Dancing as an androgyne
My first blog post! And I'm excited to start writing. It's been awhile since I've been able to express myself through words, more than just a Facebook post. I understand that this isn't something that everyone will even want to read, but that's okay. I'm keeping this for myself, as a document of my inner workings, to keep track of how what i feel and do changes as I mature as a person and a dancer. I invite you to share it with me, if you choose. I know every belly dancer has a blog out there with her own 'unique experience' as a belly dancer in the ignorant American world, so hopefully I won't be written off (pun intended) in the same way.
A question I get a lot (aside from, are you a boy or a girl?) is how my gender identity affects my dancing. Did the way you dance change after you transitioned? Do you try to act a certain way on stage to be in alignment with your professed identity? Etc.
There's no good way to answer all this succinctly. The way I've danced has evolved and changed as I've been exposed to new styles and refined my own art. Of course we all change over time, but the way I express myself on stage is definitely different now. When I started, at 16, I was very closed off and shy. Most new dancers are. Even when I had solo pieces, I was torn on how to dress, how to act, how to dance. Should I be more feminine? Masculine? Should I wear this, that, none? When I would be included in class performances, the costuming and stylization was taken from me in order to conform to a group. You will dance it this way, and wear this. Even though I didn't always like it, at least I didn't have to worry about it.
Flash forward, now I'm in a junior troupe of all girls. We have to be even more in sync than just a class, more is expected of us. Better costumes, better technique. Still all unmistakably feminine. Even though sequins, flowers and glitter didn't bother me, the whole idea of putting my tits on display with all of the above fashioned upon them did. Flash forward again, I turn 18 and start my hormone regimen. I come out to my studio, and even though some people give me looks, overall it was overwhelmingly accepting. So now I start to think, okay, so I'm gonna be a boy now. I have to dress and dance like boys dance and dress for performances. Once more, I didn't have a problem with the very traditional mens clothing, but I didn't quite like it either. I tried to tailor my accents, arms, hand articulations, everything to have a more 'male' flavor. Still, not quite right. I could appreciate truly masculine, powerful male presence, but it didn't resonate with me -- nor did the ultra feminine cabaret.
Final flash, up to the year of 2012. True, I'd already won an amateur competition, but honestly I feel like it was more lady luck than my dancing. Of course I've always been naturally talented, but my costume was terrible, my hair was awful, makeup ugh, and finally my face was totally dead. But I did the splits! And being in troupe training with my junior class had brought my technique above the average 'belly dance class' attendee. So I had that going for me.
My dancing was hesitant, scared of judgment. Even though every performance is an invitation to judgment, I still felt codependent on the audience's opinion of me to provide some level of justification that I was doing something right. So terrified to truly look into my dance and move how I wanted to, not because it was expected of me, but because it was what I felt and how I wanted to do it. I had my second amateur competition in 2012, where I used a dubstep piece. Again, horrible costume, but I had more of a sense of self, and I felt truly accomplished with that.
In 2013 I busted my ass, devouring workshops and applying for every performance slot in town I could get my hands on. Traveling all the way from California to Asia for a chance to be seen. Large venues, tiny ones, bars, clubs, restaurants. I used this as a way to experiment with my costuming, my projection, my music choices, my fusions. Lots of wonderful things were born from all of this, such as performance slots at Lumen Obscura, a spot in the Whiskey Tongue Burlesque showcases, becoming the dance coordinator for Bliss Goddess. My own classes and students. Sometimes I still don't feel qualified to teach them, but am thankful that they keep coming back to hang out with me.
In 2013 I settled on my androgynous identity, because worrying about being too feminine or masculine was exhausting. What other people thought of me was none of my business. Will people think I'm gay? Probably. Will people think I'm possibly a girl? Probably. I'm at peace with that, however. I get a giggle from it occasionally.
I was asked to perform at a little restaurant hafla in a showcase with the beautiful beautiful BEAUTIFUL Vanessa from Fort Worth, TX. Truly exceptional Egyptian dancer. Mind you, this venue was TINY. The dance floor was about 6 feet across and 4 feet deep. There were only about 10 people seated, most of whom were coordinators of the event. Not exactly a roaring crowd. But regardless, she danced to them as if she were surrounded by paparazzi. She had total control over the entire room and wasn't afraid or cautious with her movements whatsoever. Perfection. I, however, was terrified; with little intimate crowds, I clam up and lose my buoyancy with the lack of energy from the audience. That experience really sat with me and made me want to do just that: No matter what the energy level or response from the audience, I'm gonna dance like they're tossing $50s at me.
I'm still working on my costuming and I'm still toying with emotional projection, stylization and, of course, my neverending battle with trying to fill up a room with my performance. I don't worry about whether my dancing will be construed as girly or not, whether my outfit is too frilly, lacy or glittery. I can sincerely say that I dance how I want for me, not for them. I wear what I want because I love it, not because it makes other people comfortable. Why would I want to lose my sense of self to make the rest of the world comfortable, anyway?
And when you get the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.