It’s the number one question on any new acquaintence’s list: “How did you get into belly dancing, anyway?”
Or, as I was recently asked in a TV interview, “Did you discover the dance, or did belly dance discover you?”
We belly dancers love that question, because the answer is often frivolous or mundane, but the hidden subtext is that we might have learned to dance on vacation in Morocco, or while kidnapped by a band of performing Gypsies. The question is often followed by, “So where are you from, anyway?”
Some dancers will spin a spiritual yarn, even if it’s not 100% accurate. As for me, I delight in the shockingly simple explanations.
I’m an American girl of mixed Germanic/European heritage. I’ve lived in Connecticut all my life. And I picked up belly dance on a whim during my sophomore year at Marist College. Final exams were making me crazy. So crazy, in fact, that I saw Shakira dancing on TV one night and dared myself to see if I could move like her. I found myself in a belly dance class at the Poughkeepsie YMCA, was instantly hooked – and the rest, my friends, is history.
In the belly dance world, you lose valuable “street cred” if you own up to divine inspiration by way of Shakira. But hey. As with any great story, the opening act merely sets the stage. You can meet the love of your life in the produce aisle of the grocery store. (I met my boyfriend Stacy while booking a pinup-style photo shoot!) Some of the best things in life happen at random or in everyday scenarios of less-than-cinematic proportions.
It’s where the story goes next that matters.
For me, belly dance quickly evolved from a flippy little collegiate outburst to a head-over-heels thing. It was as if all of my interests – music composition, history, culture, movement, female empowerment, self-expression, flashy costuming – all came together at one point. And it was the first point in my young adulthood that I came to value what my body can do – and what my body’s done for me – over how it stacks up against the average Victoria’s Secret model.
Of course, just as I discovered the dance sorta by accident, I became a professional belly dancer somewhat at random, too. Again, I make no bones about it. It is what it is.
When I graduated and moved back to Connecticut, I soon found Adina, a Milford-based instructor who would soon become my good friend and “sensei.” When somebody asks what a nice girl like me is doing in the entertainment biz, I blame Adina ;) She convinced me that I was good enough to perform at a professional level, and I ran with it. She let me tag along on all of her gigs, showed me how to handle all situations gracefully, how to put together a set for an American audience (versus Turkish, Egyptian, Lebanese, etc.), and how to throw down at a party gig. After a year or two of following her around to gigs and performing mini-sets under her guidance, I was ready to strike out on my own.
No, I haven’t been dreaming of becoming a professional belly dancer since I was a little girl. I didn’t even want to “go pro” when I first started – in fact, even student recitals scared me silly. I eased my way in, tested the waters, and plain and simple, surprised myself. Maybe that’s why my totally random, unromantic belly dance discovery tale means so much to me.
Perhaps, there is a greater spiritual reason behind my loving Shakira, throwing caution to the wind, and taking that first class at the Y. I may never find out in this lifetime. But I do know that I live my life in the moment and I dream with both eyes open – opportunity presents itself in the subtlest ways. If you go through life looking for movie magic, then you’re bound to miss the stuff that love stories, hero’s tales and happy endings are made of.