My Life as a Mad Bellydancer
I swung my head and I wasn’t lost in a trance, I was screaming a big body scream against having to be pretty, stupid, servant-like. You name it. All the things feminism was releasing me into. When I shimmied, I worked up to being a motor that was past alluring. It was a hard driver. It was earthquake. I might plow around the stage or restaurant aisles, smiling, but I was a snake. I had poison fangs. If you handle me wrong, I’ll kill you.
I found belly dance vocabulary perfect for rage. Before, as a modern dancer, the movement choices were too abstract, too huge or spatial. I could storm around, slicing the air. I could stand rigid. I couldn’t reve up. I really wanted a catharsis and there it was in belly dance, built right in. Belly dance allowed me to get underneath my rage into my power. All women need this, but particularly my generation who lived on the cusp. Those of us birthed and raised in the conservative 50’s had to fight the repression inculcated in us in early childhood. Militant feminism of the 60’s and 70’s was in full swing. We really couldn’t become housewives. Like it or not, women’s roles were changing and we had to go forward. In my head I wanted this, but inside, I’d been raised to be ‘less than’ a man, to obey. Modern dance was all political posturing, very intellectual, and still very proper. It didn’t allow catharsis and it didn’t get right into the sexual crux of gender inequality. Belly dance let rage and frustration out of my system. Beautifully. Dangerously.
I loved that the costume was heavy. The beads weighed a lot and this seemed to hold me down, to keep me from spinning off and splatting into the walls or all over the patrons. I also loved that the costume, with its revealing-ness and sensuality, gave an initial illusion of female availability. I could be a big, horrible trick. A set up. Or I could back off and smile, waiting behind the costume’s typical assumptions for a good moment to strike.