More Than Making Your “Belly Dance”

Lateefah Fleming with students after teaching a belly dance class

Lateefah Fleming, owner of empowerFit Wellness, with her students after teaching a belly dance class

Have you ever thought of taking a belly dance class?

Like most people who have contemplated shaking their hips or rolling their belly, you probably talked yourself out of doing it because you thought you could never “move like that” or you have no rhythm or anything else you could possibly say to talk yourself out of getting to a class. Instead of thinking about how you might move think about how the dance might move you.

Lateefah Fleming, owner of empowerFit Wellness, posing with a friend in belly dance attire

It’s amazing what happens in a belly dance class (I will use the term belly dance throughout this piece, but Oriental Dance is a more proper term). We shimmy, shake and break a sweat. We laugh a lot and are amazed by the things our bodies can do. We’re also so enamored by how gorgeous we feel when body parts start shaking. As soon as a bellydance newbie walks in the room, they shed their inhibitions to relax, let go and have a good time. Hey, it’s a celebration! But that’s just one small piece of what happens in class. Bonds are formed. Spirits are lifted. People are empowered. You are inspired and transported. You feel you have a new support system that you never thought was possible. You start to refer to your fellow dancers as sisters.

Lateefah Fleming with cast mates after a belly dance performance

There have been quite a few times that we haven’t danced in class. We all showed up with our leggings and our hip scarves and our cute outfits. But we didn’t dance. We sat on the floor and the conversations flowed: not about dance but about our children. We have hashed out our feelings and emotions about ex husbands and boyfriends. We were able to share our past experiences and our growth to help promote the growth of our fellow sisters. We have discussed our jobs and our careers. We have talked about our uncertainties and our joys. We have had many occasions where someone has walked into that room feeling lower than they have ever felt. After each class or, shimmy therapy session, we have left feeling like we can get through and we can conquer our situation. A hug from fellow dancers seals the deal.

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Belly dance is not a dance of seduction.  It is a dance of celebration at weddings, births and other family events and gatherings. In some Muslim societies, women would gather after dinner was made to dance and socialize with other women in the community. There is a raw, natural beauty in the movements. It is, in a word, lovely to watch. I could never come up with enough words to express my honor and delight at being part of this dance community.  I have encountered some of the most wonderful human beings as my teachers, colleagues and peers. Teaching has been beyond therapeutic and fulfilling for me. For me and the women who entrust me to teach them, this form of dance has turned into a dance of sisterhood, support, power and recognition of ourselves as beautiful, loving, worthy human beings.

It’s not just dancing, it is an expression of who we are. We dance and change our perspectives of who we are, lifting each other as we lift ourselves up. It’s not just movement, it is an expressive and a powerful tool of empowerment. Shimmy on, my sisters.

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