If I could create a list of Cardinal Rules of Being a Professional Belly Dancer, I’m pretty sure #1 would be: “Everyone’s a critic. You can’t please everyone, and you’ll go crazy if you try.”
Lord knows, I didn’t “go pro” yesterday. I’m aware that I’m involved in a very shallow industry. In the entertainment biz, you can only expect to lose gigs based on totally superficial factors. Some days, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Case in point: Within the last few weeks, three of my friends in the Orlando wedding community advised me that I might run into challenges in the local wedding market because I’m a pretty girl and “every bride wants to be the prettiest girl in the room.” Being petite and athletic, I have had clients thank me for staying “in shape” unlike other belly dancers they’ve seen, and I’ve also had audience members tell me point-blank that if I want to call myself a belly dancer, I need to gain 20 lbs. It’s tiring, but it’s a fact of life, and I’m grateful that a) my clients are a savvy bunch and they hire me based on intangibles like my professional reputation, and b) I don’t draw all of my personal identity from belly dance, or my eligibility to get certain types of gigs. My boyfriend, my friends, my two pugs, and my love of nature and the outdoors are what keep me sane.
Despite the more superficial side of dancing professionally, what draws many of us to belly dance is that it actually is a very beautiful dance on women (and men!) of ALL body types. Under the umbrella of “famous” belly dancers, you’ll see everything from tiny and petite to statuesque and voluptuous. Not to mention, unlike ballet, jazz, modern or other Westernized dance forms, you WILL see famous belly dancers well into their 30’s, 40’s and beyond, who are still rockin’ it. Outside of the more superficial circles, maturity is actually considered an asset in belly dance, as confidence, emotional depth and life experience lend soul and beauty where raw technique leaves off. I know for a fact that in my late 20’s, I’ve become a far more expressive, soulful and entertaining dancer than I was when I was 22 and just excited to be onstage – and I also know that I’ve only uncovered the beginning of my potential!
One of the coolest things about belly dance is that it looks totally different on every body type. You can give 12 girls the same move or the same choreography, and you will get a different dance from everyone in the room. Last weekend, when doing a bachelorette party at Diamond Ballroom & Dance in Oviedo, I taught my girls how to do an Egyptian shimmy, and the running commentary in the room made me smile. “Is your butt supposed to shake?” “Oh my goodness, the flab on the back of my thighs is jiggling!” “How do I get my ‘girlfriends’ to stop jiggling? Is this supposed to happen?” “Why are my triceps shaking?”
My response? “Congratulations, girls, you’re doing it right!”
There were audible laughs and sighs of relief, and once the bachelorettes realized this was perfectly normal, they also realized it was pretty cool. As I explained to them, I’ve always been secretly jealous of the more “fluffy” dancers, whose shimmies pop from across the room. But if you’re a tiny little slip of a thing like myself, not all is lost: as I learned through a bit of private coaching with Aradia, it’s all a matter of relaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaxing into the movement. (Wearing costumes with short tufts of fringe also helps!)
Here’s the bottom line: Confidence is beautiful. Conformity is boring.
Have you ever seen an entertainer who kept you riveted for some inexplicable reason? By the end of her show, you hardly blinked, 30 minutes had elapsed, and it felt like only 3 minutes went by? It’s because she projected confidence onstage, plain and simple. On an internet search for belly dancers for your party, a dancer with the body of a Victoria’s Secret model may stand out. In an actual real-time performing situation, confidence will trump the perfect bod or even flawless technique, in 9 out of 10 situations. Fact: a great belly dancer does so much more than show up in a beautiful costume and shimmy. Unfortunately, many clients don’t realize this until their event has passed and all their guests have forgotten all about the entertainment – so that being said, I urge all brides and party planners to hire a belly dancer who not only looks great in her costumes, but exudes confidence and fun from the first booking conversation!
Like lots of dancers under the age of 30, I’m still building both my confidence AND my personal style. Yes, it still hurts when people make callous remarks about what a “real belly dancer” should look like. (Of course, those people usually aren’t GQ material themselves, which makes it easier to let the comments roll off your back!) But hey, it is what it is. I’m 5’0″, 95 lbs. soaking wet, built like a surfboard, and while I’m still young, I’m not necessarily getting younger. I can also pull off ridiculous cutesy-pootsy, flirty, girly moves that would make a 6’0″ glamazon feel ridiculous. And I can make my undulations look extra fluid and snake-y. And I have a wicked sense of humor, a megawatt smile, and the uncanny ability to charm the living bejeezus out of any crowd. Of all my belly dance idols, I can’t think of a single one who fits the stereotype. Key in Soheir Zaki or Fifi Abdo on YouTube and you’ll see a slew of people commenting on how they’re too fat! You can’t please everyone, but you sure as hell can be yourself, and more people will love you for that than for conforming to other people’s narrow-minded stereotypes.
To all you non-dancers who think you can tell us what a “real” belly dancer looks like? Here are my finger cymbals. YOU show us how it’s done. To quote my Jersey friend Gia al Qamar: “It’s not the shape of my ship, but the motion in my ocean!”
About Carrara Nour: Carrara is a professional belly dancer offering elegant, authentic entertainment for weddings, corporate functions and social events in Orlando and Central Florida. Learn more about Carrara or follow her on Twitter @CarraraNour.
Comments · 10
Great post! As a more voluptuous dancer I used to find myself getting snippy with petite and thin dancers thinking that the weren’t curvy enough for this art. What BS! That was my own insecurity. Once I accepted that my size was okay for bellydance I accepted that everyone else’s size was too. All the other qualities you listed are the ones that count. And good on you, for realizing that you can’t please everyone so you need to seek out those who are pleased by you the way you are. Which if I may say so is awesome.
You say is so true! You see, it’s always the problem with dance, it’s critical. If this is not another dancer who said in your back that you can not dance, there is someone who does not know at all who dares comment on the shape of your body.
Well said!!! It’s so true that of any dance form, BD is something different to everyone & for that reason, it’s all the more richer!
Soraya, you’re so right. Everyone’s a critic. That’s why I tend to ignore everyone. LOL.
You can almost excuse the general public for making ignorant remarks, because they ARE ignorant. And it’s our job to educate them. But what I can’t stand is when you hear other dancers ripping each other apart over looks. I heard a dancer who’s in her early 20’s describe another dancer (who appears to be in her early 30’s) as an “old lady.” If that’s your attitude, then I say you need to quit while you’re ahead of the game. LOL.
I don’t go to a whole lot of haflas, because listening to the commentary just gets too depressing!
Azraa, I’m glad you had this realization! Too often, we hear dance instructors making comments along the lines of, “But who wants to see a dancer with a 6-pack?” or “Real women have curves!” or (my favorite) “Thin dancers get booed offstage in Egypt!” (Last time I checked, Leila of Cairo was doing pretty well for herself, over there.)
I’m sure nobody actively means any harm when they make those statements, but yes, they CAN be damaging to students on the smaller end of the spectrum. A better alternative is to say that belly dance is for EVERYONE, not just for curvy women, and not just for women, for that matter. (My other pet peeve is that we’re always excluding dudes.)
And yes, I always prefer to perform for an appreciative audience. If they’re going to get picky about my weight or some other aspect of my physical appearance, then they’ll probably get unnecessarily picky about other things, too. Or otherwise, appreciate my performance for all the wrong reasons.
I’ve heard all kinds of remarks before about my body – the most interesting was hearing a CHP officer remark to his friend, “She doesn’t have much of a belly to be a belly dancer”. That actually made me feel better though because I had been feeling like my abs were out of shape at the time ;) But it is ridiculous, because when I started out dancing, I had to put on weight to fill out costumes nicely, and now I find myself having to shape up so I can compete with the younger dancers – and I’m not even 30! There’s so many super thin girls coming into our community right now, and some of them are glorious dancers, but it’s frustrating to be told that I need to fit THEIR mold when really, they’re the ones that look awkward wearing Bellas with bra cups that are too big. Personally, this comment might be divisive, but I think that cabaret looks performed best on curvy women with round rumps in all the right places, and tribal looks best on really thin women. But that’s just MY opinion :)
Julia – Yeah, some days, it definitely feels like an uphill battle. That’s why there are certain types of venues I stay FAR away from. I’d hate to dance somewhere and know that I’m totally replaceable next time somebody younger, cuter and cheaper drops off their card!
As for your observation on body type, I think we can agree to disagree on that one. Perhaps, those girls haven’t found the right style that works on their body type. I know I’m just speaking for myself, but there’s a world of difference between my dancing when I tried to force myself into a “modern Egyptian” mold, and when I learned to visually soften the lines and angles of my body with fluid Lebanese and Golden Age Egyptian nuances. I work a lot with gentle angles, stylish traveling steps and pretty arm patterns. If you watch recent clips of Didem, you’ll notice that she looks much better now that she’s using flowing arm patterns and more “full-bodied” movements. And have you SEEN Ava Fleming’s drum solos? She is SCARY good, and she’s built like me, only on a much taller frame.
Blanket statements are not only damaging, but in many cases, they’re simply untrue. Body-wise, I’m more of a Zoe or a Rachel than an Aziza, but my pops and locks are wonky, and I still can’t do tribal worth a damn. LOL. Similarly, the girls in Fat Chance Belly Dance don’t have sylph-like physiques, yet they invented tribal and can dance circles around most of today’s fusionistadores.
We could get into a discussion about the “X-Factor,” and what it is, and who has it, and that’s for another blog post. But there’s a little more to it than dress size, alone…
Moya, that’s so true. Being a belly dance fan and only appreciating one style or body type is like going to a rich banquet and only eating one thing. How boring is that! Personally, I like to feast my eyes on everything. It’s ALL good!
thank you for this post. :) I often feel that “all body types” bellydance sentence in reality means “big girls look better than the small ones”, especially because of the attitude some people have. :/
Alice – Isn’t that the truth? It’s kind of sad how women feel the need to uplift people like themselves by bringing “the other” down. I’ve had to correct dancer-friends in the past for using the “real women have curves” spiel to recruit people to join their classes. I know their intention was to be inclusive, but slamming women with smaller curves totally defeats the purpose. Not to mention, what about male dancers? Jim Boz doesn’t have an hourglass figure, but he can dance circles around many of us, myself included!