Belly dancing is so much fun that it’s hard not to laugh or at least smile broadly while you’re doing it. I discovered that it’s really not quite as impossible to do as it looked when I was 16. I had started taking ballet and other forms of dance when I was 5, but it was my mother who decided at 36 to take lessons at the local park system. I joined her willingly, but didn’t assume my previous training would be much help with this very exotic art form that must be nearly impossible for most people.
Our teacher was casual about it, unlike my ballet instructors who were notoriously impatient and overly critical. She didn’t push or expect too much, and somehow my body followed that lead into relaxation and was able to mimic her movements. Undulations, camel walk, hip lifts, shoulder and hip shimmies, rib cage slides and other assorted moves all felt at least slightly awkward at first. Eventually, we did in fact bust these moves rather well and years later; we both became performers and eventually instructors to other beginners.
What I learned to understand came as a bit of surprise: in spite of the glitz and glamour of it, as well as what appears to be suggestive physical movements, belly dancing had almost nothing to do with entertaining men. In fact, in Middle Eastern countries long ago, the women would dance for each other in tents as a way to exercise and prepare for childbirth, while the men were somewhere else doing other things. The tents were said to be so low that most of their dancing was done on the floor.
From both taking and teaching classes I enjoyed many things about it. I experienced a bonding with other women, mostly as a teacher, and had the opportunity to laugh, breathe deeply and let go of any anxiety I had for the entire class and a good while afterwards. Yet another pleasant surprise was the increase in my core strength that came with a more athletic approach to teaching the warm-up segment of the class, as well as the chance to disappear into the inspiring rhythms and exotic music.
It never failed that I might travel to class depressed and anxious after a long day of work, but I always left class (whether teaching or taking class) a lot calmer and happier to experience living in the moment and connecting with my inner beauty and inviting it to come out.