A Sixty-Plus Takes Up Belly Dancing
There are a few things you need to know about me. The first thing is that I am a serious klutz. I get bruises everywhere from bumping into things. Objects hide when they see me coming. My balance is tentative at best, precarious at worst, even when I’m only walking in a (semi)straight line. Last year I tripped over my dog and woke up in an ambulance with a concussion. This year I tripped on uneven concrete while running and ended up splayed on the sidewalk.
The second thing is that in my twenties, just after college, I took a modern dance class. I came down from a hop the wrong way and broke a bone in my foot; I was on crutches for a month.
The third thing is that I turned sixty-three years old last month. I’m not beautiful, not slender, not (see above) graceful. Nor athletic. I’m not Little Egypt (anyone remember her?) or Shakira.
With all this history, then, why would I sign up for a belly dancing class?
That was the question I kept asking myself for months, after an article in our local paper stirred up my latent dreams of myself as sylph-like and sensuous. Belly dancing had never been on my bucket list; in fact, the thought itself would have made me embarrassed and feel ridiculous in view of my aforementioned deficits.
But this article called it wonderful exercise “for all ages.” That got my attention. Then there were photos of a couple of local teachers and classes waving their arms, scarves (scarves!) floating from hands and tied around waists, jingling with coins. How lovely, romantic, graceful it looked!
And this was also exercise! Good for you!
My enthusiasm suddenly caught fire. I’m an occasional runner, but it’s hard for me, and I have to really motivate myself. This sounded like automatic motivation. I’m also a class nerd; show me a class that sounds interesting and I’ll sign up.
Since I lost my mom last year after several years of caregiving, I’ve been feeling the need to expand my world a little more. Maybe losing your last parent does this, makes you feel the years shrinking ahead of you. I knew I didn’t want my world shrinking as I age. I want to try to keep expanding it, keep learning, finding new interests.
So I found a class being offered through a local adult-learning organization. It was several months before it started, which gave me time to think about it, wonder, waffle a lot. Sometimes too much time to think can be dangerous. (Would I just be making a fool of myself?) Finally, a week before the class began, I decided to take the plunge.
We started in the middle of a July heat wave. No one had told us what to wear. I went for the least confining things I had: a white tank top and gray yoga pants. The seven-minute drive there was hot, but the studio nice and cool. I was relieved to see at least one other woman around my age. Her daughter was a belly dancer, and she already had a hip scarf. I was envious.
It surprised me how comfortable I felt. This was so different for me, yet I was excited, eager to start. The instructor asked us a little about ourselves, and I told my story of the broken foot to let her know not to expect too much. But for once it wasn’t a defensive move. I honestly didn’t care how clumsy I looked; this would be fun!
She began to show us basic moves, and the six of us tried our best to follow, but she was so graceful, moved so sinuously, that our own images in the mirrors made us look like Bigfoot by comparison.
Nevertheless, I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t doing this to become a dancer.
Through the following weeks we practiced new ways of moving: our hips, our chests, in circles, up and down, in figure eights. Our muscles, our joints, stretched, contracted, in ways they never had before. We realized exactly how stiff we were—even the younger women among us. We practiced steps and found out how difficult it really is to move across the floor in a certain pattern of steps while raising, lowering, or undulating other parts of your body. My respect for the women who practice this ancient art grew greatly.
At the end of our second lesson the instructor told us, “Usually you have to practice at level 1 for a year or more before you really feel comfortable with the moves.” Ah, maybe I’m not hopeless at all, I thought, already projecting my thoughts farther ahead than I had considered before.
Sure, I thought, I can keep doing this!
It isn’t easy. But at the end of each lesson I felt good, physically and mentally. And something else happened over the course of six weeks: I began to feel more graceful, whether or not I was. I began to feel the movements inside my body. I felt myself sitting up taller, pulling my stomach in, being aware of how I stepped and how my hips moved, began to stretch more and more deliberately. And I started to feel more feminine. I wanted to wrap things around myself. Shawls. Soft loose jackets. Bracelets. I started wanting to wear makeup again. I saw that the other women had painted toenails, and I wanted to paint mine, too—something I’d never really wanted to do before. Maybe even—someday—get a pedicure!
Sometimes life outside your comfort zone isn’t so uncomfortable at all.
The next session starts in a few weeks, and I’ll be there.
Maybe I’ll even buy myself a hip scarf.