Last year I started going to Belly Dance classes with my daughter Sarah. Sarah has ten solid years of dance lessons behind her; tap, ballet, jazz, contemporary, hip hop, you name it, she did it. I had had a few weeks of dance classes here and there (various genres) scattered across my adult life, never sticking to any of them. We started early in 2010 alongside maybe 20 or 30 other women, mostly beginners, unaware of the fact that we would both be hopelessly hooked by the end of the first term and that having previous dance experience did not matter at all.

Belly dance attracts all sorts; young, old, and all ages in between, all levels of fitness, and all body shapes. The only demographic we didn’t seem to have was men, and men do belly dance, I’ve seen them on YouTube. Anyway, the others were mostly novices like me, middle-aged women (though I hate to admit it) out to have some fun while getting fit. There were some women who’d already been hooked the previous year and came back for more.

About half the class lasted all four terms, and the rest fell by the wayside for whatever reason. Perhaps they thought it was getting too hard, I must admit, at first the moves seemed easy, even I, with no formal training, could make them look good, but as the year wore on I realised how diverse the dance is, how hopelessly inadequate I was, and how much I still had to learn. Not that that was a bad thing, sponge-like I just absorbed more and more, and I’ve a feeling it will be a never-ending lesson.

There are so many variations of costumes, dance styles, and dance moves.  A costume can be a neck-to-ankle kaftan style outfit, showing next to no shape at all, or a sparkly, ‘look-at-me-I’m-gorgeous’ bra, belt and skirt set, with a thigh-high split. Or there’s the gypsy style full skirts accessorised with a decorative belt and pompoms. A costume can be simple or elaborate, and so can the accessories, a plethora of glittering jewellery, or a simple, fresh flower in the hair. The dance styles are just as diverse, and these are only a small handful; authentic Egyptian or Turkish belly dance, cabaret style, gypsy, or the newer fusions with Gothic, Industrial and Tribal dance. That’s just a small drop in the ocean of what is out there to discover! I have found some dances are elegant and aloof, some are cheeky and fun, and some are downright dark and scary: something for everyone.

There are props too, canes, zills (finger cymbals), veils, swords. Yes swords: dancing while balancing a sword on your head, how awesome is that? We didn’t get that far last year, we did do some veil work and I spent a lesson getting tangled up in a 3 meter veil: It’s harder than it looks, I’d be deadly with a sword.

I think it can also be a very personal expression sort of dance, if you want to get away from the traditional ‘dance oriental’ you can fuse your own style of belly dance to whatever music you like, and there are plenty of examples of that on YouTube. Who knew that you could belly dance to Nine Inch Nails or Depeche Mode? Well, I know now, and so do you.

And so this year it begins again. This weekend I’m starting off my new year of belly dance by having dinner with some of my classmates from last year at Raks The Kasbah. Our talented teacher Ainslie is one of the dancers performing on the night. And on February 28, Sarah and I will start going to classes again. I can’t wait for another year of learning, performing, and drooling over pretty hip scarves, jewellery and other belly dance related paraphernalia. Seriously, I could spend so much money it’s not funny, but I need money for my other pursuits of music, comedy and holidays.

Apart from the fun and the exercise, the other thing that belly dance has given me is confidence. In 2009, I would never have imagined that in 2010 I would be dancing on stage, in a sparkly and revealing costume showing my midriff. It’s an outcome that I did not expect, and one that has spilled over into other aspects of my life. I’ve never been an extrovert, and I’ve always thought of myself as introverted and shy. It might be that as a late bloomer in my 40s I would have found some other way to express myself in an ‘extroverted’ way, I don’t know. But I’m glad I found this way and I’d recommend it to anyone.

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