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meet valerie vigdahl

Too Fat to Dance?
Life as a voluptuous belly dance goddess

I started belly dancing on a dare.

My mom suggested I take a community education class. It seemed like a unique and exotic way to stay active and healthy. But me dancing? I had my doubts.

I might consider doing it, if only I was more built for the part. After all, who wants to see a “big girl” like me shimmy around?  The swaying, sensuous, feminine movements intrigued me, but I also had chilling visions of “plus-sized” me in a class full of svelte, trim dancers.

Little by little, my mom wore me down. I started to really believe I might not only enjoy belly dance, but be good at it. At 22 years old, I mustered up the courage to sign up for beginning belly dance through a local community education program.

After one class I was hooked.

I remember walking into that first class in an all-too glamorous high school cafeteria. The site that greeted me was about a dozen women of all ages and sizes. There were mothers there with daughters, college students, young women like me, middle-aged friends enjoying a new hobby and older women seeking activities for their retirement. Even our instructor was not what I imagined. Instead of the thin, tall, model-like dancer I envisioned, she was a spunky, curvaceous, petite redhead.

I was amazed to find that many of the basic movements were almost intuitive. For the first time in my life, I found my curves useful – even beneficial.

After the six session intro class ended, I was hungry for more. My instructor recommended a local dance school. I started the Level 1 class the following month.

Still slightly intimidated by the “official” dance class atmosphere, as well as the petite Level 1 instructor, I positioned myself in the back of the studio for the first few classes. The third class we began to learn hip shimmies. To my horror, as I shimmied my hips many other things came along for the ride!

Sensing my discomfort, the instructor said to the class, “If you notice other things shimmying, that’s good. In the Middle East, the ideal dancer has more than a little meat on her bones.”



valerie vigdahl


Belly Dance Resources

The Art of Middle Eastern Dance           

Belly Dancing For Full-figured Women

Belly Dance Museum                     

Yasmina’s Joy of Belly Dancing           

This was a totally new concept for me – a dance form that encouraged and embraced a little jiggle in the middle. An art form that celebrated strong, sturdy hips and thighs. A way to exercise that accepted women of all shapes and sizes, recognizing the beauty in us all.

My life as a voluptuous belly dance goddess was about to begin.

Soon I moved to Level 2 class. The instructor, Susan, was what I would describe as “Goddess-like.” Susan was tall and regal with a womanly shape. She had wonderfully expressive green eyes and dark hair with just a touch of curl. Most importantly, she had grace and poise.

She even was graceful in her everyday mannerisms, not just while dancing. I imagined her floating through the grocery store with ease, or gliding through a crowd of people at a busy mall without needing to pause. She seemed to flow through space in a way I never thought I could. But now I had this desire to “be just like her.” I had found my role model!

The next five years are a whirlwind of dance classes, workshops and, after one year of lessons under my hip belt, performances.

Belly dance terms such as undulate, shimmy, taxim, karshlama, zils, and beledi became part of my everyday vocabulary. I would find myself shimmying at the copy machine at work, or playing air zils (a.k.a. finger cymbals) on the bus.

Through belly dance, I discovered the strong, beautiful, fearless woman inside of me. I have more confidence in myself, my looks and my abilities now than I ever have. I now rely on dance as a way to celebrate the good times and deal with the emotions of the bad times.

I’ve networked with dancers across the country and world, discovering that – like beauty – belly dance knows no size.

about valerie vigdahl

Valerie is a communications professional, freelance writer, and belly dance instructor in Minneapolis. Like many women, she has struggled with body image since adolescence, and uses it as a common theme in her work. She dances under the name "Zuza," performing solo and in the troupe Totally Northern Triba.l Through her writing, performing and teaching, she hopes to help women discover their strength and beauty.

valerie vigdahl

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