The Subtle, Unexpected Lessons of Belly Dancing

As someone whose nirvana is chasing after a muscular, healthy body – my own, that is – I was slightly aghast during my first belly dancing lesson when my instructor, wearing a sports bra, let her stomach hang out. Not only that, but she instructed us to do the same.

“No!” was my first thought, which felt almost instinctual, and I may have even said it aloud. I didn’t believe she was actually serious – no one in their right mind lets their stomach hang out, particularly an exposed stomach.

But as she demonstrated the moves, it was clear this was indeed part of the class. I watched curiously as she casually let her belly relax and wiggle instead of holding it in. But, even though she advised us to relax our stomachs, I secretly held mine in. Then, at last night’s class, she taught us a move called the “belly pop.” You pop your belly in and out to the rhythm and that is the move. Pooch it out, suck it in. Pooch it out, suck it in. I almost asked if we really had to do this. But she made it look so natural that I decided to give it a try.

As I practiced the belly pop in class, I found some humor in sticking out my belly in a way I would never have thought of doing before, on purpose anyway. After all, if you read my post about my missing abs, you know it’s an on-and-off obsession of mine to see as much of my abdominal muscles as possible. And yet here I was, for the very first time, publically letting it all hang out (and to a beat no less!).

Something crystallized for me in that class:  Belly dancing is more than moving your body in beautiful, graceful ways while getting a great workout. It’s also about accepting your body.

Belly dancing, I’m learning, is about technique and philosophy. Posture is all important, and why not? This ancient dance helps women feel self-assured and proud in their body, feminine and confident no matter what their shape or size. Standing tall is a symbol and a result of that.

When I got home, I demonstrated the figure eight I’d learned to my family and they were duly impressed. But then I demonstrated the belly pop. Oddly, I felt proud.

I’m in love with weight lifting and I’ve known all along it’s like meditation for me. Isn’t it like that with any physical activity? It feels so pure – it just is. If I can let my abs relax for awhile and dance in a soulful, ancient way that celebrates femininity, then I’m getting more out of belly dancing than I ever thought I would.

On Sunday I’m going to try “hot yoga,” my first yoga class ever. What kinds of revelations might it give me? I can hardly wait to find out.

For more information:

I like the way these two web sites discuss the benefits and background of belly dancing:

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