When I started dance I wasn’t even thinking about exercise. I did ballet with limited success as a kid, but awkward teen years and a constantly changing glasses prescription left me with the impression that I wasn’t very graceful. I was 22 and only had a year left of undergrad. My cousin, who was a year behind me and also an education major, was looking for extra classes that would keep her full time but not be taxing. I don’t know what she thought she was signing up for, but when she found out it was belly dancing, she was all kinds of excited. Her professor also taught classes at a local community center so we signed up. Pretty soon we were also performing in stage shows at the university and during summer festivals. The costuming was fun and pretty and I loved learning new dances. I wish I had appreciated my body more in my younger years so I could fully have embraced all that dance costumes have to offer but we’ll get into Dance Costuming for Fabulous Fat Girls later.
I took a break from dancing in my mid-20’s. I was working two jobs and had gone back to school to get my master’s degree. Also, even extremely amateur belly dance troupes have dance politics. In my late 20’s and early 30’s, I realized I needed some kind of regular exercise and tried a few things but kept running into the problem that I hate to exercise and it’s boring. I came back to dance because it is the only form of exercise I’ve ever done that I actually enjoy. Here’s why:
1. It’s the only form of exercise where I can be barefoot most of the time. Now different dancers need different levels of support but personally, shoes are the devil and dancing barefoot is my jam.
2. Props! Sometimes I dance with a veil and sometimes with a cane I can spin and whack on the ground. Sometimes I balance a sword on my head. It keeps things interesting and challenging.
3. Costuming! I am going to write a whole article on costuming alone but for now, fancy dance costumes appeal to the little girl in me who loved to be play dress up. I have also re-purposed dance costumes into many a Halloween costume so money well spent there.
4. It’s easily adjustable to your ability/comfort level. I’m not saying that we can all go out there and be on toe shoes but I’ve danced with women of all ages, sizes, and experience level. Most dances can be broken down to their basic step pattern and then you can layer on from there. Your grandma can get out on the floor and do the Cha Cha Slide or Cupid Shuffle if you shout out the basic steps.
5. I feel like I’m working towards something. Basic cardio is so boring I want to die. Walking, running, riding a bike… all I’m thinking about is that I’m exercising and it’s the worst and when can I stop. When I dance, I’m learning choreography. My focus is having a completed dance I can do at the end of the lessons. Even if I’m not actively learning new choreography I’m rehearsing for a performance. It’s goal oriented and I love that.
I’d love to try out different dance styles so let me know what you love in the comments. For now, get out there and move, sis.