Normally I write here about the specifics of Egyptian and American styles of belly dance. I love learning about the dancers, musicians, films and culture that influenced the development of the dance. But today, I wanted to write about something a little different: Why learn to belly dance at all in the first place? What relevance does this ancient art, with its roots in the Middle East, have to modern American women? Well, I think it has plenty, and so much to offer us. Below I try to to sort out my feelings on the subject in a coherent way, which I actually found to be quite difficult because it is so close to my heart! This is a topic I imagine I might come back to in the future as I try to express my love for the dance in words (not my strong suit, which I guess is why I am a dancer in the first place!)
But I will try. I think that women can benefit in many ways by studying belly dance. Here are a few of the reasons that I think it is so wonderful and totally worth devoting your life to ;)
The Benefits of Belly Dance
Belly Dance is Accessible
One of the most important things I learned from one of my own teachers, Amina, is that traditionally belly dance is very much a folk dance. This means that it is done by everyone, it is absolutely not meant for elites only, unlike much Western dance (I’m looking at you, ballet!). As Amina often tells us, belly dance as an art performed on a stage or in a nightclub is only about 100 years old (a topic discussed very briefly on my About Belly Dance page and about which I hope to write more in the future). The point of this discussion is that the basic moves of belly dance are moves that everyone can do. You do not have to be able to do the splits or have a certain type of figure to be a competent belly dancer. Belly dance is for all women, and we can all get a feeling of accomplishment and joy from studying it. It is a great art form for those of us who love to dance but may have felt frustrated by other dance forms.
Belly Dance is Creative.
Belly dance gives us an outlet for our creativity in so many areas: costuming and make-up, our choice of music and of course, the moves we are going to do to that music. We decide for ourselves. You can certainly follow a choreography, but you don’t have to. And, as my students know, I strongly encourage you not to!
Belly Dance is Expressive
Belly dance isn’t just the physical mastery of moves and technique. It uses these moves to express the deepest emotions: love, loss, longing for a past that cannot be reclaimed, regret… did I mention loss? Once you start studying the beautiful world of Arabic music and the poetry of the lyrics, you realize the depth of the emotions that are being dealt with and you can express your own soul through the dance. We may not come from the Middle East or understand the lyrics without a lot of hard study (which is totally worth the effort!) but these emotions are absolutely universal and belly dance is a place to express and share them, in the proper setting and context.
Belly Dance is Fun
… And then on the complete opposite end of the spectrum- belly dance is so much fun, and brings people so much happiness. Once you have a few lessons under your belt, all of the sudden friends and family will want you to dance at their birthday parties and family celebrations and share your art with them! Trust me, it will happen! Everyone loves a sparkly, bubbly belly dancer and you will have a lot of fun taking part in these kinds of celebrations and giving everyone else the ‘permission’ to get up dance themselves.
Belly Dance Builds Friendships
My mother was a belly dancer, so I was very fortunate to grow up around it. I explored other forms of dance as I grew up, and then I went back and started studying belly dance formally in a classroom setting. That was almost 20 years ago and guess what? I am still dancing with several of the dancers that I met in that first class! And my teacher, the lovely Helwa! You will meet the most original, free-spirited, strong, funny and amazing women in your belly dance classes. Now as a teacher, I look around at the completely incredible women in my own classes and I feel so lucky that I get to be with all these neat ladies!
Belly Dance is a Non-Punishing Form of Exercise
So much of what we do to ourselves in the name of ‘getting a bikini body’ is really restrictive and no fun. Liquid diets, calorie counting and hours spent in a soulless gym. Belly dance adds a very big dose of beauty and joy to your life, and the fitness is an added bonus. It IS exercise, you WILL work up a sweat, and your doctor will be happy that you are moving more. But it doesn’t feel like a chore or an obligation because it is so much fun. I do not even know exactly what a cleanse is, but I promise you the sequined path to fitness is much more enjoyable!
Belly Dance Improves Confidence
It just does. Learning to dance makes you feel very beautiful, and this gives you a real confidence. It also improves posture in doing so it changes the way that you carry yourself in the world, which changes the way that people respond to you in a kind of positive feedback loop.
You’ve Always Wanted to Belly Dance
Now that I am a teacher so many people tell me that they’ve always wanted to belly dance, but they say they know that they can’t dance at all, and they will be terrible at it. This always makes me so sad. We are all so hard on ourselves. Allow yourself to try and see what happens! As I said at the top of this post, belly dance is truly for all women. Now, it is dance that comes from a culture that is foreign to us. It may feel unfamiliar and take a few tries to get, but we are all capable of doing the basic movements in one way or another. I encourage everyone out there to give it a try.
Please jump in and add on in the comments below if I missed anything! I would love to know what else belly dancers have gained from their art.
And I am here to answer any questions anyone may have about belly dance, please do not hesitate to contact me. And please see my Learn Belly Dancing page for class offerings if you are in the Bay Area. Thank you so much for reading and, as always-
xo Alisa Greer