By Colleen Heavey Berg (discoverbellydance.com)
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: 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.
BUT WHAT IF I'M NOT A TWENTY YEAR OLD GODDESS?
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.