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!