My Experience With Belly Dancing

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I’m not a very good belly dancer. I think the problem is that I just don’t like it enough to give it my best shot – I definitely haven’t been practicing outside of class or anything. I've been to four – out of 8 – classes so far, so at least I feel like I’ve given it enough of a chance to say that I’m not in love with it.

I wasn’t sure how much I'd like belly dancing even before I signed up. I've never been much of a dancer. (Unless you count shakin' my booty on the dance floor when I used to go to clubs in my early 20s. A friend of mine still calls me "Dancing Queen" to this day.) I decided to take the class largely because 1) my roommate was interested in doing it with me, 2) the location was ideal (the building is literally next-door to where we live), and 3) I wanted to try something new (per #87 on my 101 Things list).

I just feel awkward (the same way I imagine Paris Hilton must have felt a few weeks ago). The hip-swaying and shoulder shimmying isn’t so difficult...but the belly-rolls are a different story. And belly rolling is, of course, an integral part of the whole belly dancing experience.

Push the belly out, up, back, and then out again? Do it in a circular, flowing motion? Our teacher said that students often have a hard time learning the correct motion (without a lot of practice, that is – and yes, I’ll admit once again that I haven’t been practicing) because we’re so used to holding our stomach in, instead of pushing it out and moving it all about.

The instructor is good about explaining how to do the various moves by themselves, but she isn’t as good with explaining how to put them all together. She always plays at least a few songs near the end of class where we’re supposed to follow her lead and try to copy what she does. But by the time she starts a particular move and it registers in my mind what she's doing, there’s a delay of several seconds – and usually by that time, she’s off doing something else. It feels like a continuous game of Try to Catch Up While Looking As Awkward As Possible. It would be helpful if she’d verbally call out some of the moves as she was doing them (especially since there’s about 20 of us in the class and sometimes it’s hard to get a good glimpse of her in the mirror).

What do I like about the class? It's a good ab workout. I can definitely feel the isolation of various stomach muscles when we're moving around. There’s also a range of sizes and body-shapes in the class, which is very cool (although nobody actually bares their stomach except the instructor).

It sounds like Certain Absurdity had the same kind of experience in her belly dancing class that I did. She also has a good description of learning how to shimmy.

Next we learned to shimmy. When you stand with your knees slightly bent, you alternate straightening one, then the other and low and behold, your hips shift up and down. The teacher would vary the speed of which we shimmied. Then after a little practice, she wanted us to try to walk forward while we were shimmy-ing. What?!? It was at this point that I decided that I’d probably be able to belly dance much better if I had a drink (or two) ahead of time!

We learned a few more moves before the class was done. I had fun, but felt completely inept. I think I can probably do it with lots of practice. You’ll know I’ve lost it when I start to shimmy up and down the school hallways...

I think I might like to go to a belly dancing class with Sagan. Her instructor sounds pretty cool.

As we were spinning and shaking and tip-toeing about, my instructor said to us near the end of the class, "now repeat after me: 'I am the best thing since sliced bread'". Because everyone in the class is rather shy, we all repeated the phrase in a murmur, which resulted in more of a cult-ish chant than anything else. But it certainly brought a smile to everyones face!

Amy Reid, a journalism student, has had much more success mastering the whole belly-rolling thing than I. (Also check out her post for tips about how to practice belly dancing outside of class.)

One move in belly dancing that god blessed me with the ability to do naturally is the belly roll. This move consists of moving three seperate abdominal muscles. The way my teacher taught us it to suck my belly in and then suck in the top a little more. Next, I slowly begin to relax my stomach muscles, pushing out the bottom first. This must be done very slowly, which can be quite hard - as I'm sure the majority of women out there, like me, are used to sucking it in. Doing crunches can add to success in this area. Once perfected, it should look like a wave going through your belly.

Remember what I said about belly dancing being a good ab workout? Taaj says Stop Clenching Your Abs!

I am so tired of hearing people talk about clenching the abs when belly dancing. I was especially appalled just now when I heard someone say that she keeps them clenched ALL THE TIME! Oh, my god! Will ya stop with the ab clenching already?

Pilates is fantastic, but I think it got people going in the wrong direction with the whole "core" thing.

1) You can't breathe fully if you have your abs tightened.
2) If your abs are tight, you block the flow of chi and this of course leads to disease and discomfort.
3) If you are not clenching correctly, this makes you MORE unstable, not less.
4) If you are not clenching and RELEASING, you will never build any strength. You cannot strengthen a tight muscle.
5) If your abs are rock hard, you probably dont' have much flexibility (take that from me, the former body builder). If you don't have flexibility, your range of motion and ease of motion is inhibited.

Bollybutton lives in Athens, Greece and talks about participating in her first public belly-dancing show.

Last night I took part in my first bellydance show with the girls from my class and it was great! My only mistake was not taking part in the introduction solo dances, when each of the girls takes the stage in turn to do a few steps while the rest of us play instruments (finger cymbals, tambourines or dumbeks). I watched the other girls take their turns and chickened out. I thought "Look at me compared to them. The audience will say they didn't pay to see a little ant in a coin belt." I felt like a sucked out mango next to them, plus my teacher's attitude wasn't helping my faith in my own abilities. [...]

Ultimately, if I don't grab the bull by the horns and dance the way I do at home, the way I know I can, I'm never going to start believing in myself. Bring on the next show!

Robin was nervous before her first belly dancing class, but ended up having a good time.

I had been a little concerned about dancing in front of total strangers, but most of the women were middle aged, some were significantly overweight, and there was a comfortable "mommy to mommy" atmosphere. More than any other physical activity in the world, belly dancing is accepting of people of all sizes. [...]

We started out with stretches. Then we learned some interesting ways to move our arms. Then we learned how to move our upper body without moving our hips and lower body. We learned hip circles and lots of other things I won't bore you with. I did pretty well, except I never did figure out how to jerk my hips (aka hip piston). Every time I would try it, it would look more like hula dancing(!)

Bottom line-I loved it and can't wait till next week!

Has anyone else tried belly dancing? Love it or leave it?

Related Links (other types of dancing):

Nenette at Life Candy is a huge proponent of hula and has 5 Reasons Why Hula is Fabulous for Fitness.
(numbers and first sentences are bolded)

The Columbian: Day of Dance stresses link between fitness, and movin' and groovin'

Yahoo Health: Can you “dance for fitness” using a video game?

SeattlePI: Exercise is easier when you get your groove on

Kristen at That’s Fit: Who knew hip-hop was so hard?

(Contributing editor Zandria also blogs at Keep Up With Me.)

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