The Late-Blooming Belly Dancer

Dr. Donna L. Roberts

In the garden of life, the late bloomers are especially beautiful. — Susan Gale

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When I was just a little girl, I became enamored with the “I Dream of Jeannie” show. I watched it faithfully every week and “played” genie in between the episodes. I crafted a costume, pilfering one of Grandma’s scarves for my veil, and rooted around in the cupboards until I found a suitable genie bottle I could decorate and pretend was my “home.”

My interest turned into obsession, as these things often do with children. I was so enchanted with this new persona that for a period of time, whenever asked the proverbial question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I enthusiastically responded, “A belly dancer!” I’m sure my mother was mortified and, on more than one occasion, had to follow up with an explanation of my Jeannie obsession.

Even the nuns who taught at the parochial school I attended gave each other sideways glances and managed weak smiles before moving the conversation on to safer, more appropriate subject matter. I can only imagine their discussions over dinner at the convent. The light-hearted among them finding it cute and amusing, while the sterner sisters insisting that it was no joke, that I would “come to no good end” (like all things theydisapproved of) and admonishing the others to pray for my wayward soul.Looking back, I suppose it was a good thing that we wore mandatory uniforms to school, or I am sure many battles would have ensued about my inappropriate wardrobe choice.

But alas, time marched on, as it always does, and eventually I outgrew my fascination with the show and its associated career choice. My costume was relegated to the back of the closet, my lovingly decorated bottle-home to the back of the cupboard. I moved on to more socially acceptable answers to the vocation question, like librarian and teacher. I’m sure my mother, as well as the nuns, were much relieved.

When I did get my first after school job, at 15, it was, in fact, at the library, with not a harem costume (bedlah) in sight. Years, and many more hours of study later, I did become a teacher, and eventually a university professor, a career I continue to love.

One evening, after teaching a class, I wandered over to the local community center to see about some fitness activities that would infuse some movement into my sedentary routine. And there it was on the bulletin board — a flyer for an upcoming class “Belly Dancing into Wellness.”

I laughed out loud and then put the class details in my agenda. Finally, the little girl who wanted to be a belly dancer, would realize that dampened, but not wholly discarded, dream.

As my middle-aged belly is a tad bit more abundant than that of the six-year-old who first considered belly dancing, I think I’ll forgo the revealing costume and stick to yoga pants for the classes. But I still dream of Jeannie and can’t help but conjure up the picture of Barbara Eden in full costume as I prepare for my first class.

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

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