How I Dance

By Sally Gosen Case

“Culture Fair!” exclaimed the brightly-colored poster. It was to be our small, white-bread town’s annual effort to inject something from the outside world into our small lives. Like any good homeschooling mom, I packed up my son and arrived before the opening act.

We recognized a few local folks onstage. A familiar restaurant owner performed a Mexican folk dance with his wife. An African fellow who was staying in town played his handmade drums. But, predictably, most of the featured artists had to be brought in from elsewhere. We saw a Japanese drumming crew, bused in from the big city three hours away. There were a series of dancers and some unremarkable acrobats. Then the lights dimmed.

She swept onto the stage. She was not young, nor was she beautiful. She was rounded but muscular, swathed head-to-toe in clinging black lace. A bright red shawl was slung low around her hips. The music started: hip-hop, but in Spanish. She began to move.

This had been presented as “American Tribal Fusion Belly Dance.” I had hesitated to allow my young son to see such a thing, whatever it might be. We were church-going people, modest and sober. I was newly single, serious, a follower of rules. Now I was sitting three rows from the stage with my mouth agape and my eyes riveted to this stranger’s every move.

Each motion, each gesture was fluid and precise. She could spin across the stage, and then dance in place with subtle, perfect movements. It was full-out exuberance with control; it was strength with beauty; it was total femininity…without seduction. I had always viewed belly dancing as a sleazily exotic way of advertising one’s availability to all observers. This lace-encased mom-type was not advertising; she was simply celebrating music, life and her freedom to be a part of it all. Suddenly I needed to be a part of it, too.

But how would I learn to belly dance in a rural area outside a small town on the edge of a continent? My previous dancing experience had been pretty much limited to the occasional two-step with my late husband. This definitely bore no resemblance to the two-step.

I ordered videos. I studied YouTube. I started slowly, hoping my middle-aged body and bad back would comply. I spent the first week just learning the correct posture, then practiced the warm-ups. Soon I began learning lifts, drops and shimmies. Almost immediately, I developed “abs.” All of those graceful undulations and isolations, it turned out, were based on rock-solid core muscles. I carefully followed the choreography on my videos. My bad back got stronger. Muscles appeared on my scrawny thighs. My posture improved. I taught my feet to feel the floor, bone by bone, toe and heel; I taught them to step and turn in perfect balance. I taught my arms to flow, my hands to undulate.

I learned that tight muscles don’t dance; for one body part to move, others have to allow for the movement. I learned that when there is pain, the rest of the body can still move; in fact, we must move if we are to heal. I learned that self-control need not preclude celebration, dancing from my heart for the joy of being alive. I learned that rules are not life, just a foundation to build life on, and I can build anything I wish.

I have long since passed by the videos; learning those basic rules was just the first step. The real dance didn’t begin until I started choosing my own music like that long-ago dancer did when she chose to belly dance to hip hop. Today the song may be an old, familiar tune or world beat or even electro swing. I feel the solid floor beneath my bare feet, feel my shoulders lift. When the music starts, I meet it, live it, give it a body. I am focused and strong, dancing for myself. I never use preplanned choreography. I know the music, I know how to move, and I prefer to improvise. That is who I am now. That is how I dance.

About this writer

  • Sally Gosen CaseSally Gosen Case lives and writes on the beautiful Oregon coast. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines, including Horticulture, Mary Jane’s Farm, and The Storyteller. Sally and her son coauthor an Oregon travel blog,

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

3 Responses to “How I Dance”

  1. Sally, I enjoyed your essay. How often we jump to conclusions, make an assumption and then discover something all together different and wonderful. When I hear a favorite sing, my feet start to jitter. I know what you are talking about!

  2. Erika Hoffman says:

    Your essay took a turn I didn’t see coming. It not only entertained but also informed. On top of that, you included a take-away message on how one should live life. Well written!

Leave your mark with style to Linda O'Connell

Comment in style

Stand out from the crowd and add some flare beside your comment.
Get your free Gravatar today!

Make it personal

avatar versus gravatar Close