Saturday, March 21, 2009

Belly Dance and Empowerment

by Jane Kohut-Bartels

Quite a thought but it’s part of an ongoing discussion I have been having with other belly dancers and with women outside this particular dance form.

One woman replied to an entry blog recently:

I think of my own practice, and I know that dancing transforms my thinking, my moods and in some very fundamental way, grounds me. It also transforms me, my body over a period of time, but my head. too. I think my head even more fundamentally.

This is the heart of it for you. You are lucky you can feel this way about something.

Sometimes I have led myself astray. I have tested the waters of different things, disciplines I was either not prepared for, was seriously lost, was a detour, or I should have stayed on the porch. There are a lot of ways I can sum up a number of recent experiences.

Recently this came home to me and I had to take considerable stock of what I was doing and where I was going.

When in “trouble” it is sometimes best to fall back on the very things that have brought us forth and have proved to be valuable in discovery of self. My friends and family know that I am both a writer of erotica and a belly dancer. I just published my first book, A Seasoning of Lust, available at

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Sometimes I am primarily one thing, and then….I am the other. The trick is not to discard one for the other, because both are now integral in my being. I pull from both for life and creativity.

Actually I am more than just those two, I am a wife, mother, a painter, a seeker, and sometimes a royal pain in the ass.

But I want to pose some questions to my friends who are joining me in this “dance of life” which I see as belly dance.

What are our aims in coming into this particular dance?

I know that I have struggled with many issues over the past 5 years, but it varies for every woman. Is it ego identity as to who and what we are, or is it to ‘heal’ deep wounds brought about by a lifetime of abuse and self-abuse, or do we just see it as a ‘creative’ outlet?

Do we come from a place of self-loathing? Do we feel non-sensual or lacking in our beauty? Do we give so much to others that we have nothing, or little for ourselves? Have we become disembodied where we live in our heads and our bodies are just….there?

All this above will be present and we will bring that into the dance. And that’s ok. We work those issues out within the movement.

We can work these things out piece by piece by being ‘present and mindful’ in the movement. And the movement will transform us, slowly at first, and then, one day, we look back and we shake our heads in wonder. How much we've grown!

And this issue of self-loathing? Over and over I hear from women who ‘hate their bellies’. I can totally relate! I went through a long stretch of hating my belly, too. Then I suddenly made ‘peace’ with it. I will never be flat bellied, but then again…

Belly dance isn’t ‘long hair’ dance, or ‘arm dance’ or ‘hidden feet’ dance….it’s BELLY dance…and for a reason.

The belly is the seat of our femininity. It’s not the hidden vagina, it’s the outward expression of our bellies, as they grow with children, shrink back with stretch marks, and we seem all to define ourselves by trying to make it disappear. We hold our stomachs in tightly until we can’t move….

Or breathe!

Well, along comes Tribal Fusion and here is presented the BELLY in all it’s glory! Those stomach movements that Rachel Brice, Zoe Jakes, all of them, are very liberating…Snakes in the belly!

Undulations that express the very essence of our femininity, our being women. As generators and cradles of life.

(I attended a 4 hour workshop in Montreal in late January. I was glad to see that the teacher, Audra Simmons from Toronto had a belly on her. She has 4 children and this is the natural way of things. Our bodies expand and contract with life.)

We are not flat assed/bellied/titted men…We are full blown women with dangerous curves and belly dance gives us a dangerous attitude, too.

Given enough time, it’s called Empowerment. A realization of our Femininity, a fulfillment of our innate Sexuality.

And we should have fun dancing….it’s not all sweat, sore muscles (but it is in the beginning…) and serious attitude.

This is a very funny video….I screamed with laughter, because that is good for life. Laughter.
More later….

Lady Nyo who is also Teela when she dances

A poem that speaks to belly dance. Will be in Volume II of “A Seasoning of Lust” out this June.


Waves on a dark but sparkling sea

They cluster together

And with the sounds of the first drums

Sail into position

Striking a pose.

Stretching out in formation

Gentle waves of skirts flaring

Breasts lifting in sweet provocative gestures

Hands arched in arabesques

Like leaping dolphins.

The coins on their bras

Catch the lights and sparkle

Like Sun lighting the whitecaps.

Spiraling outward

Like a nautilus shell

Eternal in movements

Eternity flows

From long fingertips.

Now the Sea roils

With stomping feet

They mark the tempo

Increase it with breakers

Crashing over their gleaming heads

To fall together in

Turkish drop

The Sea finally

Calm and restored.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

March, 2009


  1. Nice post.
    I'm a dancer myself, among many other things including a writer. Sometimes I let it slide, but I find it feeds my soul--the movement, the music, the companionship of other women. I came to it from a place of spiritual seeking, as a way to get in touch with my inner goddess and honor the divine. Sometimes I lose that perspective on it, but deep down it's a huge part of why I keep at it.

  2. Hmmm. Thank you for this post. I have HATED my belly for quite a while. I, too, had four children. Thank you for helping me put it in perspective. And perhaps now I will get up and dance.

  3. Teresa! that is exactly why most of us women dance. We are grounded in something very deep. It comes up from the earth to our feet, passes up of body into our loins, then our hearts and into...finally, the consciousness of HOW we express our womanhood. Our individuality, our Genius.

    The music is so important. But try something other than belly dance music. I dance frequently to Tracy Chapman and Morrisette. There are so many ways to go on is just the fuel for the movement. Try to allow yourself to go into a trance, too. It's called the Zar dance (trance) and once you develop the ability from the 'ayoub' beat, you can use this in many ways of life. I use it to write. It also replaces Prozac for me...LOL!

    The companionship of other women is so vital to a dancer. I am now crone age, and I am teaching older women..even older than I am. It is such a privilege to learn their lives, their life experiences.

    Keep moving! We are the Divine. We are not apart of this at all. It is the river of life inside.

    And to Anny: that is the best news of all to me! Hatred of ourselves is so persuasive in our society. And our figures are the outward beckoning by many abusive people....both male and female. We beat ourselves up.

    Your belly is the protection of your womb, and after 4 children! Honor it for what it is. It is a powerful token of your fecund femininity. It doesn't matter what shape it has become, it is a testament to your life and journey. Mine is fat, round and has a half moon from hip to hip! I hated it for so many years. Now I still think I can 'improve' on it's shape, but that is through dancing, the stretching of dance that allows me strength and some grace.

    Get up and dance! Celebrate the divine and life- giving of your body. 4 children is marvelous!

    Blessings to all you natural dancers!


  4. Really interesting post. This part in particular stood out to me:

    "The belly is the seat of our femininity. It’s not the hidden vagina, it’s the outward expression of our bellies, as they grow with children, shrink back with stretch marks, and we seem all to define ourselves by trying to make it disappear. We hold our stomachs in tightly until we can’t move…."

    I never heard the belly indicated in that way before, as the seat of feminity. I'll be thinking baout that. I've been out of touch with ERA lately, and so haven't been so aware of you. Nice to be reminded of how interesting you are.


  5. Many westerners think of belly dancing as one step away from stripping. They could not be more wrong. This is an ancient art, highly respected in the places where it had its routes, and closely tied to rituals of female initiation and childbirth.

    I knew that Jane was a dancer from this tradition, and was delighted when she agree to post as our guest.

    Thank you, Jane!


  6. Jane,

    Lovely blog post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with the Grip this week. We enjoyed it and we appreciate it!


  7. Late as usual, but I really enjoyed your post, Jane.

    Belly dancing has always seemed to me to be one of those dances that is designed for women rather than girls :)


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