Last fall I celebrated my three-year anniversary of starting working out. Each year I like to set a new exercise goal, to find something new to incorporate to keep workouts interesting as well as increase my overall fitness level. This year, I decided to make that something I’d always wanted to do — dance lessons.
My first class was “Beginning Egyptian Belly Dance.” I wasn’t altogether sure if I could do it, but I figured it would be interesting to try. It was an 8-week class at the community college, Thursday nights from 6-7:30. Our instructor was a young woman named Laylianah, a professional belly dancer with 13 years experience.
Laylianah brought a bag of hip scarves, each a different vibrant color with silver or gold jingle-jangles on them, and each student picked out one to wear for that night. Other than that, we just wore typical workout gear. Socks or bare feet worked best for the movements. I wore yoga pants and a shirt, and socks, and that worked well for me. I also made sure to bring a bottle of water.
We were in a classroom used for EMT training and not a proper dance studio. But Laylianah was clever and set up a camcorder on standby, projecting on the wall, in lieu of a mirror. For music, she brought her iPod with speakers.
Our class consisted of 6-8 women of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels. We were very much just a group of regular women.
When I told people I was taking belly dancing, I was surprised by how many women said they’d always wanted to do it, or had done it. A coworker, Brenda, joined me in the class and it was fun being able to share this experience with a friend.
Men were certainly intrigued. Judging by their reaction, they thought that must be the sexiest thing ever and that we’re doing it in an “I Dream of Jeannie” costume. But seriously, it’s not like that — at least not when you’re just learning and awkward. The misconception is not lost on Laylianah, who proclaimed at the beginning of our first class, “Belly dancing is not stripping.” She went on to explain it’s more of a middle eastern folk dance.
We started out learning the proper belly dance posture, and some very basic moves. We did a lot of isolation movements such as abdominal contracting (in-in-out, in-in-out) to music, learned how to do “snake arms,” and “car doors” (jutting hips sharply to each side), hip circles, chest circles, and shimmies. The gently ringing jingle-jangles from the hip scarves added a pretty sound to each movement.
Laylianah was patient, encouraged questions, and was really good at explaining things. We did movements very slowly to start, ending faster, and with lots of repetition. She also educated us on middle eastern music and instruments, and how to listen for certain beats or instruments in the music as cues to our rhythm and type of movement.
After my first class, I was a little sore in the middle of my back from using muscles I didn’t know I had. But nothing serious. Laylianah was adamant that we keep the proper posture (pelvis tucked in, knees flexed, shoulders back and down) to avoid lower back strain. The first class or two definitely was a workout, but still very do-able, and as time went on became easier. It was so enjoyable though that it didn’t feel like working out. That’s what I like so much about dance.
Every week, Laylianah e-mailed us homework (moves to practice) and links to short instructional videos she’d created and posted for us on YouTube. That was incredibly helpful.
After the first few classes focusing on the basics, we started learning a choreography she’d created for us, that incorporated all the moves we’d been taught. We learned a little bit more each week, until the final class when we got through the whole song.
Although it wasn’t easy to go to a night class after working all day, I really looked forward to each Thursday and was sad when the eight weeks was up. I’d definitely like to keep going with future classes. I can’t say that I’m very good yet, but I’m not half bad either. As with any type of dance, it can take years of training to become proficient.
Most of all, I am proud of myself for trying something new and completely different, working at it, completing the course, and finding out that yes, I can do it. In fact, I liked it so much, I signed up for two more sessions since then!
Wow…me, a belly dancer? Who knew?!
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