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One of the things I’ve realised about why I love bellydancing and love teaching bellydancing is the incredibly strong, positive impact it’s had on my own body image and self esteem and positive impact I see it having on those women that I help to learn.

I think it’s hard to love yourself and to love how you look.  Not just because of the air-brushed images of female ‘perfection’ we are surrounded by, I think we are primed for it.  Freud & Calvin have told us that our innermost self is hostile, anti-social, corrupt – in a word, unlovable.  There are other, more positive perspectives on human nature that are coming more to the fore, but it takes time for this to trickle through.

There are plenty more factors that figure into our body issues and self esteem, there’s a whole body of literature out there about it.  But what I’m going to turn my attention to are some initiatives that are trying to help promote positive body-issues through dance.

My friend Tamsin has brought my attention to an initiative called ‘PURE’ – Public Urban Ritual Experiment.  One of the founders of this movement is Kaeshi (below) from Bellyqueen, a member of the bellydance superstars.

This initiative is “a collective of dancers and drummers who take music and dance out into the streets for the purposes of healing and peace.”  Here’s there promotional video:

Another, more local initiative that has come to my attention is ConfiDance for Life.  Their objectives are “the advancement of health by development of self-esteem, self-confidence and positive body image through dance… to make dance accessible to a range of people who would gain most from its therapeutic benefits and those who would have difficulty, for a variety of reasons, accessing such opportunities”

I hope and believe that in my small way I am making a positive difference in the lives of the people I teach.

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Due to a chat I had with one of the students from my Thursday night beginners’ class, who also happens to be a community education worker, last night I ended up teaching a bellydance workshop at a Girl’s Club event at the Citadel Youth Centre down in Leith. If you haven’t seen the Centre before is a gorgeous building (that I’ve somehow managed to miss up until now):

((c) Copyright Peter Stubbs – peter.stubbs@edinphoto.org.uk )

That’s one thing about being a performer and travelling teacher – I’m certainly seeing a lot more of Edinburgh and Scotland than I would otherwise!

They were having a night where the girls clubs of various community centres came together and the centre put on various activities, including mine. The event was running from 7-9pm and we’d agreed for me to be there from 7.30-8.30pm. While I was setting up the staff rustled up some of the girls, many of whom reluctantly agreed to watch and see if they fancied it. I gave a short performance to ‘Beautiful Liar’ by Beyonce featuring Shakira as I thought that might be a bit easier for the girls to relate to than something Arabic. For those interested here’s the Beautiful Liar video on YouTube:

Four of the girls actually left during the performance and another two left once I’d finished. I didn’t feel insulted or annoyed, I just a bit sad that they weren’t comfortable enough to stay.

Two of the staff stayed the whole time and for the rest of the session girls came and went, typically staying no more than 10 minutes before leaving again. At times it was quite funny – groups of the girls would peer through the window into the room where we were dancing and occasionally build up the courage to come in. Some would stay and join in, but several came in, looked uncomfortable and left again.

I became really aware of how uncomfortable with their bodies almost all of them were – which in hindsight is unsurprising, given their ages (12-16) they are going through that horribly difficult period of growth and change. There were also several groups of girls brought together for the evening that hadn’t met before so I imagine there was some weirdness about strange girls being around and not wanting to look stupid in front of people they didn’t know.

After the workshop I was shown around the Centre and very kindly given some apple juice (as well as being offered food that they were serving up to everyone at the party). They had a couple of framed pieces of work the girls’ group had done a few years ago on the “‘Pants to Violence Against Women and Girls” project which had the girls decorate panties with this theme in mind. Some of the pants had pictures, or splashes of colour, a few had messages such as “stop hittin us” and “dinny rape drunk women” (“dinny” is Scots for “don’t”).

I felt privileged to have the opportunity to participate with the good work they’re doing at Citadel and the other Youth Centres and pleased that some of the girls felt able to participate, even if it was only for a short time. Perhaps in future they’ll come back to bellydance and hopefully, whether they do or not, they will find a route as they grow up to feeling good about their bodies and themselves. For me, that has to be one of the biggest benefits of bellydance.

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