What About My Scars?
After having a 10-pound baby four years ago, I have severe
stretch marks that go 2 inches above my navel.They don't really
bother me but my teacher says that body scars distract the audience
from the actual dance. So far it hasn't seemed to bother anyone
in performances, though sometimes in class I feel a little uncomfortable.
I don't feel comfortable in body stockings. I love to dance
and I really hate to think that people would judge me for my
scars. Tell me honestly what you think.
— Proud Mother
Your teacher is correct that the stretch marks (or any other
obvious scars) would probably distract some audience members.
But is that important? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on whether
you aspire to perform someday as a professional dancer in nightclub gigs, bellygrams,
and private parties, or whether you are content dancing just
for joy. Also, it depends on whether you are dancing in an intimate
setting (for example, a restaurant in which you're dancing between
the tables where the audience can get a close-up look at you)
or a more removed setting where you are on a stage and the audience
is some distance away from you.
As adults, our bodies come with histories. We have histories
of injuries, pregnancies, and surgeries. As dancers, we must
consider those histories, both in terms of how we move and also
in terms of what we choose for costuming. The key is to make
peace with whatever our bodies have endured in the past, accept
what they are in the present, and adjust for them as necessary.
How Do You Feel About Those Scars?
First, don't let your scars keep you from enjoying the dance.
Whether you are a hobbyist or a professional, you can dance in
spite of the scars.
If your scars make you feel self-conscious, then you probably
should find a way to cover them. If you're self-conscious about
your appearance, then you won't be able to give your full attention
to your dancing, and therefore you won't dance as well.
But if you feel neutral about them, or if you're proud of
them, then you don't have this as a reason to look for ways to
disguise or cover them. From your letter, it sounds as though
your scars are not inhibiting your ability to dance freely when
Do You Aspire To Be A Pro?
If you aspire to becoming a paid professional dancer, performing
in nightclubs and delivering bellygrams, then you will need to
find a way to cover or disguise those scars, either with costuming,
jewelry, or makeup. People who pay for a professional dancer
expect the illusion of glamor, and scars don't fit the glamorous
People expect a different standard from a paid professional
versus a hobbyist. This is just as true for Oriental dance as
it is for painting, music, or any other art form.
If you want to seek work as a professional dance
artist, you'll need to conduct yourself as one, and that goes
for paying attention to your appearance as well as your dance
quality and business practices. Belly dance is show business. In show business, the person's appearance is part of the package the customer is buying.
Boldly letting vivid scars shout, "I'm
here! I'm here!" when you dance will probably inhibit your
ability to get professional dance jobs. See below for suggestions
on options for how to cover or disguise them.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, Calfornia.
But What If You Just Dance For Fun?
If you aspire only to having a good time dancing in student-level
performances such as belly dance events,
student recitals, city festivals, etc. then do whatever you please. Your teacher
has done her job in giving you reasonable advice, but only you
can decide whether following that advice is right for you. If
you don't like her suggestion of a body stocking, you might try
challenging her to suggest another alternative — maybe she'll
come up with another idea that you do like better! Once
she has g
iven you her recommendations, thank her graciously and
sincerely for her input, give it due consideration, and decide
for yourself what (if anything) to do about it — just as you would
do with any other advice. If you decide to take no action on
her comments about the scar and she mentions it again, just smile
pleasantly and say, "I've thought about it, but decided
that leaving my midriff bare is what's right for me. But thanks
for wanting to help me!"
I should warn you, however, if you should decide to take no
action on your teacher's advice, she may decide to not offer
you the same types of performance opportunities she offers her
other students. Some teachers are very particular and offer troupe
membership or solo performance opportunities only to students
who meet their criteria for how a dancer should look/dance/behave.
You have the right to refuse to cover your scars. She has
the right to exclude you from some performance opportunities
she may make available to her other students. Keep that in mind
as you weigh what you want to do, and make sure you're ready
to accept the consequences of your decision, whatever it may
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.
So, What Can You Do About Those Scars?
Start by honestly assessing just how visible, how obvious
those scars are. If you got them 20 years ago and they've faded
to being rather faint by now, maybe they're not a major issue.
But if they're still very vivid and contrast dramatically with
your skin color, then artfully covering or disguising them is
probably a good idea.
For what it's worth, body stockings aren't the only way to
minimize the effect of scars. Maybe one of these ideas will be
more appealing to you than the body stocking you've considered:
- Some dancers wear belly dance costumes that look like elaborate
evening gowns, dripping with beaded fringe, instead of the bra/belt
ensemble. In the photograph to the right, I am wearing such a dress, and I don't even have any scars on my midriff that need
- Look for body makeup that is designed to cover scars. You
may have to shop around a bit, but it does exist! One brand name,
Dermablend, is sold in department stores such as J.C. Penney.
Even if the general shape of the scar is still visible after
you put the makeup on, it will probably reduce the level of contrast
between the scar's color and that of your neighboring skin, and
therefore make the scar less obvious.
- Learn how to do traditional folk dances and perform them. Folk costumes do cover the midriff, because traditional people from the folk cultures would never bare their midsections. See the photo above of me wearing the red gallabiya (folkloric dress). An added benefit of folk dances is that many people don't know much about them, which will give you an edge that other dancers don't have.
- One dancer I know who has a horizontal scar on one side of
her abdomen used make-up to draw a sword design right on top
of it. Eventually, she got a permanent tattoo there of a sword
so that she wouldn't have to keep drawing it every time she performed.
It looks very elegant, and audiences often comment favorably
- If you prefer the two-piece bra/belt set, you might consider
adding a stomach drape to your costume. This is jewelry or beaded
fringe that attaches to your dance bra and covers your stomach.
You can make your stomach drape from fringe, beads, coins, glittery
fabric, or other materials that suit your costuming style. This,
too, is popular among dancers who don't have scars, so you'll
be right in style with everyone else if you go this route! Many
people call these drapes "tummy flutters" because they
can accentuate your stomach rolls and flutters.
- If you have a surgical scar (or injury) on your upper back,
then perhaps long hair (a wig, maybe?), a vest, a shrug, or a headdress
that hangs down your back will provide attractive coverage.
PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by Lina Jang, New York City, New York.
You have a number of choices on what to do. Just decide what's
important to you, and then act accordingly. Just remember that whatever you choose, it will influence which dance opportunities are available to you, so be sure to weigh possible consequences of any choice you make and ensure you can make peace with them.
Other articles on this web
site related to issues with the abdomen include:
About this Column
Shira has received many questions from readers over the years related to various aspects of the dance. In this column, she picks some of the more interesting ones to answer publicly. Details contained in the questions are sometimes removed or disguised to protect the anonymity of the person who asked the question.
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