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November 14, 2008

Belly Dancer

2_2 Last week, my husband and I went down to the Joyce Theatre to see "Garth Fagan Dance."  I happen to love contemporary dance. I love the visual tableaux, the musical interpretations, the impressive physicality of the dancers.  And that night, there was something more, something amazing. Because in the very first number, once of the dancers (I'm pretty sure it was Nicolette Depass, but it's always hard to tell from a head-shot) came out in a leotard that had a hole cut out for her belly.  Her very pregnant belly.  And she was beautiful.

I have seen hundreds of dance performances in my life:  from Baryshnikov as Petrushka and Nureyev in Afternoon of a Faun, to Alvin Ailey's Revelations, Mark Morris's The Hard Nut, and David Parson's mind-blowing masterpiece "Caught." (If you've never seen it, it's a must.)  But in all of those performances, I've never seen a visibly pregnant dancer.

What was most amazing about Ms. Depass' performance, was that Garth Fagan didn't change the choreography for her.  He didn't relegate her to "delicate situation" status.  There she was: strong, graceful, beautiful, and pregnant. After that first leotard, she wore the same costumes as everyone else, did the same dances. No false restrictions were put on her: she was allowed to be whoever she was - pregnancy aside. And because the night of the performance was also election night -- the night America chose a Black man to be the President of the United States -- it got me thinking.

For too long, women and minorities have been underestimated, overlooked, or just plain discriminated against.  And pregnant women? They're too weak, they're incapable, they can't possibly perform to the high standard.  That night, America proved that it had let go of one prejudice, and Nicolette Depass disproved another.  Finally, finally, that night Americans saw beyond race.  They saw a smart, dedicated, capable person.  A person they trusted to lead them out of the quagmire of two wars and financial turmoil of enormous proportions.  And finally, finally, that night, a choreographer saw beyond a pregnancy, to the woman who was still there, still capable, still flexible, still able to do everything she did before that new life began to grow.

Garth Fagan Dance is a primarily African American company. (All but one of the dancers is Black.) So it felt particularly appropriate to be in the audience that night.  During every break, audience members whipped out their i-phones, checked CNN, and spread the good news: Obama won Pennsylvania!  Obama's got New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.  The room was electric: with music and movement and the excitement of a monumental election.

And through it all, a pregnant dancer danced a joyous celebration of the arts, of the history being made all around her, and of the life growing inside her.

Original Post to NYC Moms Blog.

Nancy is a freelance writer at work on a book of essays about Motherhood and Aging.  She also blogs at agelessbodytimelessmom.com

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