Interested in starting a new hobby but don’t know what? Or you’ve been thinking about taking a belly dancing class for a few weeks now, but still can’t decide?
I want to share with you my experience of learning to belly dance. I joined my first belly dancing class, mostly because I was bored with whatever dance style I was learning at that time (hip hop?), and I wanted to learn something new. As I was walking around my school campus, I found an ad for a belly dance class. To be honest, I didn’t even know what belly dance was, but I am so glad I didn’t think much of it back then and just signed up for the class. Here are 30 reasons why….are you ready?
1. FUN – no explanation needed.
2. The costumes! – Oh how I adore those shinny, colourful costumes… It’s really amazing how good they make me feel when I put them on. And if you are a crafty type, you will enjoy making them a lot too!
3. Friends & community – It’s so easy to meet supportive women in this community and make friends. I believe this is one important factor that makes people stay in this community and keep dancing.
4. Empowering – I don’t even remember what my instructor taught in my very first belly dance lessons, but I remember feeling good about myself after each class. The snake like movements, so smooth and feminine, yet not overly sexy. Goddess like. Learning these movements makes you look good, feel good and empowered.
5. For every shape and size – It’s one of the most accommodating form of dancing when it comes to shapes and sizes. Extra jiggles? Lucky you! A shortie? Me too! And it really doesn’t matter. I often get to dance in the middle or front 😉
6. The music! – The subject of Middle Eastern music is so deep and complex. You think Western music is complex enough? Well, Middle Eastern music has more notes than Western music, called quartertones, which can be found in between E and E flat, for example. And they have some funky rhythms, and time signatures like 9/8 and 10/8. It’s fun. There is always more to learn.
7. Worldwide popularity – You can find a belly dancer pretty much anywhere in the world nowadays. You can find instructors pretty much anywhere. If you can’t find one in your city, there are lots of online resources like Free Online Belly Dance Classes and ask questions at a belly dance forum like Bhuz.
8. Childhood dream come true? – My dream came true the other day. Just before I performed at a community event, I was wearing my yellow bedlah (2 piece costume consisting of a top and a belt) with a flowery pattern and a puffy 3-tier purple skirt. Then a little boy ran by, looked at me and stopped all of a sudden. Then he told his friend, “Look! There is a princess!” Princess! It was my childhood dream to become a princess!
9. For every personality – just because the form of dance is so feminine and flowy, it doesn’t mean all belly dancers are super feminine women. In fact, I feel half the belly dancers that I’ve met have tough, tomboy-like personalities and may start their sentences with words like “dude” and may drop an f-bomb once in a while. You can find all types of personality in this community.
10. No need to show your tummy (unless you want to!) – I was quite hesitant to show my belly until about 3 years after I started belly dancing. Once I overcame the hesitation, it was so liberating! But really, I had no problem whatsoever without revealing my midriff.
11. You can lose weight – Yes, you can! I lost about 10lbs in the first few years. Not a surprising loss, but I’m short and small to begin with. Belly dancing definitely helped tone my abs which I didn’t know I had!
12. Stay young – Okay, there is no scientific proof behind this, but I’ve observed belly dancers in Vancouver for the last 5 years, and I can say this: generally speaking, women who regularly belly dance look 5-15 years younger than they are! When I hear these ladies’ ages, my common (and honest!) reaction is “Whaaat!?” and drop whatever I’m holding at that moment.
13. Extra skills you pick up – I’ve picked up the following skills that I thought I would never pick up by belly dancing: sewing, beading, music editing, photo editing, video editing, file transfer, time managing (squeezing in lessons, practice time, and rehearsals in already busy life!), budgeting (mainly for lessons and costumes), zagreet, a few Arabic words… etc.
14. Find other things you love doing – I’ve seen many belly dancers finding new hobbies or business opportunities through belly dancing. Examples include designing and making costumes, selling costumes and props, teaching, running a dance studio, learning Middle Eastern musical instruments, listening to Middle Eastern music, eating and cooking Middle Eastern food, traveling etc.
15. Become photogenic – Once you start performing, you get lots of practice looking good in photos.
16. More excuses to play with makeup! – Halloween and a few girls nights are the only excuses for you to put on a big makeup? Start belly dancing, and for each performance you do, you get to wear a big, shiny makeup complete with longest false lashes you can find!
17. More excuses to play with your hair! – Same as above. The best part is, you get to learn from other dancers how to create curls that last or where to find a good hair straightening iron.
18. More excuses to wear big jewelry! – I had this necklace that I only wore once at my high school prom, and didn’t really have an opportunity to wear it again, because it’s so fancy looking. Now it’s my go-to necklace when I perform.
19. Happier you – Regular exercise, especially rhythmical ones, produces endorphins in your brain, and endorphins are the happy chemical. Got a stressful job? Maybe regular dancing will help you relax.
20. Inexpensive hobby – If you want to start snowboarding, for example, it can easily cost you $200 or more for gear. If you want to start playing the Violin, the instrument alone can easily cost you $300 or so as well. Belly dancing? Nothing! All you need is a comfy shirt and pants like yoga pants, leggings or even a long skirt, anything comfortable to move around in. Lessons will most likely cost you less than your gym membership.
21. Satisfaction of group choreography – When was the last time you danced a choreographed piece with a whole bunch of other people? One of my favourite things about belly dancing is dancing with other dancers. If you take belly dance lessons, most likely your instructor will teach you a choreographed piece. And learning it with other dancers and performing it with them is such a satisfying experience. The whole process of practicing and making it better with other dancers itself gives you a lot of learning opportunities. That powerful energy and absolute beauty of group choreography always gets me excited. When people with the same passion come together, we can make some magical things.
22. Time for yourself – As an adult, you wear many hats – worker, student, mother, girlfriend, daughter, friend, neighbour. Life gets busy, and if you don’t take time for yourself, that’s when you may break down or overeat/drink or spend too much money. Yup, I’ve been there. Once you decide you take belly dance lessons, that’s your time. Making your time physically away from home or your office and make it a routine help you make sure you get your time.
23. Your new identity – You’ll discover your new identity. You will no longer be just a marketing assistant to some company or researcher at a lab. You can be a working professional whom some people also know you as a belly dancer. Maybe you enjoy being called a belly dancer. Maybe your belly dancing photos get tagged on Facebook, and you get 60 likes. Maybe your friends will join you in your next class.
24. Adrenaline Rush – Do you remember what it felt like when you were a child and got the first prize in a game or a race, or when you did a really good job playing a role in a school play? And your parents and friends are cheering you and so proud of you? You felt so excited and wanted to run around and scream. Your hands were shaky, and you could almost feel your heart beat. That was the feeling I got from my first performances. I still do, a little more tamed though, as I became a bit more critical of my own dancing, but I still feel the great sense of accomplishment, which I couldn’t get much from other parts of my life.
25. Prettier you – Stage makeup, which I’m still learning, is different from your everyday makeup. Interestingly, though, after I learned more about stage makeup, I learned tricks for everyday makeup as well. For example, contouring is important for stage makeup, because all the colours and shades on your face can get washed away by stage lights. I used to never do much contouring for my everyday makeup, but learning the concept of contouring helped me so much in experimenting with adding a bit of darker colours at the corners of my eyes and under my cheek bones. Same with highlights. Same with trying out different false lashes. I think my makeup changed dramatically since I started belly dancing…for the better, of course 🙂
26. Develop your core strength, stability, flexibility and hand-eye coordination – If you think belly dancing is just jiggling your belly, you should try it and see if it’s true. Belly dancing actually requires a lot of core strength and flexibility, and this is why a lot of belly dancers combine yoga with their core development exercises. Needless to say, it is a fun way of developing your muscles without having to do weight lifting in a sweaty gym.
27. A new family/couple activity? – This was quite unexpected, but I now perform with my partner, who plays the Oud, an acient lute with 5000 years of history. I’ve seen other couples also perform together, and watched YouTube videos where a mother and daughter are belly dancing together. If you want to spice up your family time, try dancing!
28. Many types of Middle Eastern dance – Belly dance is just one type of Middle Eastern dance styles. The term “belly dance” in this article usually refers to the “cabaret” style belly dance. Belly dance alone has different forms – cabaret, tribal fusion and Americal Tribal Style. There are more folkloric styles in Middle Eastern dance such as Khaleegy and Baladi. And Gypsy. Dabke, the fun, energetic line dance. And a whole variety of Persian folk dance. Each one comes with a unique style of costumes.
29. Learn more about this mysterious region – Throughout the history, the Middle East has been rich in culture. Many technologies originated in this area, and their complex music influenced music all over the world. Yet it’s hard to say the area maintains the same glory and status today because of the political struggles in recent decades in this region and media portraying negative pictures of the area and its people. It’s very hard to know for certain what is going on. The resulting mystery is probably causing fear in people.
From my own experience, I became more curious about the people in the Middle East after I started belly dancing. I got to know a lot of Persian people, travelled to Turkey, and read books and watched documentaries about Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. All these things show me just a glimpse of the culture and people. I now think that the region is going through a time of change, just like every place in the world has been or is going through. The state of this region today is mostly a result of action by a handful of individuals, and each person who acted had their own reasoning behind it, just like every action of ours does. And judging whether the action and reasoning was good or bad is beyond us – because we don’t know. There is no way of knowing for certain why these things happened, because it is too deep. It is deep within the history, culture, beliefs and each person’s heart.
What we know is that these things happened, and our friends and families who came from this area are good. Some of them had their share of pain and struggle. We know we love them and can help them live life that they deserve.
30. Help unveil the prejudice
So belly dance is one way to help unveil the prejudice towards these people. We can learn and appreciate their culture, and empower them, so they can help their home countries. Awareness and knowledge alone can go a long way.
Start small. Take a few lessons and see if you like it. If you like it, continue and maybe perform at students’ nights. Students’ nights provide you with the safest environment to perform and experiment with new ideas. Join Shimmy Mob in your community. Talk about it to families and friends, and invite them to your performances. I genuinly want many women to explore this form of dancing at some point in their lives. Belly dancing makes you feel good. Feel good being a woman. It lets you embrace who you are and how you look.Have fun, and share your happiness.
Did you enjoy this article? Get our latest articles in your email inbox!
Belly dance costume photo by nova031