When I Was 20 I Discovered I Had Hips (Among Other Things)
I was raised conservatively and had no idea I had hips until I was 20. Even after this surprising discovery, I still had no idea how to use them.
This is the story of how I discovered and learned how to use those hips (as well as a couple other things I discovered about myself along the way). Enjoy.
Three years ago I lived in Rabat, Morocco for four months during a study abroad program. When I was there, I took a series of belly dancing classes from a petite male Moroccan instructor who religiously wore a sparkly, cropped top. (I am a little foggy on the details of how I agreed to take belly-dancing classes. I think it was a combination of my adventurous spirit, the urging of my fellow American classmates, and the fact that I was in another country and knew nobody from home would ever be a witness to my attempts.)
When I started taking belly dancing classes there was a lot of initial awkwardness. A couple of my classmates who joined in the class were practically seasoned professionals who had experience shimmying their way through salsa dancing classes and tango classes. These girls knew what they were doing and, even if they didn’t, their confidence made you think they did. They looked great.
I was not in that camp. My background consists of soccer, running, singing, band, and church group. None of these activities naturally lend to knowledge of Middle Eastern suggestive dance moves. I felt awkward and giggled nervously when I was told to shimmy. I was hesitant to move and felt robotic. To make it worse, the instructor had a habit of coming over to me and sadly saying, “America” while shaking his head. He would demonstrate the move, show how I was not doing the move, and attempt to correct me. I was self-conscious about how my body moved and looked.
Discovering My Hips
After one class, as I walked back with some of the other students-turned-belly-dancers to the old part of Rabat, I was struck by something one of the confident dancers said. She told me about her love of music and the ability to feel beautiful when music played. She stopped caring about the size of her thighs, the color of her skin, or what people might think of her. When she heard music she flowed into the song and engaged her entire self. As she danced, she remembered how beautiful she was.
I had no idea that I was beautiful.
Well, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but I can truthfully say I have never been taught to be excited about my appearance. However, this next class I told myself to stop worrying about what my classmates thought, about my hair that day, and about the pressure of getting everything perfect. I closed my eyes, put my arms up, and moved my body around like someone who was confident and attractive. As I progressed, I became less afraid to shimmy, more confident with every hip shake, and I started to reflect on the years that had told me I was too awkward to dance. AND to make things even better, the instructor came over, called me “America” in an approving tone, and let me wear the sparkly hanging belt! Success!
As I reflect on the couple of months where I was a regular belly dancer, I can see the way I acquired a new level of confidence and my overall appreciation for movement grew. After letting myself act beautiful in a room full of friends and free of judgment, I became more ready to accept myself as beautiful person without any apologies. Plus, my friends have commented on my new sense of rhythm and now they don’t question my ability to dance anymore! (Although I have still not mastered the infamous “pop, lock, and drop it.”)
Today’s homework assignment: Dance
I will conclude by asking you to find time today to get alone, turn the music up, and dance as if you are hot stuff. Yes, I said hot stuff. Do not worry if you overslept this morning and your hair smells funky. Do not worry if you still have not lost the 5 pounds you promised you would for New Year’s. And please stop thinking you are awkward and not the most beautiful one in the room. Instead, let yourself dance and start believing you are the incredibly beautiful person that you are.