When I came to belly dance, it had been years—as in, my age was in the single digits—since I’d set foot inside a dance studio. I was a chain-smoking night owl who hadn’t bought a pair of sneakers in years and who had most recently used an exercise DVD as a temporary bookmark.
But my friend knew a place where we could take belly dance lessons. I’d seen belly dancers in my hometown of St. Louis before, and I was intrigued by them. The dance they did looked feminine and graceful, but they were strong, terrifically strong.
I still wasn’t prepared for my first class, though. The warm-up alone was grueling, drawing on muscles I’d never used. Before drills even started, my endurance reserves were tapped. The music was unlike anything I’d ever heard before and my first ever lesson was on three-quarters on the down, which even experienced belly dancers will tell you can be tough. (I still struggle with it today.) My face was crimson. I was sweating buckets. I loved it.
I’ve been belly dancing for ten years, and in those ten years I have seen dance effect a profound change on my life. I’ve done things that I didn’t think it was possible for me to do. I’ve pushed my body to—and past—limits that I thought would always hem me in. I can move in the beautiful, passionate way in which I’d always dreamed—and when I can’t, I’m only inspired to do better, knowing that I have it in me to be the dancer I want to be. Dance has brought me freedom and joy in a way I didn’t anticipate—and even better, it’s brought me to a community where I can share those feelings.
I’m so grateful for how dance, and how Moon Belly, has helped me build the life I want. Sometimes, I look back at the person I was, and I’m astounded by how far I’ve come, and how much I look forward to what the future holds.
I grew up dancing. My mother enrolled me on the advice of my pediatrician for the strengthening of my flat feet, and could never have known what a gift it would be to an otherwise shy girl like me. Dancing quickly became, from ballet at the tender age of four, through my ever-broadening exploration, my method of release, expression, and perfect freedom to become whatever and whomever my imagination wanted or my psyche needed. I danced all the way through college, teaching to pay for my school, and drinking in all the different styles I could access from my Nebraska home town. Over the years, I traveled to find teachers of Latin dance, ballroom and swing, stylized workshops from students of teachers like Bob Fosse and Alvin Ailey and, coming to Columbia in 2001, found a home at Dancearts, where I have taught Musical Theater, ballet technique, tap and yoga, and continue to study Modern Ballet with Maggie Dethrow, in a class of women in our 30s and 40s who continue to dance because there is just nothing that can ever replace it.
I was introduced to the idea of belly dance when Kandice Grossman and then-Dragonfly Christi Kelly took my adult ballet class at Dancearts and, while I was instantly intrigued, didn't start studying belly dance technique until 2 years later when, inspired by the diversity and familial nature of the belly dance community, and my friendship with Kandi, I let my fascination draw me in. I believe our learning should never end. I do not believe decline is an inevitable part of growing older. So, to find a thriving community of adult dancers still forging ahead into new creative endeavors, I couldn't resist, and continue to be fascinated, not only by the task of learning and training for a completely new expression of dance, but also by the task of telling such a powerful and necessary story as the one this show endeavors to tell.
Some background about me: I am a family medicine doctor in my second year of residency training. There are many reasons I chose to become a physician, including my sheer amazement at learning about the human body. Medical school is rigorous, but every step of the way I marveled at the glorious creation that is our living, breathing bodies. Consider: the physics of how your diaphragm draws air into your lungs, electrical currents rhythmically flowing through your heart, or the fine motor and neural coordination it requires to walk, or write, or even shake someone’s hand . . .
I was in medical school when I discovered belly dance. I had danced my entire childhood, and had had years of competitive training in ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, and other formats. As much as I enjoyed school, I never felt more alive than when I danced. In college and medical school, I thought my dancing days were behind me, and I missed it terribly. When I discovered belly dance, and specifically Moon Belly, I was thrilled and inspired—this is a dance that utilizes muscle isolations in ways I’d never imagined were possible, that celebrates bodies of all shapes and sizes, and the dancers are women from all walks of life.
These days, I am a busy family doctor. Most of my time and energy are focused on noble goals – easing suffering, healing sickness, and reducing risk of future disease – but I am often frustratingly limited by logistics, finances, or time. I sometimes forget why I fell in love with medicine in the first place, but when I dance, I remember. I am grateful for ears to hear the music and a mind that sees the rhythm. I delight in movement and thank God for strong bones and hearty muscles. I can hardly fathom how my body is made of billions of cells that work together to make art. When we use our bodies to tell a story, it is nothing short of magic.
This blog is designed to provide information about Moon Belly and MOON dance company happenings. At times, it becomes an open journal of our various theatrical explorations. At other times, it serves as a source of education on belly dance culture and history.