My very pregnant former belly dance teacher is front and center in her red costume shimmying fiercely with a wide-ass grin on her face and I’m staring, jaw wide open, frozen. I’ve always been in awe of her, not because of her dancing abilities, (though she is a brilliant belly dancer) but because she is one of the first dancers I’ve encountered to raise her shirt and have a belly similar to mine–jiggly and sensual.
Four years have passed since I took my first belly dance class, but the vibrations are still alive today. From the moment I shifted my weight to perform my first hip circle, I knew. The sudden connection to the type of movement and music brought me into my body in a way that I hadn’t experienced before.
Though I’ve always danced (first hip-hop, then jazz, then modern, and finally ballet) these dance forms gave me very little. It didn’t occur to me that not having a tall, lean body would be a positive; never did I think not having a tight core would be a benefit. For decades, I went to classes chasing a dream that I could not quite fit into.
When I went to that first belly dance class, each class consisted of me watching my belly undulate and shimmy. Slowly, I began to see my body as different; the more I stared at my non-six-pack stomach, the more I began to notice how nice it looked while belly dancing. One day I saw my dance teacher, really saw her, with her big brown curls shimmying in front of me, her belly fat swinging in a large swoop left to right and I, I was enamored by how sultry it was. I glanced down at my own belly fat and began to shimmy harder in hopes of swooping the fat left to right like hers. The next class, I arrived with my top tucked into the bottom of my bra. I entered the studio tentative at first, unsure how others would respond. A few students glanced down and I caught their eyes travel down and I instinctively, sucked in. But then, my two pals saw me and grinned, sending me a telepathic “fuck yeah!” It was all I needed. That was the day I started wearing crop tops. At thirty-four, it was a first for me. My belly was sensual. It was the start of a new era in my closet. I bought several crop tops, at first only for belly dance classes, but soon they made their way into my everyday wardrobe.
On the last day, the teacher turned up the music and said, “just shimmy.” I dropped my heels to the floor alternating each leg, relaxing my face. My eyes traveled up my body in the mirror and met their own reflection. I was whole. I stared at myself, moving my hips, the vibrations moving my belly, my inner thigh fat rippling, my arms framing the hips and my eyes got glassy. I am beautiful, I thought. I am sexy, I thought. It was a grounding moment for me because I wasn’t alone; beside me, all around me were women of all shapes and sizes shimmying just as hard as I was, and our vibrating bodies were stamping a new definition of beauty and love into the hardwood floor. We were a body of women, carving our truths, and damn it felt good to be there together!
I hope you enjoy our second issue!
Sonia Chintha is an Indian American writer who lives in the Washington DC area. She is the founder and co-editor of Good Little Girls. She blogs, writes poetry, and fiction. Her essay Mango Season was published the online literary magazine Chicago Literati. You can read her writing on her personal blog: Color My Palate. She is also an English teacher who believes our experiences teach us more than any test.