Beauty is a Light in the Heart

(Title inspired by Khalil Gibran)

I’m not going to tell you how or where I got the inspiration for this post. It could have been a recent interaction with a client, or a little birdie could have whispered in my ear while I was out on a walk. That is neither here nor there.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty lately, as it’s always present, and always inspiring me to dance and give each performance my all. I see beauty in a room full of smiling people; in a bride trying some new moves with me on the dance floor; in bringing people from different cultures together through music and dance. I see a whole lot of beauty when I teach a group of women at a bachelorette party or bridal shower and they feel empowered to MOVE and feel fierce.

To me, Middle Eastern dance embodies “real” beauty in every sense of the word – warmth, sweetness, inner strength, individuality and living in the moment.

But beauty is also something I occasionally find myself at odds with, as my personal values and aesthetics frequently clash with the superficial values of the entertainment industry, which dictates that a belly dancer must look “a certain way” in order to be marketable. To quote Dita Von Teese, “You could be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, but there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” Similarly, it doesn’t matter how great you look, or how many people tell you that you’re gorgeous – you just never know when it might be your turn to either field somebody’s ignorant remark, or to lose a gig because you didn’t “look the part.”

To add to the confusion, it’s not always about having exotic features, and there’s no such thing as universally “looking the part” – a client might choose a belly dancer with blonde, wavy hair over a dusky, raven-haired beauty because Shakira is their ideal!

At times, it’s challenging to know that clients might judge me because my hair’s the wrong shade of brunette, or my skin’s too fair, or blue eyes aren’t “exotic” to them. But even when I’m feeling tested, I could never feel more inspired. Sharing my art at weddings and events totally jazzes me. In fact, it jazzes me more now than ever before. Because I know that heaven is here on earth, in bright and happy places; that dancing takes me there, and I bring my audiences along for the ride. And because you never know who you can inspire!

The power to inspire is something that transcends age, height, weight, body type, skin color, and any other reason for people to judge you or cut you down. You can never be too old, too young, too fat, too thin, too skinny, too curvy, too white or too dark to MOVE an audience and, in turn, be moved. Any time somebody tells me that a slim, petite, blue-eyed American girl can’t pass for an authentic belly dancer, I thank them for their feedback, say “aww, bless your little cotton socks,” and quietly prove them wrong by making my next show (and the next one….and the next one…) an even more beautiful and uplifting experience.

Truth is, you’ll never change the people who think you’re too short, too tall, too fat, too thin, too young, too old, too white, too dark, too blonde, too brunette, too ugly, too beautiful, or too “just not right” for their standards. If looks are a client’s only consideration, then they’re probably NOT your ideal client, anyway, even if they DO hire you for the gig solely based on your appearance. (Chew on that!)

Now, before we wrap this up, I want you to close your eyes and imagine that you’re on a patio by the water, with the sweet sounds of Middle Eastern music around you. A belly dancer is performing, and she has you transfixed. This is one of the first times you’ve seen a belly dancer perform live, and you feel as though you’ve been transported to some magical and serene place along the Nile. The dancer conceals and reveals with a yellow silk veil, and all the audience members around you are talking about how mysterious her dance is. The guy sitting next to you says it’s just like what he saw when he went to Greece.

Now, imagine that this dancer is Irish, with strawberry blonde hair and fair, freckled skin. Does this change the experience for you, or the way you perceive it?

What I just described to you was one of my earliest experiences watching a belly dancer perform, and that belly dancer, Adina, went on to become my first mentor and one of the most influential people in my dance career.

You never know who may see beauty in what you do, and what they’ll do with the beauty they’ve seen.

You never know who you may inspire.

So let your inner light shine, and make sure your audience is wearing shades!



Comments · 4

  1. Thanks, Rasha! Beauty standards are a topic that entertainers don’t really talk about much, but I figure that I can’t be alone in my occasional frustration with the superficial nature of the biz. We can’t change showbiz, but we can mix a healthy dose of substance and soul in with the sparkle! :)

  2. K, I totally agree. On the one hand, you get a pretty thick skin working in this industry, and you quickly learn to “suck it up and deal” with a great deal of criticism and rejection. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean we have to like it every time somebody opines on what they think a belly dancer should look like.

    Of course, “haters gonna hate,” and I’m lucky to have an amazing group of clients who not only appreciates the physical beauty of a belly dancer, but the strong, confident inner beauty that our dance represents!

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