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.

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!

 

 

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).

 

 

An alien in the belly

Charni did workshops with Ava and her belly this year

Charni did workshops with Ava and her belly this year

I recently had the opportunity to do two workshops with the gorgeous Ava Fleming from Arizona, and she talked about how when she performs it is like watching an alien move around her belly. The funny thing is, just last year I had done a couple of workshops with another US belly dancer, Princess Farhana who did a whole workshop on different tummy techniques including having an alien in the belly. I wonder if it is something about the US?

Charni did a tummy bellydance workshop with Princess Farhana in 2013

Charni did a tummy bellydance workshop with Princess Farhana in 2013

 

 

 

Their styles are quite different, though they sharedsome other similarities (besides the tummy thing), and I got a lot out of both. I like to take workshops with visiting dancers, as there is so much to learn about this wonderful dance form, and it is ever evolving. I can see myself at 80, still dancing, and wondering if I am ever going to learn it all!

The bellydancer who saves animals

Caroline Evanoff is an Australian belly dancer living and working in Egypt

Caroline Evanoff is an Australian belly dancer living and working in Egypt

I was able to interview Australian born belly dancer Caroline Evanoff who now resides in Cairo, Egypt about living in Egypt, staying safe, and her work with animal welfare agencies in Egypt.

How did you come to live in Egypt?
I caught the traveling bug years earlier while backpacking around the world, and particularly enjoyed my stay in Egypt. So years later, after studying belly dance in Sydney, I found myself with an affinity for the dance style of Raqia Hassan, who I had on VHS tape. After wearing it through from watching, I found it hard to find a teacher in Australia who specialised in her style of dancing. So I decided to go to Egypt for three months to study. This turned out to be a pivotal moment in my life, as I went for a short stay and moved there for good instead! In fact everything just seemed to fall into place. I met up with a dancer who then introduced me to Raqia, then very soon after I was offered work, I didn’t even have a proper performance costume but was introduced to Eman Zaki who agreed to make one for me and I could pay later. After that I never looked back, being in constant work ever since.

What can you recommend for tourists wanting to come to Egypt, is it safe?
People have always been scared of coming to Egypt, but since the revolution, people seem to be even more scared. As long as people take normal precautions, it is as safe as anywhere, and much more safe than a lot of other cities in the world! Petty crime has increased since the revolution, so avoid wearing lots of gold, wear a shawl and dress modestly, but you don’t have to be completely covered up either! It is fine for tourists to come, especially if you are there as part of a tour or stay with a local.

The Egyptian bellydance festivals are still running, and while the numbers are down, there are still a lot of people coming to them, if it was unsafe they would have cancelled them. Festivals such as the Nile Group Festival, Sphinx Festival or the Ahlan wa Sahlan Festival run by Raqia is the one I’m involved with runs each June, she also runs a Winter Teachers course in December.

I  also run a holiday program in Dahab on the South-East coast of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, where the focus is on a holiday and some gentle belly dance using Khalleegy, because that is the local dance style. The focus is on relaxing, enjoying the beautiful Mountain Sinai and the Red Sea.

Belly dancer Caroline Evanoff is passionate about animal welfare

Belly dancer Caroline Evanoff is passionate about animal welfare

I hear you do a lot of animal rescuing and encouraging others to do the same?
Yes, I am a volunteer at ESMA (Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals), Touch of Life Organisation and when I go to Dahab, I support “Help Dahab Dogs”, plus all my personal rescues. I have seven cats [unfortunately, one of her cats, Sami, died not long after her return to Egypt after prolonged liver problems]. I go to the shelter and visit but I mainly focus on fundraising. When I travel, at least one of the places will hold a fundraising night so I can take the money to Egypt. You are unable to have a Paypal account in Egypt which makes it hard to donate otherwise, so I collect it and give it to them. Also on FB someone will post that a dog has been run over at such and such corner and direct people to help. I also do a lot of walking around Cairo, so if I see an injured animal regardless of what it is, I will want to help; dogs, cats, sheep, donkeys, goats, foxes, and once there was a crocodile!

I live in a shaabi neigbourhood, and the local children used to torture the animals in fact one of my cats, Frankie, was dipped in car oil and left to drown. Now after 6 years, the children will be the first ones to run to me if they find an injured animal, or a dog has been beaten or they find kittens, and get quite angry if I don’t take them in straight away. But I have a policy of waiting for the mother to come back to the kittens. So they are really on to it, and I am really happy about that. They are the next generation so it is good to see these changes occur now to them while they are young.

This interview first appeared in OMEDA‘s The Shimmy Newsletter December 2012

To Dye or not to dye, that is the question…

Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online asks a very important question.

Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online asks a very important question.

Many, many, years ago, while I was a 19-year-old student at University, I was talking to one of my Women’s Studies lecturers and somehow the topic of her grey hair came up. She had gone completely grey in her 20’s, it was something that often happened in her family. So she just accepted that that was her hair and moved on. She said the funniest question she ever got about it was when someone asked why she “didn’t colour her hair her natural colour” we both found that hilarious at the time – grey is now her “natural colour”!

Fast forward 7 years and I found my first grey hairs at 26. I had three just at the front of my hairline. I found it hilarious! I marched into my Mother’s room, where she was recovering from surgery for ovarian cancer and told her she’d given me grey hairs! We made jokes that it was usually the other way around, that children gave their Mother’s grey hairs!

Six months later, and they had spread to all along my part line. So I parted my hair differently. A year later they were all through the top of my head. As you can imagine, with my Mother’s illness, I was still pretty stressed, so I dyed my hair it’s “natural colour”.

She died when I was 28, and by then I was regularly dyeing my hair. “Luckily” (depending on your perspective) my hair grows slowly, so it wasn’t as often as some people, usually before an important event or trip.

Should Charni from BellyDance Lessons Online dye her hair its "natural colour"?

Should Charni from BellyDance Lessons Online dye her hair its “natural colour”?

Once I became a Mother myself at 30, with the birth of my son, I didn’t have the time or inclination, so I just chopped it all off to a pixie cut, and the greys were less obvious. Then after my daughter was born three years later, I started to grow it out.

My daughter is now 5 years old and I have started to question whether I should keep dyeing my “highlights” as I refer to them. What message am I sending?
Should I emulate my University lecturer and just accept it? With my dark hair and youthful looks, I would be making a statement about being proud of what I look like. It would be telling my daughter that I am not the sum total of my hair colour, that I can be attractive AND have grey hair at the same time.

Then again is it any different to me wearing a colour which compliments my skin tone? Or an outfit which is flattering, make up, or fantastic eye-catching jewellery – or even dressing up in my belly dance costumes with full make up and hair done. Is this being less honest? I don’t think so.

So herein lies my dilemma. To dye or not to dye. Hmmmm, maybe I worry about it when she is six…

Technology for Belly Dancers

 

Your smart phone can be the gateway to improve your bellydancing!

Your smart phone can be the gateway to improve your bellydancing!

The world of technology is increasing at such a rapid rate. Even us belly dancers have not been left out! I started my online classes three years ago and it was considered quite “daring”, and yes there were (and still are) few other belly dance teachers instructing their students through this method, however learning online is gaining popularity.

Another technology that is gaining popularity are “apps” or applications for smartphones and tablet devices. I thought I would let you know of some apps I have found out about which are very helpful for belly dancers.

A Darabuka is the key to many of the technology apps for belly dancers

A Darabuka is the key to many of the technology apps for belly dancers

Shazam (listens to a song then tells you name and artist if it is in its database
Dum Tek contains over 30 Middle Eastern rhythms (or variations thereof) with notation and play at different speeds. Note these are drum rhythms, not zill rhythms.
RhythmID – like Dum Tek with 15 rhythms, you can also record your own rhythms.
ZillOPhone: plays Maqsoum/ Masmoudi Saghir (filled with bridge)/Baladi rhythm does not actually seem to be played with live zills, more like an electronic version.

A website version of Shazam which I have found extremely helpful as it has helped my find the title and artist of some (really) old pieces of music I had on cassette tape: http://www.midomi.com

Hope this helps! Enjoy your explorations of technology with belly dance!

The secret of Shakira’s hips is out!

Shakira's hips don't lie when the music is right!

Shakira’s hips don’t lie when the music is right!

We all know that Shakira’s “hips don’t lie” but until now, we did not know what she meant! I always took it to be about body shape and enjoying the curves, however in an article published in March 2014 by Women’s Health Magazine with Shakira on the cover, she reveals the true secret behind the lyrics: It’s all in the music. She says that when she is in the studio recording, she knows when a song isn’t right or finished if her hips aren’t moving, in other words – she is not feeling it in her body. When her hips start to move along with the music, then she knows it is ready. (read more on what she says)

I am often telling women to listen to their bodies when dancing and to get the brain out of the way. Often a move is over-analysed and critiqued. Shut the thoughts off (especially the negative ones) and let your body feel the music and the rhythm will flow. The hips don’t lie!

Watch her feel the music live on stage!

She thinks white belly dancers should be banned?!?

Charni of Belly Dance Lessons Online should not be dancing or teaching belly dance as she is not arabic, according to Randa Jarrar.

Charni of Belly Dance Lessons Online should not be dancing or teaching belly dance as she is not arabic, according to Randa Jarrar.

There has been a furor in the media recently over an article written by Randa Jarrar called “Why I can’t stand white belly dancers” she states that she feels it is “appropriation”, that this dance form is originally danced by arabic women and should remain so. Hmmmmm.

She refers to a white belly dancer as being dressed in “arabic drag” as  “that’s what that is, when a person who’s not Arab wears genie pants and a bra and heavy eye makeup and Arabic jewelry, or jewelry that is meant to read as “Arabic” because it’s metallic and shiny and has squiggles of some kind”. Ms Jarrar, I feel that it is a form of flattery, and is spreading the dance around the world. Also, as a side note, which seems to contradict Ms Jarrar’s points, belly dancing is a highly unacceptable dance form for Arabic women in Egypt, and most of the professionals in Cairo, are, in fact, not Arabic at all. And those who are, are actually shunned by their families.

There has been a tongue-in-cheek rebuttal from Sam Doloncot called “Yes, White Belly Dancing Is Inexcusable Cultural Appropriation”. He points out that, going by Ms Jarrar’s arguments, no-one of non-Chinese ethnicity should eat at a Chinese restaurant, and someone “who suffers a serious but non-permanent physically debilitating injury shouldn’t be allowed the use of a wheelchair, as this is an ableist appropriation of differently abled culture”, and other (quite amusing) comparisons.

I would also like to point out that Randa Jarrar is half Palestinian, half American, educated in the USA. So can she really speak on behalf of all Arabic women? Do I wish I had an arabic heritage? Yes, in many ways, I feel there are parts of the dance and culture I am not understanding properly; plus, as I don’t speak Arabic, I can only go by translations I am given of songs I am dancing to. However, to change my heritage would change me, a child of immigrant parents from the UK to Australia. And it was only a few generations ago, one side of my family immigrated to the UK from Italy, does this mean it is okay for me to eat pasta and pizza without feeling I am taking inappropriate cultural liberties?

Is it culturally disrespectful for me to belly dance or an homage?

Karim Nagi actually discussed this topic (in a reasoned and logical manner) in a panel discussion in the Diwan 2009 conference at The Arab American National Museum in Deerborn Michigan, USA. The audience consisted of Arab artists from various fields. Karim, an Arabic musician, discusses the Americanisation of Arab dance in America, and how Arabs can reintegrate into the developement of their own art forms.

What do you think?

Is it impossible?

I get students telling me that they are completely uncoordinated and could “never” belly dance. They feel it is “impossible” for them because they have a pre-conceived (and often inaccurate) idea of firstly what it is to belly dance, and secondly what they are capable of. Nobody can start something and be fantastic at it straight away! It takes time to get the skills and build them up until you feel confident. Women particularly, are very hard on themselves and I can see when they start to think too much or having negative thoughts – because it reflects on their dancing, posture and the way they move. Often this stems from a time when they were young when someone called them ‘uncordinated’ or ‘clumsy’ and that formed a part of their self-belief or how they picture themselves.

This is all untrue! All you need are a few basic things:
1. a willingness to give it a go even if you don’t get it right
2. patience
3. the right teacher

Then the “impossible” becomes “I’m possible”!!

Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online agrees that Audrey Hepburn, while being a very classy lady is absolutly spot on when she says "Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible'!"

Charni from Belly Dance Lessons Online agrees that Audrey Hepburn, while being a very classy lady is absolutly spot on when she says “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!”