A Quaker Belly Dancer?


For about 4 years, Iíve been searching for a kind of exercise that I can on a regular basis that wonít eventually negatively affect my health. It seemed like no matter what I tried, everything would cause some sort of flare or joint damage. About a year ago, I tried swimming. When thereís no one in the pool with me, I love swimming. Itís a great time for meditation and prayer. But most of the time, as I swim at a public pool, Iím not the only one in the pool; and swimming becomes a drone of monotony: stroke after stroke, lap after lap.

For Christmas this year, I got an instructional belly dance DVD that Iíd had on my Amazon.com wish list for over a year. I was skeptical. After all, my hips had been giving me trouble for about a year now and surely I wasnít going to be able to belly dance. The first time I tried it, I thought Iíd proven myself right: my right hip hurt so much that I was barely able to walk for over a week.

But I tried it a second time, about 3 weeks agoÖ and found that I could do it. Yes, I do have to modify some movements, but belly dancing is an exercise that I can actually do. Iíve spent the last 3 weeks belly dancing for about half an hour every day except Sundays and Iím starting to feel better. And thereís another aspect of belly dance that draws me to it: my fatherís family is Armenian Lebanese. Iíve been around informal belly dancing my whole life at family functions, whenever the women get up and dance. Itís natural for me and connects me with my heritage as an Armenian Lebanese.

Belly dancing has become more than a way for me to exercise. Itís a celebration of my body: of what it can do, and what it canít, of being a woman and not being ashamed to flaunt my curves and my overly-large hips.

And you are probably wondering what belly dancing has to do with my being a Quaker. I wondered about that, too: how belly dancing fit in with my Quaker faith and practice. I think about the old Quaker belief that one must get rid of all superfluous activities in oneís life, to eliminate anything that might distract one from the pursuit of God. It seems almost comical to think of a Quaker belly dancer. The vibrancy and outward display of belly dancing provides a stark contrast to the simplicity of the Meetinghouse. I worried that belly dancing was a manifestation of my pride, like wearing makeup, and that I would be called to give it up.

But Iíve felt no such call. The more comfortable Iíve become with the idea of me belly dancing, the more confident Iíve become in my bodyís abilities. Instead of feeling confined by my bodyís inabilities, Iíve started feeling like my limitations are just that: boundaries that allow me to focus on what I can do, real geometric limits in the plane of my bodyís abilities. Belly dancing has freed me from the prison my health has made for me.

Belly dancing is not, as many assume, a dance of seduction (though it can be used in that way). It is primarily a dance of appreciation and celebration of the dancerís unique form. When belly dancing is at its best, the dancer and the music seem to flow from the same source. The dancing becomes a visual manifestation (not interpretation) of the music, as if both have the same creator. The audience, instead of feeling distanced from the music and the dance, is pulled right in and canít imagine this music being danced to in any other way.

Likewise, when Meeting for Worship is at its best, the message of the Speaker becomes a manifestation of the faith of all in attendance, with the accompanying realization of all that both the faith of all and the message of the One come from the same Source. The listeners, instead of feeling distanced from the Speaker and the Source, are drawn in and find the message given to be undeniably apt and appropriate.

The apparent difference between belly dancing and the Meeting for Worship is that belly dance choreography is created by a person while the message given during Meeting for Worship is crafted by God and filtered through the person. But I do not think this difference is as great as it appears. For, when I am dancing in celebration of my unique body, who am I celebrating? Did I create this body I inhabit?

When I belly dance, I am not celebrating my vanity. I am dancing in gratitude to God for giving me such a body that can dance like this. For God not only to have given me this body but also to have provided me with a way to celebrate His gift is humbling. I will be ever grateful to Him for these gifts.

Copyright Tatiana Hamboyan Harrison, 2007.
For belly dancing videos I enjoy, please click here.