Belly Dancers... Their Stories, Their Experiences and Their Confessions

Lover of Life Michelle Conway

As children, we aspired to be something other than ourselves, someone we thought might be inside our hearts, but someone the world told us we would never resemble. For Michelle Conway of South Wales, U.K., her vision was of a belly dancer.

“It was different to the ballet and ballroom that my friends liked,” Michelle said in an e-mail to

Michelle, who has been belly dancing for nearly six years, doesn’t remember her first encounter with the images of belly dance, though she distinctly remembers the images of costumes and dance moves, visions she saw through her television.

But as she grew up, she became more and more disillusioned with the idea she could ever belly dance, a belief fostered by illness and self-doubt.

“I went through a tough time growing up. I was diagnosed with epilepsy, which made me feel isolated and ashamed,” Michelle said.

The hits didn’t stop there. After having her first child, admittedly a little too young, Michelle had a period of depression.

“I don’t regret [having a child too young] now. I regretted it enormously at the time,” Michelle said. “I turned to alcohol as an escape.”

It was her husband, now of 12 years, who helped her stop drinking. When she stopped, however, the pain she’d been suppressing boiled to the surface. Combined with a diagnosis of Crohs’s disease, an inflammatory disease that affects the intestines, Michelle hit her lowest point.

“I hated myself so much, I had zero confidence, no self worth. I sank into depression,” Michelle said. “I even contemplated suicide.”

And then her luck changed. 6 years ago, Michelle moved to London, and decided to get counselling.

“I told [my counsellor] about liking bellydance, but how I could never do anything like that. Her reply was, 'And why not?' I thought she was mad!” Michelle said.

Mad or not, Michelle followed her counsellor's advice and found a year-long class at Lewisham College. Her decision was met by disbelief and laughter from both staff at the college and her family. Michelle finally had the strength to stand up for herself.

“I was met with snickers and snide comments, which made me surprisingly defiant,” Michelle said. “I wanted to do it all the more!”

With her husband supporting her, Michelle moved forward with her decision, and found herself wracked with fear as the deadline to dance approached.

“I had to get two buses to the class, and as I drew nearer, the doubts started to kick in,” Michelle said. “I thought what if I get there and everyone is gorgeous and they laugh at me, turning up in my size 18 jogging clothes while they look stunning?”

She tried not to give into her fears, but not without forming some contingency plans.

“I had to go through with it because I’d been defending the idea for weeks and I would never forgive myself,” Michelle said. “I remember thinking, ‘If I get there and my fears are confirmed, I’ll feign tummy ache and leave!’”

What waited for Michelle on the other side of the door was nothing like she expected. Instantly, she felt at ease with herself, and was no longer looking for the exit.

“All my insecurities about my body and how I looked, were laid bare, but it was OK, I wasn’t alone!” Michelle said. “We were all women together, enjoying something amazing and we didn’t care what lives each of us had outside, we were all equal inside.”

As Michelle continued to dance, she gained confidence as her skills at dancing increased. While her confidence can’t change how people perceive her as a belly dancer, it has changed something more important: her perception of herself.

“People still snicker now, but I don’t care. It’s through their ignorance, and perhaps insecurities, that has made the way bellydance is wrongly perceived today. I fell in love with bellydance that first day and still enjoy learning all that I can. When I feel down I put on my music and dance. In my eyes it’s the best possible therapy I could have had,” Michelle said.

Other than changing her confidence level, Michelle has been able to change some perceptions of belly dance: her family’s. She’s even taught some of them basic moves, which encouraged them to try belly dance near where they live.

So where is Michelle now? Still dancing, still loving life, and recently she belly danced through a pregnancy. She even performs, having chosen a name that is the strongest reflection of her transformation into a belly dancer: Amira, which means “Princess”.

“I started to identify myself as a bellydancer maybe 2 years ago although it wasn’t really a conscious decision,” Michelle said. “I see myself as a small fish in the bellydance world and I’m happy at the moment drinking up all I can about this amazing art form!”

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