Personal Profile of a Belly Dancer
Professor’s comment: The personal profile is a standard assignment, but students often struggle with it since it requires that they not only interview someone who is generally a stranger to them but also become an instant expert on their subject’s particular talent or expertise. In writing the piece, the student resisted the impulse to talk about her own experience and focused squarely on Shakar. In doing so she presents a vivid portrait of her subject and demystifies belly dancing.
In the picture, Belinda Shakar wears a satin bra with sleeves and a split skirt that reveals the entire length of her leg as she lunges on the ground. Her eyes are swept in dark makeup, and on her lips sits a seductive smile. The Belinda holding the picture is decidedly non-exotic, wearing glasses, a sweatshirt, and two layers of workout pants. She scowls when a young man accidentally walks in to the just-ending belly dance class. “I don’t like to have men in here at all,” she says. This, from a woman who spends her evenings shaking her hips at restaurant patrons.
Although she doesn’t like men ogling her classes, Belinda Shakar does not shy away from the sensual aspects of her dance. In fact, that’s what attracted her to belly dancing as a teenager. “I really liked the sensuality of the dance and even the blatant sexuality,” she says. She had been taking traditional dance classes in Los Angeles in hopes of becoming a performer but thought belly dance seemed more interesting than the styles she was learning. She finally switched to belly dance after injuring herself in a ballet class. The accident convinced her that ballet is unnatural: “It distorts the body and torments it. That is still my feeling on ballet—it’s horrible.” She started belly dancing right after the injury, delighted to find a dance she could perform without hurting herself.
Now thirty-three, Shakar still finds belly dance an “earthy, natural dance” that celebrates and nurtures the female body. “It fits into any lifestyle and any body shape—fat, skinny, whatever.” Describing some performers she saw at a showcase, she says, “These women were really large. But they could still dance. They were beautiful.” Many women belly dance even while pregnant, with the help of special classes and videos. Overweight or pregnant dancers may seem incompatible with such a seductive, sensual dance. But while the dance is closely linked to sexuality, it is not necessarily seductive. According to Shakar, the dance moves originated as a way to ease childbirth. “I danced through two pregnancies, and both were short, natural childbirths. The moves strengthen your reproductive system,” she says. Belly dance evolved into a ritual dance for childbirth, performed for women, but emphasizing the effects of the motions on the dancers’ bodies. “Only in the last seventy-five years has it been performed for men,” she says. “It was not created for men’s entertainment.”