor on ABC’s website Ramp Up, stirring the pot, making people think and giving us a laugh at the same time. Then, finally, this year (after years of me telling her she should do stand up – not that I think that had much influence over her decision lol!)) I saw her show in the Melbourne Comedy Festival “Tales From the Crip“. She, quite rightly, won “Best Newcomers Award” and nominated for a “Golden GIbbo“. She once again had me in stitches of laughter. She made us question our attitudes to disability, and about the attitudes about the way people look, a topic close to my Belly Dance Lessons Online heart.

Not many people can say they made the world a better place, she did. Her promise to herself?: “I promise to grab every opportunity with both hands, to say yes as often as I can, to take risks, to scare myself stupid, and to have a shitload of fun.”

I’d say she did that, and it is a promise we could all make.
For an interview on more that she did go to:
http://www.mamamia.com.au/social/tea-with-mamamia-stellayoung/#GIx1VptZQ1elFk1h.99
Plus a list of the Best of Stella’s Comedy and Public Speaking engagements:
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-12-08/best-of-stella-youngs-comedy-and-public-speaking-engagements/5950766

 

Media and Magazines suck!

Belly dance students come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Research shows that belly dancers have fewer hang-ups about their bodies.

Belly dance students come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Research shows that belly dancers have fewer hang-ups about their bodies.

Rant alert! I am SICK to DEATH of seeing nothing but photoshopped images in the media! I know, I know, nothing radical or new about this rant, but as my daughter gets older, I find myself more and more protective of what she sees. Currently, she is very secure in the knowledge that has “a really cute bottom” (she says) and likes it when her bathers show it off (which in itself can be worrisome except she is soooo very proud that I am seeing it as a good thing). Now while she knows that she is also intelligent, kind, generous, a good problem solver and a confident reader, I am worried that in a few years when we move from cartoon based TV and movie viewing to “real” looking actors that she is going to change her view of herself. Growing up, I always looked for any signs of curves on female actors, wanting to feel “normal” as I always felt as if my thighs were enormous. And no matter how hard I looked, actresses didn’t seem to have wobbly bits or cellulite. Why the heck not?

I came across a very disturbing set of statistics from Raderprograms:

Women Are Dying to be Thin - Media Influence on Eating Disorders
Infographic provided by Rader Programs

Recently, Meaghan Kausman, went public about her outrage over an underwater photo in which she was wearing Fella Swim bathers, was used by Fella Swim on their own website, after photoshopping her body (and without permission). She was outraged and says she is a size 8 not a 4. Considering a size 8 is already quite petite, why would they feel the need to photoshop?

Meaghan is the daughter of body image campaigner Dr Rick Kausman, who advocates a ‘non-diet’ approach to health, and it’s refreshing his views seem to have been instilled in his daughter.

She told Cosmopolitan magazine: “Because of who my Dad is and the way I’ve been brought up, I’ve never felt any pressure to look a certain way. And if people can take one thing away from all of this it should be to love who you are, which I know can be hard, but it’s so important for people to feel comfortable in themselves and not to strive for something that doesn’t exist.

“That photo wasn’t me, and the reality is no one looks like that. It’s so important for people to realise how heavily photoshopped these kinds of images are.”

Here are the two photos see what you think:

Meaghan Kausman was photoshopped by the bikini makers without her permission.

Meaghan Kausman was photoshopped by the bikini makers without her permission.

You would have read my recent blog about the Feelings of a Plus Sized Bellydancer, why can’t our perceptions of beauty change? Yesterday, I found myself in a Facebook “discussion” about what constitutes “beauty”. One narrow-minded (yes that is a judgmental opinion!) person said that no-one over 40 who does not have tight skin and a thin physique should dance in public. You can imagine the hurt and outrage that ensued. The commenter actually honestly did not realise that she was being so hurtful until I sent her a personal message asking her to stop. She used the old “I’m just expressing my opinion” stance in defence. As I turn 40 next year, and am always advocating positive body-image, I found it extra offensive!

So this leads to the fact that my daughter is into Princesses (sigh) so, first, I showed her pictures of “real” Princesses without their finery on (Princess Eugene and Beatrice etc), and she was quite disappointed, but just said she preferred the “beautiful ones”. So when I steered her towards Merida in Brave, she says she likes Cinderella best (a doormat for a role modal NOOOOOO! Mind you, she hasn’t even seen the movie lol) Maybe I could stick these versions of the Disney Princesses into her books? Like this one of Jasmine:

Jasmine from the Disney movie Aladdin is much too tiny.

Jasmine from the Disney movie Aladdin is much too tiny.

 

This version of Jasmine from Aladdin shows a still slim, but less unhealthy looking Princess for our young girls.

This version of Jasmine from Aladdin shows a still slim, but less unhealthy looking Princess for our young girls.

And don’t get me started on female superheros costumes!

Lammily is a doll who has healthy proportions, and looks like she could do anything!

Lammily is a doll who has healthy proportions, and looks like she could do anything!

So what can I do to protect the self-esteem of my daughter? I guess the only things I can

do is read her empowering stories of Princesses rescuing themselves (A great list of Independent Princesses can be found on A Mighty Girl website), receive the realistically shaped Lammily Doll I ordered (see what kids think of her) praise her for attributes that are not to do with looks, but rather her ability to resolve situations and make good choices, and live as an example in showing pride in my curves. (And cross my fingers!)

Survivors wear their scars with pride

These breast cancer survivors in Taiwan performed belly dance at a Taiwan Breast Cancer Alliance Conference.

These breast cancer survivors in Taiwan performed belly dance at a Taiwan Breast Cancer Alliance Conference.

Women have started belly dance classes with me for a variety of reasons, offline or online. One of them is a way to celebrate life after Cancer. Especially “women’s cancers”. You spend so much time and energy feeling like your body is the enemy, you end up with parts missing, extra scars, and when you are one of the ones to beat it – then what? One way to learn to love your body again and celebrate the living body, with a new shape and a new mind, is to do something that gives you pride and pleasure. Belly dance is one way. This lady, Kellie Green, chose another.

I think she looks beautiful. Are you any less of a woman without breasts? (or scarred ones?) Without a uterus? Or ovaries? It may feel that way at first. But it’s not your female genitalia which makes you “female”.

Here’s what one of my student’s said about recovering from breast cancer: “I was diagnosed with breast cancer 3 years back when I was 31. Went through mastectomy (breast removal), chemotherapy and then a breast reconstruction. When I was planning my reconstruction, people said I was being stupid to go for another surgery since looks don’t matter. I agree looks don’t make me what I am but I did this to make myself happy. Today (with all the scars), I feel more happy with myself than I ever did and your classes are way of celebrating this love that I have developer for myself.
Thanks and Regards
Shruti Sharma”

Peace and happiness can come after the battle.

Peace and happiness can come after the battle.

The scars can run deeper than the skin. Some women opt for a complete breast reconstruction, some of these are not successful. Being able to look in the mirror and like what you see scars and all, can be incredibly confronting and brave. Tattoo artist, Amy Black, has mastered the 3D looking nipples tattoos, or tattoos over the area where a breast used to be, so looking in the mirror is easier and enjoyable.

Look in the mirror and be proid of what you see

Look in the mirror and be proud of what you see

Never feel you are being “shallow” for wanting to look good. Build your self-esteem, allow compliments and be proud of what you have achieved, survived and gained. Life.

 

Need more information? Want to do more?
Click these links for further help or information on breast cancer or ovarian cancer or other cancers. Also click on the link on this website to give women free mammograms to enable early breast cancer detection. Or do something to celebrate and raise funds with a “Girls’ Night In” fundraiser.
For more information on the belly dancing suvivors from Taiwan read more here: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2006/10/31/2003334121

Thoughts from a Plus size bellydancer….

While I have filled my blog with plenty of personal stories, anecdotes and feelings, this blog is thanks to a guest blogger, a “plus-sized” bellydancer called Obsidian. I am grateful that she shared her inner thoughts, feelings and insecurities as well as the more practical drawback to being larger, and how bellydance has helped her feel better and more confident about her size.

Thoughts from a Plus size bellydancer….

Obsidian shares her thoughts and feelings on being a "plus-sized" belly dancer.

Obsidian shares her thoughts and feelings on being a “plus-sized” belly dancer.

I don’t really like talking about my weight…. I suppose not many people do 😛  I don’t like the fact that I am considered a “plus sized bellydancer”, rather than just a “bellydancer” – but at least “plus size” sounds better than “fat” 🙂

When I started bellydancing, I was smaller than I am now, but I was still what people would consider overweight.  It was really only that one of the first bellydancers I saw had beautiful curves and was very positive and inspiring, was the reason I thought I’d be able to be a bellydancer at the size I was.  The first time I went to class, I saw a wide range of body shapes and sizes, and the teacher from a sister-school was also a larger woman – so that all gave me more confidence that you can bellydance no matter what shape or size you are.

I find it great to see photos and video of other “plus size” dancers.  I find it inspiring, I feel a sense of sisterhood with these women, as I’m sure they have at times felt like I have, and they are getting out there and strutting their stuff.  I think it’s fantastic to see.  I remember the first time I saw a photo of one particular “plus size” dancer, I was so excited – she has a belly that looks like mine!  A double-belly.  While I’m still a bit too body conscious to let mine be bare in public (though I’m working on that), hers was free.  It made me think that, you know what… it doesn’t actually look bad at all!  You’re too busy looking at the whole picture – how lovely her face looks, how bright and colourful her costume is.  The belly is only a small part of the overall picture.  I admire her confidence, as I’m not yet in a place where I’d be able to bare my belly, but seeing hers, and others like it, is getting me closer and closer to the point where mine may be free one day too.

There are definitely some challenges that the more ample of us, have to overcome, and not just whether to show off a flabby belly or not.  My body size actually has a big impact on my dance.

The emotional side is a topic large enough for its own article!  I have self-esteem issues, like a lot of people do.  I sometimes find it a challenge to get up and dance in front of people when I feel uncomfortable about my weight.  It has taken quite a while for me to get to the point where I can not only feel ok about putting a costume on and dancing in front of people, but actually feel that I look good.  I couldn’t have got there though, without bellydancing.  By learning to dance, it gave me the ability to see my body as being something that can look good and can move well – which has boosted my self esteem enormously!  When I’m all dressed up in my costumes and someone comes over to say how well I danced or how great I look, it really lifts my spirits.  Ultimately I dance for myself, and to some extent for the camaraderie with the other women I dance with.  However there is a part of me that dances for the confidence boost of having people be appreciative of your performance!

Obsidian talks candidly about what it is like to have extra curves as a dancer.

Obsidian talks candidly about what it is like to have extra curves as a dancer.

I find that being a “plus size” dancer is also hard physically.  While fitness isn’t always tied to your weight, I am personally not very fit, especially compared to others in the group – I also have more body to move around, so I get puffed quicker and seem to need to take drink breaks more than they do.  I also seem to sweat and overheat far more than they do too (I guess it’s all the extra insulation I have!) So for practice I usually dress far lighter than the others, I hate dancing in summer and I hate dancing in winter when everyone wants the heaters on. I always end up looking like a bedraggled mess while they somehow manage to look all effortless and non-sweaty. 🙁

For some reason I’ve been blessed with a head that sweats more than the rest of my body combined.  You’ll probably laugh, but I’ve taken to wearing a sweatband for practice in warmer weather!  Daggy but worth it!  I also like wearing head scarves, because they are a bit more of an elegant way to achieve a sweat-band  🙂 I also found (through a great tip from a fellow sweaty-face dancer) that you can get an antiperspirant for your face!  My saviour!

My body can feel very frustrating at times.  The sad reality is that some bellydance moves just don’t look the same on a larger sized woman.  Some can look great I think (bigger bust and hips can do fantastic shimmies!) but some movements you just can’t see as well if the dancer has a larger shape.  Particularly things like undulations and belly rolls (I’m sure I have muscles in there somewhere).  Which isn’t to say that larger women shouldn’t bother doing bellydancing – far from it!  Anyone of any size can be a great dancer!!  It’s just how it is.  I personally find it easier to just accept that, on my body, some moves may not look the same as they do on someone slimmer.  So rather than feel disappointed or upset that I can’t look that way, I have to tell myself that different body shapes look and move differently, and that’s ok.

I also found I had to work hard to look graceful – because I’m reasonably short as well, I don’t have the graceful long limbs that some dancers have.  So I spent a lot of time working out how to make my body flow nicely.  I feel that by being aware of that – thinking about how to hold yourself and trying to think and feel graceful, is quite important for everyone, but especially a “plus size” dancer.  Because if you can dance well, it doesn’t matter what size or shape you are, you’ll look AMAZING!  Looking at yourself in a mirror and experimenting with arm and hand positioning, trying to extend your arms to give you that longer line, keeping your chest lifted so you look a little taller and more elegant, can really change how your body looks while dancing.

Confidence is a very important part of the dance.  The audience can see if you feel self conscious, and I think that makes them notice imperfections more than if they are presented with someone who seems to be confident.  But, if you don’t have it – you can fake it!  Honestly, for me bellydancing as a form of acting.  It’s not me who goes out there on stage – it’s the bellydancer-me… and that person isn’t shy like I am, they have more confidence than I do.  Which is why I find the costuming helps me to dance better, even in class – because it is easier to get into that “role”, to be a different side of me that is different to my everyday self.

Costuming is another big challenge.  It can be tricky to find costumes and accessories that fit, are comfortable and look good.  Even just finding class-wear can be tricky if you can’t sew your own clothing.  While shops and online stores are slowly stocking larger sizes, it’s still mostly only available in smaller sizes.

I think it definitely helps to be able to think creatively and be prepared to make some modifications to clothing, to be able to get some of the things you want.   There are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way to help me costume for my size and shape.  But having to search through things that will never fit you, to try and find something that does, can be very soul-destroying at times.  I find it just reminds me that I am fat and won’t fit into regular clothing, and that can be a bit depressing.  Though the thrill of finding something that does fit, can be uplifting. I even have a coin belt that was an XXL size that is too big!  Imagine that!!  So the annoyance of it not fitting, is overshadowed by the fact that for once I am too small for the clothing, not the other way around. 😀

Obsidian often feels the largest one in the group while belly dancing

Obsidian often feels the largest one in the group while belly dancing

All in all though, I am eternally grateful that I found bellydance.  It is such an important part of my life, that I can’t imagine what I would do without it.

Someone asked one of my teachers once why she danced, and her reply was “because I can’t not dance”.  Which I always found so beautiful, simple and absolutely true.

Research shows belly dancers have fewer hang ups about their bodies!

Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online loves performing

Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online loves performing regardless of size and shape.

Finally! Research has caught up with what we as belly dancers already know: that belly dance gives you better feelings about your body!

Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Tall, short, voluptuous, slim, flabby bits, stretch marks, cellulite, defined muscles, scars, plus any physical disabilities whether acquired or genetic can affect the posture and look. Then there is what we perceive in our minds. A woman looks in the mirror and she instantly zooms in on her “faults” and sighs, wishing she had something different.

The cold reality is that we can’t magically change our perceived “faults” (even surgery will leave scars and has psychological ramifications). The easiest (ha!) thing to change is how we feel about our bodies (certainly cheaper than surgery!) we could go to counselling or therapy, join a nudist camp or… belly dance!

In 2012, a Psychology student with the University of New England, in NSW, Danielle Camileri, did her Honours thesis investigating the relationships between belly dancing, body appreciation and well-being via an online survey of 413 amateur Australian belly dancers aged 18-67 years. The survey measured belly dance experience, body appreciation and four indicators of well-being: life satisfaction, subjective happiness, the presence of life meaning and the search for life meaning. Her results indicated that body appreciation significantly was improved through belly dance, especially the longer they had done it for. In other words, the longer you belly dance, the more you appreciate your own body shape and size, and are less self-conscious.

Belly dance students come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Research shows that belly dancers have fewer hang-ups about their bodies.

Belly dance students come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Research shows that belly dancers have fewer hang-ups about their bodies.

Now, as Danielle’s survey was only conducted on amateur belly dancers, I was very interested in the latest study to come out recently from Flinders University in South Australia (Marika Tiggemann, Emily Coutts, Levina Clark. Belly Dance as an Embodying Activity?: A Test of the Embodiment Model of Positive Body ImageSex Roles, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s11199-014-0408-2) which compared belly dancers with non-bellydancers. This study lead by Dr. Marika Tiggemann, tested how participants of belly dance see themselves, and also sought to find out what they gain from it, and compared it with answers from non-bellydancers.

I found an inspiring photo of a dancer doing a veil dance in a wheel chair

This bellydancer in a wheelchair shows confidence in her body.

The authors recruited 112 belly dancers from two dancing schools in Adelaide, Australia, along with 101 University women who had never participated in belly dance before. The participants completed questionnaires in which they rated their own bodies, how they think others view their bodies and about the attention they attract from men.

The result? The researchers found that belly dancers see their own bodies in a better light than the University students do, and are less likely to be dissatisfied with how they look. They also have fewer self-objectifying thoughts, and therefore take what others might think about their bodies less to heart. In other words, when you belly dance you accept your body shape as it is, and have fun! Funnily enough, the study also showed that the belly dancers did not rate higher in seeing themselves as sexual beings and how sexy they feel they are compared to others. This could be that women participate in bellydance in order to feel good about how they move, and how fun it is, as well as doing an activity that gives them “me time” rather than how sexy it makes them feel. Interesting!

 

 

 

Ripping the lables off

Amanda Trusty rips off the negative labels in her dance to Roar.

Amanda Trusty rips off the negative labels in her dance to Roar.

In a previous post, I showed a YouTube Video from tap dancer Amanda Trusty, where she danced to Katy Perry’s song “Roar”. In this video she starts out dressed up, tutu, toe shoes and hair tied back. Her movements are exact and conforming. Then she lets loose, removing not only her outer clothing, but also the negative labels she had stuck to her body. She talked about what it was like to do this video with the Huffington Post, and how she received both support and abuse. She wanted to show you can dance, even if you are a bit jiggly, and wanted to rip away the labels that were holding her back. What labels are holding you back?

So she turned to her followers and asked them to show their own labels, but this time only the positive. She wanted them to celebrate their bodies. This is what they did:

Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online loves to dance and finds it a great sress reliever.

Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online loves to dance and finds it a great sress reliever.

I was wondering which takes more courage: to rip a negative label off, or to proudly affix a positive one.

This relates to belly dance. Which is it easier? To wear control top stockings, baggy clothes and talk about how you need to join a gym, or to bellydance and wiggle your wobbly bits, allowing yourself to feel joy about your current shape – even on stage!

Raising a confident introverted child

Charni is raising her introverted daughter to be socially confident with acceptance and understanding.

Charni is raising her introverted daughter to be socially confident with acceptance and understanding.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am an introvert (see previous post for the true meaning of the term). In writing about it, I realised that my daughter is also an introvert, and my son an extrovert. He always wanted my attention, company or for me to sit and watch what he was doing and comment. My daughter has always been happy in her own space, could entertain herself for ages, she was fine as long as she knew I was around.

In social situations this came across differently. I have always gotten cross when people labelled my daughter as shy. When meeting a strange adult that I knew but she didn’t, she would stand next to me, look down and not say a word. People would smile at me and say “oh she’s shy” I would say clearly, “No, she is not shy, she is choosing not to speak until she knows you and feels comfortable”. I got quite a few shocked faces at that! I personally think “shy” is a damaging label, especially, as in this case, it wasn’t true. Why do I think it is a damaging label? Well, if a child is told often enough they are shy, they will view themselves as that and behave to confirm that label. It also gives them a reason not to engage in public, as they can say to themselves “I can’t talk to that person, I am shy”. It would be better to work on getting a child to feel confident in public, regardless of whether they are an introvert or extrovert.

Susan Cain, acclaimed author and expert on introverts, agrees that introverted children have their own quiet strength. My daughter just didn’t like talking to people if she didn’t know them. She also used to be hesitant to speak up in front of a group, but one-on-one she talked non-stop.

She is now quite confident socially, and in front of a group, and I aim to have that continue.

How have we achieved this?

This is what worked/is working for us and is not intended to fit all kids, as my daughter has a few characteristics that are also commonly found in kids on the autism spectrum, such as: she does not make eye contact if she is not interested, can’t see the point in social niceties and has to make a real effort to remember to say hello or reply when spoken to, has certain routines that need to be completed before she can go on with the next etc. (By the way, I had her assessed for social skills, spectrum behaviours and school readiness, and the result confirmed what I thought – she is fine, just an introvert and a unique quirky person.)

1. Understand how they think and what motivates them.

I know that my daughter needs time to be by herself to recharge. I also understand that her priorities are not the same as mine. I think it is important to put your shoes on and leave the house to get somewhere on time, she thinks it is important to finish colouring in her picture. Me telling her why she has to stop and do what I am asking does not work, as she doesn’t see what it has to do with her (the “why”). So if I put it in a way that she can see the benefit, she is much more likely to cooperate. “By leaving the house on time, you be in time to do *insert fun thing here*”. Plus I can give her plenty of warning of when a change is about to take place. “In 5 minutes, it will be time to finish colouring and put your shoes on”, “Last minute before it’s time to put your pencil down” or “what part of the picture are you going to stop, and come back and do later?” On the flip side, this means she is very focused and tenacious in achieving a goal.

2. No pressure to socialise

Instead of foisting her into a large group of people and expecting her to just “get used to it”, I found a place where she felt there were fun things to do, which also had a group of kids. We had a fantastic Kindergarten, and she had seen her brother go there for two years before it was her turn for 3-year-old Kinder, so she was confident to start 4 year-old Kinder. The teachers understood her, and didn’t pressure to join the other kids, simply praised her for any interaction or cooperative play with others. After 6 months, she was starting to do activities where other kids were, and by the end of the year she was fully interacting in social and creative play situations.

3. Acceptance for who she is and her strengths, teach others how to treat her.

She did not speak up in mat time at Kindergarten, and while the teachers gave her opportunities, they quickly moved on if she did not participate. On starting school, I gave a detailed behaviour description with strategies to the Prep teacher. At first she was very hesitant, played by herself on the playground or only with a couple of the girls she knew from Kindergarten, or looked for her brother. She was the target for some bullying, which was quickly addressed and the whole class taught about what was acceptable behavior. Once she became familiar with the routine and learnt what the expectations were, she started speaking more. By the middle of the year she was speaking up in front of the class and regularly played with all the kids.

4. Give her time away from others to recharge.

My introverted daughter has her own "recharge space"

My introverted daughter has her own “recharge space”

When she comes from school, or on a weekend and especially at the beginning of school holidays, she does not really want to socialise. Arranging a play-date at the beginning of the holidays does not go down well, or if we do, it needs to be with people who know she sometimes likes to play by herself until she is ready to interact.

5. Give her a space to do alone activities

I recently repainted and rearranged her room, and set up a craft/drawing table just her size, just for her, with all her pencils and colouring books in reach. She loves it and it gives her a needed “head-space” place.

So, as the years pass, I watch my daughter blossom and become more and more socially confident. She is now confident enough now to get up in front of the school to accept an award. And at dinner last week she asked if I could belly dance at assembly, with the proviso that she can come up with me, in a nice costume and do the moves she knows too. Shy? I don’t think so!

 

 

Schooling for the teacher

A true teacher never stops learning.

A true teacher never stops learning.

I have just been schooled. I pride myself on using phrases that work inline with mental imagery and brain learning systems, using NLP techniques and always keeping it positive.

I refuse to accept the word “can’t” in my student’s vocabulary, they have to say “I am finding this difficult” or “I haven’t mastered this move yet”. I encourage positive ways to think and feel about your body and engaging your muscles.

However. I have just read the most interesting Huffington Post article by tap dance teacher Amanda Trusty. She points out that using phrases like “tuck your booty under” and “suck your tummy in” give both an incorrect engagement of the muscles and contribute to negative feelings about the body. I am guilty of using the phrases “tummy in, tail under” A LOT! Now a booty/tail should be tucked under, but this is not because a booty is a bad thing – (definitely not! Especially a sticky-out booty like mine!) it is all postural to protect the lower back. A tummy needs to be pulled in, not because a voluptuous tummy is a bad thing, it’s so as to engage the core muscles for strength and stability. But ‘just’ sucking your tummy in doesn’t actually engage the tummy muscles. Amanda points out that we can use better phrases to get a better result – and without the body image stigma attached to it. Since as Amanda is a positive body image advocate and blogs about her recovery from eating disorders – I am going to listen!

She recommends:

1. Visualise a beautiful tail feather at the base of your spine in whatever are your favourite colours. Then say: “point your tail feathers to the floor”.

Aim your tail feathers to the floor while shaking them!

Aim your tail feathers to the floor while shaking them!

2. Use “Engage your belly”. She uses Pilates exercises to teach about the core, and then encourages her students to check standing in the mirror that they are not raising their ribs or shoulders while doing it.

3. “Show off your necklace” she asks her students to imagine they are wearing a beautiful necklace and they want to show it off. This means keeping shoulders down and chin up and lifting the ribs slightly. To remind someone she will say “I can’t see your necklace” and instantly their upper body posture will change and chin will lift.

Amanda lives what she teaches. Here is a video of her dancing to Katy Perry’s Roar. Where she starts out demure, covered up, restrained. Then she takes off the layers, undoes her hair and more importantly rips off the limiting words (literally) and breaks free enjoying the freedom and movement of a body with curves. Go Amanda!

Introverts can be confident!

Can an introvert be a confident performer?

Can an introvert be a confident performer?

I am an introvert. What? When I said this to a friend recently, they said “No, you can’t be, you seem confident to me and you love to perform belly dance!” and therein lies the misunderstanding. Introvert does not equal shy. Introvert does not equal afraid of the spotlight. According to Wikipedia introverts can be characterized as people whose energy tends to expand through reflection and dwindle during interaction. In other words, as I like to put it, large crowds and social interaction are mentally draining, and I feel renewed after peace and quiet. Getting it is admittedly a bit challenging as a Mother!

Susan Cain agrees with me that introverts are misunderstood and undervalued in this society. She wrote a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking which talks about our special skills and how the “quiet ones” can change the world.

While not all introverts avoid the spotlight, before Susan Cain gave a TedTalk she admitted in an interview that she needed to work with a coach for a week beforehand to feel comfortable doing it. I think she nails it:

So which one are you? How do you feel renewed? In a crowd or by yourself?Just as introverts can be confident, extroverts can be awkward in social situations and hate being in the spotlight. So either way, do something that makes you feel good and build your confidence – like belly dance! (And if you don’t like a crowd, belly dance at home through online lessons).