How I Learned To Love My Belly

In the fall of 2008, my husband and I attended our church’s annual fundraising auction. There are a smattering of physical items (kindly referred to as “white elephants”) at the auction, but most of what is offered is a variety of service items – “my kid will rake your lawn” or “I’ll help you with your taxes”…that sort of thing. The item we offer is an Arabic Feast, where my husband makes a ton of ridiculously delicious Middle Eastern foods, and teaches the guests how to make Pita bread from scratch. My big contribution is making sure the bathrooms aren’t biohazards.

This dinner is a popular item at the auction, and people have paid generous amounts of money to attend. But at the auction of 2008, just as the economy had hit the skids, my husband was concerned that we weren’t going to bring in as much money for the church as we had in previous years. So he came up with a bizarre and completely unexpected proposition. As our item got closer to being announced for the voice bidding, he leaned over to me and said, “how about I tell the MC to announce that if the bidding gets to $80 a head, you’ll belly dance for everyone?”

What you need to know about me is that I have never, ever been a performer. I run from attention and cower in the darkest closet I can find. You want a set painted for your play? I’m your girl. You need stage crew? Call me. But keep that ever-lovin’ spotlight out of my face, or I will melt like the Wicked Witch of the West in a car wash.

But another thing you should know is that they serve free wine at the auction, which helps loosen the wallets when the bidding heats up. And, having demurely sipped a glass or five of the finest boxed beverages known to man, I was feeling impressionable. Besides, who in their right mind would want to pay that much money to eat bread at our house?

Apparently 8 people wanted to.

For 3 months, between the auction and the scheduled date of the Bread Party, I enjoyed a lengthy cruise on the Good Ship Denial. I mean, I’m not a DANCER. I’m not even a graceful land mammal. But as the date of the party approached, I knew I had to come up with something, and I had to do it fast. Time for the Interwebs to come to the rescue.

The Google gods found me a teacher 10 minutes from my house – now all I had to do was find out if she could work miracles. I emailed her my tale of woe, and she took pity on me, offering to fit me in for two lessons before the party. She not only taught me a basic vocabulary of moves, she lent me music and advised me on makeup, costuming and staging. Clearly, this woman was a saint.

The day of the party, I was a bundle of nerves, but somehow I managed to dance decently enough that one guest remarked, “I can’t believe you’ve only been doing this for three months!” I wish I’d had a camera to catch her expression when I fessed up that I’d only had two lessons.

In the aftermath, I realized I really enjoyed the experience. The music was inspiring, performing was exhilarating, and let’s face it — my inner 6-year-old got a kick out of playing dress-up. But the real surprise was that all those ugly body image issues that we women carry around with us…evaporated. Completely. Disappeared like a sleeve of Thin Mints in a cold glass of milk.

Do I have Buns of Steel? No. Do I have six-pack abs? Puhleeze. I’ve got Bingo Arms that create a breeze when I wave to people across the street. But do I loathe myself for these “flaws”? Not anymore, sister. Not anymore.


Elliot Azzam is a freelance artist and suburban housefrau. When she’s not chasing her 2 adorable offspring, she dances with the belly dance troupe Aubergine who will be performing all three nights of Artscape in July. For more information on Aubergine, go to For more information on the portraits, murals and giftware that Elliot creates, go to


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