My seven year old daughter and I have been taking African Dance classes at our local YMCA. It's a family class full of mothers and daughters, led by a beautiful and powerful woman, accompanied by an energetic and incredibly focussed drumming teenage boy.
As long as we've lived in Brooklyn I've been tempted by classes like this; friends of mine have raved about African dance, Belly-dance, etc. Problem is I've never danced at all ('cepting for those occasional moments when the mood strikes--rare rare times indeed, especially if alcohol isn't involved) and have been basically too uptight and self-conscious to try anything with the word 'dance' in it. But like people who get dogs find that their social lives pick up, so I've discovered how many more things I'm willing to try in the name of my children. What a fantastic excuse they are to get out in the world, to try new things!
Taking my daughter to this 'family class' became a safe entree into the world. And I've really loved it. Hard to believe I could love anything that involves prancing around in front of an enormous mirror in front of other people for an hour, but I really do. Moving in concert with a roomful of women--hammering out steps and movements, moving as one, applauding each other, it's fantastic.
One day after class my daughter said 'Mommy whenever you raised your arms up everyone could see your belly.' Of course I'd noticed this, and because I am who I am I'd considered being embarrassed about it. But it's hard to feel that way in a class full of strong rhythmic heavyset mamas--where size is strength, and where self-consciousness of that sort would seem as out of place as pausing mid-beat to apply eye-liner.
Years ago I saw Eve Ensler's The Good Body on Broadway. I remembered snippets of a wonderful speech given by a Masai woman about her body called Love Your Tree.
"Its your stomach. Its meant to be seen...look at that tree? Do you see that tree? Now look at that tree. (Points to another tree) Do you like that tree? Do you hate that tree cause it doesnt look like that tree?"
In the afterglow of this particular class, I turned to my daughter and replied "I'm proud of my belly, my body's given me three strong children and a wonderful, capable life. It's part of who I am and how happy I am and how proud I am to have had all of my wonderful experiences."
She considered this for a split second and then said 'Oh, well I was embarrassed."
"You were embarrassed when your own belly showed?" I asked, cringing at the thought that she be on the verge of being crippled by self-consciousness.
"No Mommy, I was embarrassed when YOUR belly showed."
At any other time this might have pinched, but again, there in the wake of that empowering class, I channelled the Masai woman and found the words to say "Well I'm not embarrassed about my belly, so you don't need to bother being embarrassed by it either. It's just a waste of your own good energy."
Of course, it was a moment of mommy-strength not unlike the power we're supposed to access in order to lift a small car off of one of our children in an emergency. And this comment does not speak to any consistently true feelings about my body. But it felt right to say it, and I'm hoping she heard it. And now I want to play Belly's song Feed theTree over and over (because it seems related), and tack Love Your Tree up on the refrigerator. And see if we can't get some major tree-appreciation going.
7 years ago