Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Dancing experience in-the-making

Here I am, back from the land of the dead, AKA writer's block.

Lately, I have been doing a lot (and I do mean A LOT) of Buddhist activity and lots of other things, which means that I haven't had the time, or the head, to write anything on here, which made for a very poor start for 2013.

This will change. Has changed.

So, I wanted to talk about something that doesn't happen often enough (at least to me): a New Year's Resolution that is actually being carried through.

I know, shocking.

Only, it was my LAST YEAR'S New Year resolution, which my HoY read out in assembly in front of an entire cohort of Y8 students. Harumph:

"To take my bellydancing seriously"

So, after having to shamefully admit in front of said cohort of Y8 students that, no, I indeed had not taken it seriously, I began thinking about it. And then, amazingly, I started doing something about it.

Why amazingly? Read on.

Now, before I launch onto the good stuff, I need to give a bit of background here. (you can skip ahead if you wish to avoid another account of my past pains).

I've always loved to dance. I started ballet when I was about 2 years old, and dropped it at 6. I simply HATED my teacher. Ballet left me with a few things. 
One, the inability to be satisfied with a result unless it had been gained by pain. Without the physical feeling of pain, I just could not believe I had achieved something meaningful.
Two, perfectionism. Which leads to...
... Three, complete lack of confidence and a general feeling of never being good enough. Oh, and a massive dissatisfaction with my chubby body.

Clearly, those are aspects of my character, things that were in my karma from before, but ballet (and having a crap teacher) at that early age didn't help.

After ballet I did other stuff, like contemporary and rhythmic gymnastics, but never for long enough.

I was generally pretty good at all of these things, but never great. I always, somehow, managed to have bad timing, starting stuff either too early (ballet) or too late (gymnastics) to get the most out of it.

And I was chubby, which is a no-no in practically every type of dance.

It was around the age of eighteen, I think, that I started being interested in bellydancing. Two things mainly attracted me to it:
1. it seemed to be something you could start later and still get good at (i.e. you didn't have to start at six to have any chance to master the movements)
2. it didn't discriminate against body type (curves!!!)

I had to put it aside for years, quite simply because I didn't have the money. During all the years that I could not do any sport, I kept dancing by myself in my room and doing stretches, crunches and stuff like that, to keep my muscles toned and retain my flexibility (I've always been quite flexible).

Then, a certain boy came my way. I already spoke about the abuse I went through in that relationship in my post "Courses and songs". There I mostly speak about it in relation with my eating disorder. What I didn't mention was the exercise aspect. 

One of the first things he criticised and derided was my exercise routine. His reasoning was, since you're fat, then it must not be working. Indeed, because I was fat, I could not possibly have any idea of what a good exercise routine could be.

His idea of working out was (and I'm quoting) that you had to destroy yourself. My routine was something I enjoyed and I looked forward to doing, so it was not appropriate. As a matter of fact, he was firmly convinced that I (5 ft 1 and a woman) should do the same exact routine as him (6ft tall and a man). And he forced me to do it. I was stupid and in love, and I would have done anything for him. I forced myself to do punishing exercise, which I didn't enjoy in itself, and it made me feel so humiliated. And the worse part, whatever I did was never enough, and if I ever mentioned that, say, I hated running and preferred other types of exercise, I was a lazy fatty and should be grateful for the attention he was giving me.

I don't want to delve into it too much (I could go on for hours), let it just be said that it completely messed up the concept of exercise for me.

Around that time (when he was away), I finally decided to start bellydancing. Sod the money, I would do it on my own. Surely YouTube could help?

I found this:

This lady is called Kimber Miller and is from the United States. I've never met her, but she has been my first belly dance teacher. She uploaded lots of short videos of how to do the basic vocabulary movements of Belly dance. I practiced those for weeks, I watched lots of performances, and at the next University Halls party I could hold my weight with my Northern African friends who learnt to belly dance at home. In time, I went from Kimber's videos to bellydance DVDs. There's a ton of them. If anyone wants advice don't ask me unless you have a couple of hours to spare.

I've had many wonderful experiences with belly dancing. (not very many pictures yet, but that will be fixed soon). Like when, in my first year in London, I went to the bellydance dinner after having gone to the only TWO real lessons I've ever attended. We were supposed to see the show, but the venue was not really appropriate for a theatrical belly dancer (i.e. one used to have a stage), more to an improviser going from table to table (which our teacher was not). I was actually sitting at one of two tables in a separate room altogether and thus cut from most of the show. What we could enjoy was the wonderful live Middle Eastern music, so at some point I got fed up, got up and started dancing myself. The room adored me. Seriously. I even got told "You have a great talent".

(The only pictures ever taken of me bellydancing. They date back to the time when I started (as you will notice, my hand technique was terrible), and show how I looked when I was too fat to be considered beautiful by my boyfriend (incidentally, I am actually bigger now, I think, and still love and like myself more than I ever did). Sorry about the poor quality and editing, I tried to edit out some people's faces.)

Or when, at a colleague's leaving do, there was a belly dancer at the restaurant. She expertly scouted the crowd to pick someone to dance with her, noticed my enthusiastic (and pleading) face, probably figured I was an amateur belly dancer myself and took me up to dance with her. That was the night where I attracted the attention of the the first girl I had an actual crush on (and dated).

Or the summer course, a few years back, where I danced (improvising on a basic rhythm a friend did on a tambourine... eeeepic) at the entertainment. I got compliments, but you get compliments even if you're crap (it's ze spiwit zat counts). No, the best part was the lady who asked me if I GAVE CLASSES! I'm still staring at her. I was looking for a teacher, and she wanted to learn from ME!

What I could not do, however, was to find a consistent exercise routine.
Every time I decided to, as my determination stated "take my bellydance seriously", one of three things happened:
1.  I would start off with unreasonable, unrealistic expectations and design a punishing exercise routine (because you have to destroy yourself, remember?). Which of course never lasted long.
2. I would have some accident or fall very ill quite soon (like, proper ill. Once it was otoliths, another one an extremely painful wrist tendonitis that thanks to an incompetent doctor took eight weeks to heal... I seriously could barely write, let alone dance)
3. If I ever tried to go easy on myself, I would hear my ex boyfriend sneering at me, ridiculing my pathetic efforts (because what can a fat girl know about exercise, and being sensible equalled making excuses for being lazy).

I know, I know. No need to tell me. 

Once again, I was allowing my self-esteem (and my happiness) to rely on someone else. I was disrespecting my life and not believing in my unlimited potential. Even more, I was looking for the approval of someone who was (thankfully) no longer part of my life and who had clearly NO idea whatsoever of what he was talking about anyway.

As I mentioned in that post, I am a different person now. Tons of daimoku, lilacing, Buddhist training and the specific decision to learn to love myself will do that to you.
One of my main goals is to make the human revolution necessary to finally fall in love again. This can never happen if I still allow my past (gone, finished, ended, kaput), abusive relationship to still influence me.
After that assembly, (and the aforementioned determination and tons of daimoku) I decided to finally take all the baggage my ex had left with me, take this last load (the exercise-related one) and finally drop it in the rubbish, where it belongs.

So, I designed an exercise routine for myself. A proper one. One that is sensible, achievable, that takes into account the time I have at my disposal in my very busy life and that allows for improvement. Not a stupidly punishing one, but a routine that is based only on what I truly enjoy, what makes me happy.

And I'm sticking to it. It was a month yesterday. During this month I've gone through that certain time when I'm in complete and utter pain, and also a very bad cold, and I haven't stopped. Sure, I lightened it up a little and made sure I was listening to my body and not pushing myself too much when I was ill, but it didn't stop me.

I'm finally back into my bellydancing, I'm making progress every week and I am enjoying it so very very much. It's not the only thing I do, I mix it up with yoga, mostly, I'm planning to start my cycling again soon (that's another experience altogether) and once instead of a workout in my room I went playing rugby in the snow with my flatmates, but the point of the fact is that, not only the whole thing is completely guilt-free and doesn't feel like an unachievable burden, it's also getting me so addicted I'm doing way more than the minimum amount I had settled on (i.e. 2.5 hours a week). I'm still keeping that as a minimum, because there are weeks in which I am actually busier than others and doing more than that is inconceivable.

The best bit? I'm not listening to that voice in my head anymore (the "goddamn fatties and their excuses" one). It's still there, but I'm too busy enjoying myself to listen.

I also set myself a goal, to learn my first choreography from my Beautiful Technique from Step One (my favourite belly dance DVD, I'm not advertising here, just paying tribute to my favourite of my never-met teachers: Autumn Ward) and perform it in full costume (which means I have to make my first costume!) at the next Buddhist course I go to. It should be September at the latest.

I'll make sure there is a video to post, not just some old, poor quality pics.

The point of this experience is, the biggest obstacles we will always have to surmount are the ones we create, and we can be our worst enemy. But with Buddhist practice, I have learnt (well, still learning, really) to love myself, forgive myself and challenge myself all at the same time.

Here are the next chapters of this journey:
Dancing experience part two. AKA the one Evil
Dancing experience part the third: Videos!

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