CONSIDERING BELLY DANCE?
A Few Myth-Busting Reassurances
In high school I had acute attacks of
unbridled envy every time I saw "Malika" speed out of Algebra the second
the bell rang on Fridays. She'd then emerge from the girl's room in her
amazing silver and pink belly dance costume, eager to get to her weekly
gig with her mom. But I never pursued belly dance because I just
couldn't see myself doing the full back bends I saw pictured in the
belly dance book (the one the school librarian handed to me with raised
eyebrows when I'd begged her to find me a book on the dance).
Much later (thirty something and counting
fast) I saw a magazine photo of a belly dancer in glorious action, and I
could resist no longer! Since then, it's blossomed into my major
passion, and I've discovered that back bends are (thank goodness)
Even those who've only just begun to toy
around with the idea of belly dancing have probably already heard or
read about the many physical, emotional, and social benefits… so,
knowing all this, what's to stop someone from giving belly dance a
whirl? Well, MYTHS mostly! So let's clear some up.
*** Myth: The size of your belly (or your weight and shape) matters
TRUTH: Unlike some other dance
forms, belly dance embraces women of all shapes and sizes. It's not
about having a particular physique. What's more, the dance uses the
entire body, from head to toe, not just the belly; belly size is
If you're unhappy with your weight, it's
possible to use belly dance as part of any sound nutrition and exercise
plan geared to your goals. Meanwhile, any 'body' can look and feel great
Still not convinced? Well, then, who says
you have to dance for an audience? You can dance just for you, or just
for your friends, or just for your cat!
*** Myth: It's just wiggling around in
TRUTH: Skillfully combining and
layering the many distinct, isolated movements used in belly dance is
quite challenging. Not to mention veil work and playing finger cymbals,
which add considerably to the task of creating a graceful, flowing
dance. So while to the untrained eye belly dance may seem a freewheeling
vision of sheer abandon, in reality this a common misperception.
As in all dance forms, there are basic
movements that can be learned in a short while, but a lifetime can be
spent developing higher levels of proficiency. Many belly dancers
practice their craft with rigorous dedication. They deserve the same
admiration and respect we would give to any talented artist.
*** Myth: Belly Dance is for women only
TRUTH: The dance was practiced in
the Middle East, as a family folk dance, long before becoming all the
rage in our country.
In America, belly dance has been
popularized mostly as a women's performance dance. But look a little
more closely at the belly dance community, and you'll find some very
talented men involved as well. And kids are belly dance naturals. They
love to show off. If you take lessons with your own 'mini me', be ready
to take a back seat in the departments of flexibility and lack of
Belly dance is now experiencing a
popularity surge in the west as it did in the 60's. As a result, belly
dance is being fused with other dance forms, and you might even see
couples belly dancing together socially!
*** Myth: You have to be coordinated, or graceful, or flexible
TRUTH: Coordination comes with
time; no one expects beginners to be instantly coordinated.
Likewise, you do not have to possess the grace of a Siamese cat or the
flexibility of a yogi to benefit from belly dance. The dance develops
all these wonderful physical qualities, so if you believe you're sorely
lacking them, that's all the more reason to get started!
***Myth: You have to be familiar with Middle Eastern music
TRUTH: All that's needed at first
is a willingness to allow your body to respond to music as it learns new
ways of moving. The more you listen to and learn about Middle Eastern
music (and other types of music sometimes used in belly dance) the more
you will be able to use that familiarity to your advantage in dancing,
***Myth: It's an activity that requires special clothes
TRUTH: Nope, you can learn belly
dance in any comfortable clothing as long as it's not too baggy to see
what your body is doing. Later, you may want to splurge on a coin hip
scarf or costume, but it's strictly optional. Most of my students just
tie a colorful scarf from home around their hips for class.
*** Myth: You can't learn it on your own, you need a teacher
TRUTH: No doubt, learning from a
teacher is the best way to go; there's nothing like live, on the spot
feedback. But many people who can't find a teacher in their area can
begin to benefit from belly dance by using high quality instructional
videos for beginners, such as "Magical Motion" by Atea.
Trying to learn how to do belly dance
moves from the still photos and written explanations in books can be
slow, frustrating, and not very motivating. But books can be a nice
accompaniment to classes and videos.
*** Myth: You have to memorize a lot of steps and routines
TRUTH: Only if you want to. Some
teachers make heavy use of choreographed routines; others do not. If you
don't relish the idea of having to memorize set routines with a group,
look for a class that focuses mostly on technique and freestyle, or make
use of private lessons and instructional videos.
If you're still not sure you want to jump in with both (bare) feet, why
not ask to observe a beginner's class in your area? In no time at all
you'll be wondering why in the name of Aladdin you waited so long!
BUT WHAT IF I'M NOT A TWENTY YEAR OLD
What's the first image that would pop
into YOUR mind if you were to close your eyes and picture a belly
dancer? How does she look, in your mind's eye? How old is she? How does
she act, and what is she about?
If you imagined yourself, then you'd be
right on! And if you did not automatically picture a woman, good for
you! The dance is for men and children, too! That said, it is also true
that in America, belly dance has so far evolved primarily as a woman's
performance dance, not as the family folk dance it originated as in the
Middle East. And so, in keeping with that social context, the art of
belly dance is partly viewed as a display of femininity. Belly dancers,
both men and women, often have particular worries in light of that
reality, especially when they decide to "go public" and/or "get serious"
about belly dance.
Here's a peek at five common concerns
about the dance that women often struggle with as they attempt to come
to terms with the essence of belly dance.
*** Concern: I'm not very beautiful
and exotic looking.
Let's not kid ourselves; being attractive
by a society's standards is a plus no matter what you do! But because
belly dance embraces the uniqueness of each woman, this is much less of
an issue than you might imagine. Moving well and with confidence IS
beautiful, and transcends the merely physical aspects of beauty.
It is true that the "classic" belly
dancer look is thought of by many as the smoky eyed, olive skinned woman
with cascading raven tresses and enough gold jewelry on to open her own
mall kiosk. But many of the world's greatest belly dancers do not at all
fit this mold. So embrace your individuality. Striving to imitate others
or to replicate rigid stereotypes is far less interesting, and less
*** Concern: I'm not young enough to
be a belly dancer.
The gentle movement of belly dance is an
ideal activity for all ages. Even older women who have no dance
background often have a special grace of movement that comes from
comfort and experience with their own bodies, and from a sense of
self-confidence. If you want to shake a hip for exercise and fun, age is
nothing to concern yourself about.
If you do have your sights set on dancing
professionally, some venues do prefer a youthful look. In many cases,
however, skill, style and an overall pleasing presentation are more
important factors. And, as an alternative to the traditional nightclubs
you might be imagining, you can also strut your stuff in festivals,
showcases, and perhaps as part of a performing troupe.
*** Concern: It's a dance of seduction; I'll have to flirt with men
Belly dance aims to be sensual, not
sexual. There are no poles to swing around or lap dances involved, trust
me. While some light hearted flirtation with the audience may be part of
a belly dancer's act, the vast majority of belly dancers are not
interested in seducing anyone.
What they are there to do is enchant and
mesmerize a varied audience. It is a society's rather body-phobic
conditioning that is the source of confusion here. That, and the fact
that Middle Eastern dance movement is unusual to Western eyes can make
it seem suspect.
*** Concern: I'll have to show a lot of skin
For dancing at home and at dance class,
you don't need to show anything you don't want to, including your belly.
Many students choose to wear a full skirt or body unitard and a hip
scarf adorned with coins, fringe or beads; this is a great way to look
the part without baring your belly if you'd rather not.
For public dancing, how revealing your
costume is depends on the circumstance, the style of belly dancing you
choose to do, and your own preferences. The costuming for some tribal
and folkloric styles, and even some Egyptian and nightclub dancing, is
extremely modest and does not bare the torso whatsoever.
*** Concern: People will think I'm a show-off
Not necessarily! And probably not unless
that's what they'd also think of a ballet dancer, a gymnast, a fashion
model, or a sunbather. And at least belly dancing doesn't give you skin
cancer! Many dancers deal with this issue by making it a point to chat
with family and friends about the many reasons they choose to dance…
from the challenge of learning new combinations, to the sheer joy of
being moved by rhythm.
Freeing ourselves of these anxieties and limiting ideas about belly
dance, as we grow as dancers, makes room for the joyful, creative spirit
of our dance! And that's a goal worthy of the dance artist in us all!
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