For many years I told very few people that I was a professional belly dancer. The main reason was the belief that most would think I was using a code word for being a stripper. I know this because I remember a gentleman asking me what I did for a living, and I said I was a belly dancer. He said, "Really? Which strip club can I go to and see you get naked?" I get it; I don't look like the vision one would have when they think of a Middle Eastern dancer. So, I found it easier to change the subject and put the focus on something else. Looking back, I realize how much dancing has helped me be the person I am now. It's not something I keep secret anymore because I can share my experiences and what I learned. My presentations all center around the idea of empowerment through movement and understanding how strong our presence really is.
On stage, I felt in control, happy, and strong. I was invincible and not invisible. Offstage was different. I would suddenly feel self-conscious and want to blend into the background. The funny thing was, the audience wouldn't recognize me as I sat at the bar waiting to go on for the second show. Of course, it didn't help that I made minimal effort to make eye contact with anyone. Still, it was funny to me when a patron would walk up to the bartender and ask where the belly dancer went while I was sitting right in front of him. Of course, I knew I had to find a way to tap into the magic I had when performing and keep that confidence when I changed back into an ordinary woman.
The more I performed, the more I reminded myself to continue to smile even when I wasn't dancing. Taking that simple step began releasing my unfounded fear of meeting new people. I began making new connections, and my self-esteem began to grow. I started to pay attention to the person in front of me and focus on what they were saying instead of worrying about what I should say next. I noticed their body language and got better at reading the room. Finally, I could engage and pass out my business cards without feeling awkward.
The most important lesson I've learned through the years is that everyone faces self-doubt and worries that they're not as capable as they should be. As a result, we constantly compare ourselves, believing everyone else has their life figured out and we don't. The truth is we're all trying to be better and improve our lives for ourselves and our families. But unfortunately, trying to reach our goals can sometimes be overwhelming, and as a result, we consider ourselves a failure. After performing for years, I realized that the small steps I took to be a better dancer and networker added up. My experiences led to new careers and successes that I didn't feel were possible for me at one time.
When you take a moment and reflect on how far you've come, you may see that all the challenges you faced have led you to where you are right now. You've accomplished more than you realize, and understand that your journey has gained you invaluable knowledge that will help others. When I give my talks, I pass on tools and information I acquired along the way that have helped me quiet the negative voice in my head that tells me I'm not good enough. I've learned to use our powerful connection with our bodies and mind to raise my self-esteem and go after what I want in this life.
I don't blend into the background anymore. I'm happy and self-assured onstage and off. And no, there isn't any club you can go to and see me dance naked. I'm not that confident.