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To Be Alive is to Be Embodied

by Hannah Mahoney,
Foothills Member and Belly Dancing Instructor
Testimonial Given During Worship 6.9.19

My relationship with my body opened up when we were about 15. 

Something clicked for me inside, and I realized for the first time that I had a body that was my very own, that I was in charge of my body, and that this body would be my dwelling place on Earth until death.  I remember the day that this idea came over me, and I remember my young heart being filled with such a tender gratitude for my body, made especially for me.  The feeling was so powerful that I promised myself I would keep it in my heart no matter what. I decided to love my body, unconditionally, forever. 

This time in life can be very difficult for young people, changing bodies and extreme emotions, pressure and anxiety and uncertainty. My best girlfriends all struggled with eating disorders, and it broke my heart not to be able to help them see their own beauty and worthiness. I clung fiercely to my promise, my gratitude and grace for my body, and my sense of empowerment grew.  At the age of 15, the universe tapped me on the shoulder. I opened the phone book and found a belly dance teacher. Even then, Fort Collins had a vibrant belly dance community.  Many classes and teachers were available, and there were lots of opportunities to perform and to see others perform.  For the first time, I saw people of all shapes and sizes and ages expressing themselves with their bodies in a fascinating language, expressing their hearts through movements that seemed both ancient and fresh to me.  I knew I had found my people. 

A whole new world opened up for me during those first months of class.  I discovered more muscles than I knew I had, and learned to move my body in ways that I didn’t even know were possible. When things came easily to me, I caught fire! And when things were very difficult I rose to the occasion, practicing, watching the masters, paying attention to my own body and feeling my way. I learned to listen to my body on another level. 

I kept belly dancing, and at 18 I began teaching. Sharing the experience of belly dance with others is one of the greatest joys of my life. Getting to witness people as they begin to see their bodies and recognize their power and beauty in a new way is an incredible gift. 

This summer I’m 35, belly dancing for 20 years, and I feel like I’m just getting started. Learning the language of belly dance has required a lot of patience and practice, slowly working with my body to isolate and articulate and undulate and reverberate. As my body and I become more fluent, movements and patterns and shapes become known to my body, I don’t have to think about them in the same way–my body knows what to do–muscle memory. I can free my mind to trace the edges and refine and experiment as my body moves. And then like any language, when you reach a certain level of fluency, you can begin to flow, to transcend.

My body has taught me that together, we can reach these moments of transcendence. Putting in the practice together, listening to my body and giving it what it needs to get stronger and feel better, giving myself some grace and never slamming or forcing. 

As a young person, I remember being exposed to many dramatic and appealing and kind of self-destructive dance moves, and I have certainly injured myself when I’ve sold out for drama. As I grow I am always climbing and pushing, but I don’t betray myself in pursuit of a certain look or shape. I work with what I have and search for the next level of what might be possible. There’s always another layer to discover. 

Belly dance has connected me to my body in a deeper way. When we dance, we are one. My thoughts float away, I’m fully embodied, and I feel like we are connected with everybody who has come before and everybody who is here right now, and everybody who has not yet been born. We can transcend time and space and feel the depth and grace of our humanity, send a message of love to our brothers and sisters, and know that we have answered the call. 

To dance is to be alive. To be alive is to be embodied. To be embodied is to embrace yourself and let your heart shine out.

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