I’ve been dancing since I can remember. I’ve taken classes in Street, Bollywood, Commercial, Salsa, Ballet, Jazz, Contemporary and even the dreaded Zumba. But history kept repeating itself; I’d get to a certain level but the teacher chose not to develop me, accept me into their training group or progress me to the next class level. It always came down to an issue around my ‘fitness levels’, but my ballet teacher told me outright: ‘You’re too fat. You’ll never be a dancer.’
Yes, I’m overweight. I have a cocktail of health problems, none of which are that terrible, but the combination of which makes it difficult to exercise and causes me to store belly fat. Running for a bus would trigger an asthma attack. Dance has always been the one sport that I’ve been able to do without too much complaint from my body. Practice a routine for three minutes, stop, repeat and have so much fun you barely notice it’s exercise.
I had wanted to try Bellydance for years, since I knew it was a dance form where size didn’t matter. Back in 2010, I saw a poster in the pub for RockIt! Belly Dance. Belly dance to METAL?! Try and stop me.
My wonderful friend Jennie came to my first class with me, but five minutes in I didn’t need the moral support. I loved seeing the shapes my bigger body could make from moves focussing on feminine curves. And the music didn’t suck.
I went to every class I could and quickly progressed. I knew certain students were being asked to perform and I was determined to become one of them. I worked my ass off and was asked to perform at Rusty Cage Club Night. The teachers had recognised my talent, and couldn’t care less about my size.
I loved it. I loved commanding the attention of the whole room. I loved hearing people cheer, watching me move, enjoying what I could do with my body and actually appreciating how I look. I felt strong, sexy and powerful.
For me, RockIt Dance is all about power. Bucking the idea of both submissive female rock dancers and bellydancers, we’re strong, assertive, aggressive. The moves are big, bold and brash: powerful. I think this creates a unique power-play, stemming from audience expectations. When the audience hears metal dancers, they think of music-video girls. If they hear bellydance, they think Egyptian or Arabic whirling dervishes. Ultimately, the expectation is ultra-feminine and flirty. Then there’s the second layer of expectation, of girls ‘not getting’ metal, or only pretending to like metal to please their boyfriends. Finally, all audiences want to be entertained. It’s like a gauntlet has been laid: ‘Come on, amuse me.’
The expectation is never snarling, sweating, (occasionally grunting with exertion) warrior women throwing themselves about to heavy-as-fuck tunes. We are the last thing they expect. That shift in power from audience to performer, that ‘what the fuck?’ moment, is as exhilarating as the dance itself.
From then on, the performer has the power over the audience. We have your attention. Those three minutes are ours.
(For me personally, I always feel there’s an expectation that ‘the fat one’ will be shit – that my size means I’m not as skilled as the other dancers, or as fit. It’s probably my own insecurities, but it drives me to work harder. When I’m performing, I dare you not to watch. I dare you not to enjoy it. I dare you to think my body shape means I can’t dance. I can dance, and dance really, really well. My size does not determine my skill).
My favourite part of performing is always that moment of stillness, right at the end. We stop. You can hear a pin drop. Then the audience erupts with applause and cheering. That split-second silence is the sound of the audience processing what they’ve just seen, and working out how to react to it. In that moment I feel that power – yes, that was awesome.
But the absolute best part of all of this, is that I have eight other amazing, powerful women around me, who have all gone through similar growth experiences over this time. I bet if you asked any one of us a few years back whether they’d ever go on stage wearing nothing but lace trousers and a metal bra, we’d laugh in your face. But here we all are, standing proud and strong – and often wearing handmade chainmail.
Over the past three years I’ve performed all over the UK with RockIt. I’ve developed my dance skills and my fitness, and I’ve grown some killer leg muscles. My ass is toned, my posture is better, my arms have increased muscle mass. But more importantly, I care less and less about my belly and my costumes have become scantier. In fact, just this week at a photo shoot I wore a mesh crop top – showing my belly in public for the first time. My body has become powerful. I appreciate it for what it can do more than what it is.
Despite being my biggest, my confidence is sky high. Yes, I will never be thin. I will never run a marathon. But I bet a marathon runner couldn’t do 10 minutes of the routines and drills we spend hours perfecting every week. We all have different strengths and skills – mine is expressing confident, dynamic movements to awesome tunes.
We are RockIt. Hear us roar.
Rehearsing Feuer Frei by Rammstein at Olympic Gym, Eccles, February 2014.