One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

October 17, 2010

Body Issues on Both Sides of the Stage

The good thing about doing two dance performances at the beginning of your weekend is that it makes it feel like a whole damn weekend has already gone by and then the rest of the weekend feels like a bonus.

Until you remember that you should go into work on Sunday. Ew, gross.

During my performance this afternoon, I was realizing that whenever I perform I always look for the person in the audience with the biggest smile and then I play right to that person. I don’t know why – and that’s definitely not a pro-tip. If someone said, “you have to play to all of the audience” or “project to the back of the audience” that would make more sense. But for me, finding that person gives me a place to look when I realize that I’m letting my gaze fall. And it’s a place to look that will instantly remind me to smile. And it makes my smile warmer instead of just a stage smile. There have been some performances that, for me, just turned into this amazing intense exchange between me and an audience member. A girl in the front row in a wheelchair who just kept eye contact with me and beamed through a whole dance – who acted like I was dancing just for her, and so, by the end, I really was. An older couple who gave me such wide, kind smiles every time I looked at them that I couldn’t look away.

I saw Amy’s mom on my way to my first performance Friday night. That was nice, I haven’t seen her in forever. I looked for her during the freedance to see if I could get her up to dance, but I couldn’t find her. Once we were up on stage I spotted her off to the side. Probably hiding from me. But once I spotted her, she was certainly one of the smilers whose face I kept coming back to. And another woman at the other side of the audience, sitting alone, who spent the whole performance with that unconscious, so-into-it grin the whole time.

I guess part of the reason, too, is that there are often scowlers. There was a row of three scowlers right behind the smiling woman – and when I spotted them, I instantly looked around for someone in the audience who wanted to be smiled at. You might wonder why someone would even come to a belly dance performance just to then fold their arms and scowl, but as they’re mostly younger women, I feel a great amount of sympathy for the position they’re in. I feel like they’re still deeply in the age where they have to constantly pick apart the acceptability of their own appearance, and that leads to being very, very critical of other women, especially Older, Stretch-Marked or Plumper women who dare to perform belly dance in midriff baring costumes. I feel like I have probably been those young women – so I totally sympathize. But while I’m onstage, I don’t want to get sucked into pondering the self-esteem or judgments of strangers. And also, I feel like if I find and focus on the people who are having a great time and if I focus on having a great time myself, maybe the best answer to the judging faces is to plant the seed of an idea that no matter what state your body is in you can celebrate it in a way that makes you happy and even that makes other people happy.

On these topics, I have a couple of links for you.

First, Margaret Cho explains why belly dance is so awesome for body acceptance

“When you go see a belly dance show, if you look around, a lot of the women are crying. Tears for a million different reasons. Because they can’t believe how beautiful the dancer is, and because that beauty is something reachable, accessible, not distant and elusive. Because we have all wasted so many years hating ourselves for how we look and not appreciating ourselves for what we can do. Because we’ve sucked in our stomachs since we were children and now our backs are racked with pain. Because we have criticized our bodies for so long and we have just begun to feel what its like to compliment them. Because we have wasted so many years longing for something that didn’t really exist, but was sold to us by movies and fashion magazines.”

I do think she is falling prey to a tiny bit of newbie idealization – because even in belly dance, you can’t escape the expectations of the patriarchally enshackled. You’re still going to run into the audience scowlers and the “hey ladies do a special dance for my friend cuz it’s his birthday,” jerkfaces, and the “once I went to a show but all the dancers affronted me by being FAT,” doofuses, but it is a safer environment. And Cho’s description of the self-hatred that comes before belly dance and the experience of falling in love with it is so magical, and so bang-on.

As an interesting aside, when I went to Facebook to find this link because one of my fellow dancers had posted it a month ago, I saw a status update from one of the women who danced with me today saying, “in all the years I have performed my dance form, I have never ever had someone say something rude to me until today and I quote….’No thanks, I think you are gross’……Well lady, be glad I have some class because I just smiled and danced away.” And evidently another fellow dancer got a negative comment from an audience member during the freedance yesterday.

So, yeah. Haters gonna hate, I guess. I think the thing to remember is that whether you change that person’s mind or not is immaterial, getting out there and doing it might be the emotional counter that someone like pre-belly-dance Margaret Cho needs in order to brave the haters, themselves.

And apropos of that, the next link I wanted to share was My Milk Spilt guest-blogging at Feministe about the radical-activism-ness of being kind to others and accepting of yourself.

Each moment that we choose to be kind to others by approaching them with unconditional positive regard, whatever their size or shape, we are activists. Doing this kicks back at a culture of fear and shame surrounding our bodies.

And lastly, straight-up common sense. So common sense that it passes through the common and comes out sounding earth-shattering: “You don’t have to be pretty.”

You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

Fuck yeah. That passage makes my toes curl every time I read it.

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