The Greats







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) completely optional.


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 inconsequential.


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 belly dancing!

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 a costume

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 inhibition!


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, no doubt!

***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!




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 empowering.


*** 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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