I grew up studying, teaching and competing in marital arts, as well as playing competitive soccer. I also immersed myself into running, weight lifting, and bodybuilding in early adulthood. My point is, I came from a very strong athletic background that invited much of my inner “masculine energy”, even though I oozed “girly-ness” on the outside. As human beings, we all have a mix of masculine and feminine energy within us, regardless of our gender. Some of us have stronger masculine energy and others have stronger feminine energy. It’s rarely exactly 50/50, and I dare say, it’s not necessary to achieve 50/50, but rather, what feels right to each individual at that time in their life, given their current context.
In the past four years, as I started to explore other aspects of myself through my own therapy training and sessions, I started to gain more interest in activities outside of competitive sports. I wanted to explore my creative side (a prominent “feminine energy” quality). Professionally, as my therapy approach shifted from head oriented to that of a much more holistic mind/body/spirit oriented approach, I started to take interest in yoga, especially hot yoga. I loved the way the stretches and movements made me feel during and afterwards. I loved breathing through the discomfort and tolerating it, and noticing that overtime, the discomfort in these same stretches lessened each time I experienced them. I view yoga and stretching in general, as “dessert” to my workouts- balancing the intensity of my workouts with gentleness of my soul. I love that yoga is also an activity that invites inner reflection and witnessing of self. I was also made aware that yoga was made for various body types. – people whom I would have never guessed would be super flexible, were super flexible and strong. How amazing!
I also remember going to a hip hop charity event, and was inspired by a male tap dancer- how amazingly he moved and the thythm he made with his tap shoes! I was so inspired that I signed up for tap dancing that year at a local dance studio- not really knowing what to expect. I was excited, yet nervous and intimidated about knowing absolutely nothing about tap – and had created ideas in my head of everyone having some kind of dance background and knowledge, and having these amazing dancer bodies. My first day was an eye opener, there were women of various levels and various body types (not the “professional” dancer bodies that I imagined!) and it made me realize to look past the body shape and focus on the art of movement, and the function of our incredible bodies. Tap dancing was extremely challenging and so new for my body to move in such a way! My brain literally hurt every time class ended – it was like I could literally feel new neural pathways forming in my brain! Seriously!
I continued in tap for another year, until unfortunately, the class was offered only to advanced students (and well, I know my limits! There was no way I was going to categorize myself as advanced after only taking two years of tap!) Over this past summer, my good friend, Jana, started to informally teach me and two of my other good friends, hula hoop dancing. The sheer joy of feeling like a child again- freely circling my hips, twirling the hoop, jumping through the hoop, moving with the hoop…being in rhythm with the hoop (okay, okay, I admit, I was not that smooth!) – just playing and laughing at ourselves – was truly wonderful. How it brought back true playfulness into my life – and what better way than with three of my favorite girlfriends! A couple times this year, we had hula hooping sessions/parties with a bigger group of women (and their young daughters) – and it just brought out so many wonderful inner connections within and between us. I remember we hula’d past the sunset, and the stars were high in the sky -and we just kept moving and all we could really see were our shadows and hear our laughter and the music. Something about that experience was really magical for me – it deepened me into my own sensuality and playfulness. I felt deeply inspired.
This past fall, I took up something I’ve wanted to try for awhile…belly dancing! I’ve always admired that belly dancing was such a beautiful art in movement, and that belly dancing knows no borders with body shape and size. I really got to experience this firsthand! Let me explain: Belly dancing costumes are…well…let’s face it…sensual and “sexy”. Often, women wear bra tops with their hip belts and skirts/”Aladdin” pants (best way to describe them!) 😉 Having just given birth to a beautiful baby boy this year, I still have evidence of some “mommy tummy” (in place of previously defined abdominal muscles) and this past year, although I’ve been working on embracing my new curves, I do have occasional days where I am self conscious about them (yep, I’m human!) 😉
Even though I thought I had learned to gradually relax into my new body and felt comfortable in it 90% of the time, that 10% of discomfort all of a sudden skyrocked (!!!) when I learned that it was encouraged that we wear just bra tops for our belly dance recital. “Ummmm…what? I can’t wear my tank top under my bra?!” was my immediate and somewhat panicked reaction. It was of course, an option to wear a tank, so I admit I chickened out and selected that option. So, okay, I guess I wasn’t as comfortable in my own skin as I previously thought!
It wasn’t until a few days later, when I went to our dress rehearsal,I walked in and saw my classmates (women of various ages, shapes and sizes) in their bra top costumes – and noticed how amazingly beautiful they looked- immediately, I was completely empowered to wear my costume without the safety blanket of my tank top. It was fun to select what costumes would embellish our movements in our bodies (note: not the same as bodypart!). I felt beautiful, even with my softer tummy sticking out, as I watched myself dance in the mirror. I truly felt like something inside me transformed and deepened that day – a deeper acceptance of my body as it is NOW.
Our dance recital was yesterday, and there was a significant of people in the audience. And at no point, did I feel self -conscious about my belly being exposed- in fact I didn’t even give much thought of my belly being exposed! There were women of all shapes and sizes, dressed in beautiful, vibrant colored material – bellies of all shapes and sizes exposed! -all around me, and it just felt like a community of wonderful celebration – celebration of womanhood, of sensuality, of the art of movement, of our hard work. I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing not only each group dance, but the sense of empowerment amongst each woman.
As you can see from my post, I’ve learned alot about myself in this belly dancing experience. Even though I work in helping clients accept their own bodies, and even though I have come along ways in my own relationship with my body, it’s apparent this work is multi-layered as I still find myself struggling at times and continue to find learning in my own experiences. The difference now is that I’m much quicker to feel grounded in the place of embracing myself fully. Knowing all the “tools” is one thing, and having to apply these tools in real life is another thing. I’ve done this process before in different contexts, and each time, it’s different, and each time, it deepens my self-love.
Our society and especially, social media, shapes us into being self conscious about the shapes of our bodies. I loved that my experiences in yoga, tap dancing, hula hoop dancing and belly dancing shifted that focus from physical body to movement of body, function of body, and inner qualities of empowerment, creativity, sensuality, playfulness, inspiration and aliveness!
One of the greatest gifts of having “mommy tummy” (besides the obvious!) is that it is an opportunity to truly discover and/or deepen self-love, self-acceptance and a healthy/healthier body image. In addition, one of the gifts of discovering dance is being in a community (of women in my cases) in which who you are is embraced regardless of age, level of skill, and body type. It is supportive communities that further strengthen and deepen our love and acceptance of ourselves.
Our journey of growth, no matter who we are, is never “complete” – we’re imperfect- and we’re always evolving… and that’s what make us beautifully human. 🙂
Lori and I with our fabulous belly dance instructor, Rita!