A couple years ago, I had a discussion with my mentor and belly dance teacher Shara, about how weird I felt as LDS and a belly dancer, and that I felt like I had to keep those two aspects of my life separate from each other, that if people from my church found out I was a belly dancer I would be ostracized and conversely, if the group of women I danced with found out I was LDS, they might think differently of me (especially since Wicca is fairly prevalent in the belly dance community).
It was about this time that PBS aired the documentary called "The Mormons". Shara watched it and came across this little tidbit about dance and Mormonism:
There is, in the Mormon faith, a kind of celebration of the physical which I think is a little bit outside the Christian mainstream. When the Saints moved west to Utah, one observer in the 1850s noted that they had schools in most every block but that every night, the schools were converted into dancing schools. And he observed with some displeasure that Mormons taught their children that they should go to school but they must go to dancing school.
And I think that there's a connection between the place of dancing in Mormon history and the concept of an embodied God. Because we believe that God the Father, as well as Jesus Christ, are physical, embodied beings, that elevates the body to a heavenly status. And I think there's a kind of exuberance and celebration that is, in many ways, a result of that same collapse of sacred distance that was so central to Joseph Smith's thinking.
Instead of denigrating the things of the body in order to elevate the things of the spirit, Joseph always argued that it was the successful incorporation of both that culminated in a fullness of joy. And so dancing, I think, is in many ways, just an emblem or a symbol of a kind of righteous reveling in the physical tabernacle that we believe is a stage on our way to godliness itself.
Belly dance has had in the past, a reputation as a "dance of seduction" and the old stereotype of the sultan with his scantily clad harem dancers is still what a lot of people conjure up when they hear "belly dance".
Our church in particular is very conservative, especially when it comes to dressing modestly, but is a belly dancer's costume any more scandalous than a ballet dancer or ballroom dancer? For the most part, we belly dancers are revealing a lot less, but because of the bad rap our dance has gotten, people often assume we're doing something shameful.
Shara would always tell me, "Dance is an expression of your soul". That has helped me feel good about blending these two aspects of my life, and being proud of both of them.