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….
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!
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. 😀
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.