5 Reasons Why Your Daughters Should Be Allowed To Belly Dance
Most parents of young girls and teens who come to the studio have heard at least one of the following statements from family or peers:
“You allow your daughter do THAT?”
“Why would you allow her do something so sexy, so young?”
“I would never allow MY daughter do something like that!”
To these responses, I always shrug and reply, “Yes. Unfortunately, you’re going to get that.”
Most folks have no idea what Belly Dancing is. They imagine MTV music videos of scantily clad women in two-piece costumes twerking in hookah bars, because this is the only image of “belly dancers” to which they have been exposed.
The reality is, people don’t get exposed to church haflas (parties), studio dance performances, internationally travelling shows, or the culture of so many women who enjoy this dance at home with friends and family - places where this dance does flourish in all its intent and beauty. Nor are most people aware that Belly Dance is one of the oldest social dances among women, performed by thousands of young girls, all over the world, often right by the sides of their mothers, grandmothers, and aunts. In some countries, there are Belly Dance schools, similar to those dedicated to ballet and other dance forms. Belly Dance is a healthy activity promoting positive self-esteem and comradery among girls.
I started belly dance young. I took my first Belly Dance class when I was 14, tired of being bullied in field hockey for not being the fastest runner. I wanted to be part of a team, but I wasn’t competitive enough. I even had to sew two hockey skirts together in order for the uniform to fit my body, and I was so embarrassed over how it looked.
In search of an activity where I would be a better fit and feel more welcomed, I came across a flyer for a Belly Dance class. Since I enjoyed dancing to hip-hop music, I thought maybe it was something, “similar” (ha). Though it turned out not to be quite the case, eighteen years later, I’m still studying the art of belly dance and sharing the love of a dance and community I credit with saving my life and keeping me too busy to get into trouble.
1. It’s fun and non-competitive
Unlike other dance styles and activities, Belly Dancing is non-competitive. There’s no end goal; there’s no graduation, only personal growth. You do it to learn how to move your body in a way that makes you feel good, and do so while spending time and laughing with others. Today, almost all activities for school age girls are competitive - sports, theatre, even math teams. There is very little out there for girls to do that is just for them, just for fun, self-directed, with maybe a soft goal of performing if they wish. And even then, performing is an optional goal!
2. Belly Dance Builds Positive Self-Esteem
Girls are constantly fed media and marketing telling them how they should look. I remember being a pre-teen and looking at beauty magazines. I skipped lunches, did 1,000 sit-ups, and I still never felt good enough. There are hundreds of studies on the impact of Photoshopped media and self-esteem. I have had girls in class as young as six say negative things about the way they look. It’s so disheartening. Building a positive self-worth starts early and impacts a girl’s success for the rest of her life!
By 7th grade, I was 5 ft. 6 in., with a large chest, and long, awkward legs. When I stepped into my first Belly Dance class, I was immediately welcomed by women of all shapes, sizes, and ages. When they walked around that room, they owned their own beauty through posture, poise, and passion. There was even an older woman who was going through chemo, strutting proudly her bald head. I studied her and thought she was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. Then I realized, what this style of dance gave, was the ability to walk with purpose, to move the body when one feels like it, and to own those movements as their own. When a girl or woman is empowered to love their own body as is, that’s what makes them shine; that’s what makes them beautiful. Photoshop could never touch that!
We have this phenomenon happen at the studio. If we wear two piece costumes, the audience spends more time thinking about how we fit into their narrow expectations of what a Belly Dancer should look like (thanks MTV!). They watch the show, but they are distracted. When we wear dresses or something fully covered, we get more applause for the exact same piece. It doesn’t matter what age, size, or shape the dancers are, we received the same response! Sometimes, even our audiences get distracted by what we should be. But our dancers never do, because they are too busy having fun, and it shows. Usually after a performance other women come up to our dancers to compliment them and say they are an inspiration. Whatever happens in life, whatever shape our body takes, and regardless of who is watching, we must learn to never lose our own sparkle and keep dancing!
3. They learn to own and control their own bodies
There comes a special power when a person can control their body - in what they wear, who they allow near it, and how they feel. When you can control the smallest movement, a turn of the wrist, a movement of the hip, there’s this sense of accomplishment and empowerment that comes with it. Even with full grown women, the fact that they learn to control muscles and movements to own as their own is a spark of freedom! There are also benefits to releasing and moving through whole muscle groups for relaxation and detoxification similar to Yoga and Pilates.
4. It makes them less susceptible to negative self-talk and external pressures
I have also experienced that girls who start Belly Dancing, have a higher self-worth, have more of a self-purpose or are more motivated towards their own personal goals. They know their body is a powerful tool, and they learn that although they may not be able to do a particular movement yet, they know they will be able to. They seem to respond better when bullied or harassed in school. An example was when one young lady came in saying that someone had said her hips were too big, of which she replied, “why thank-you!” and walked away dancing. I think it also helps being part of a community of women in various stages of the natural aging process instead of just hanging out with their age clichés and the issues they have at that specific age.
5. Learning to spend time on themselves is a healthy habit to start early
Ok, this one may be more for the parents. I started teaching in 2003. Since then, something has happened in our culture. I’ve talked to my mentors about this, and they say they have seen the same trend: women feel guilty taking time away from their families. Leaving one night a week is hard. Leaving for a one hour class to recharge makes them feel guilty. This is not healthy for moms, it doesn’t build independence for the rest of the family, and no one has recharge time alone! Mom not taking time for herself sets the tone for the next generation of women.
Sometimes women come to the studio and the first thing they do is take a deep breath. When they come, they’re drained. When they leave, they’re smiling. Regardless if it is Belly Dancing, Yoga, or sitting and reading a book, find something for you for an hour a week! You can always come with your daughter/granddaughter/niece/foster child too, but quite possibly, you could find that hour for yourself while your daughter is learning to own her own movements and sparkle!
This post is written and sponsored by Raq-On Dance.