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Shake Things Up: Learn To Bellydance

belly dancing in middle age
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On cruises, I am not one you will find doing the hokey-pokey, playing bingo or suiting up for ‘60’s Theme Night (I’m much more about spa treatments and reading a great book in a deck chair while sipping a pina colada), but on a recent voyage, I did discover something I love to do and am surprisingly good at: belly dancing.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am no Shakira and I am far from having washboard abs (though I have faith there are still abs under this tubby little tummy somewhere.) But that’s part of the beauty of belly dancing—even my teacher was zaftig and shook everything she had till it all jiggled. She became my hero.

Belly dancing is great exercise (if you don’t believe it, wait till the day after your first session when you will hurt in places you didn’t even know you had. So strap some bells on and shimmy. Here are some basics to practice:

Find an open space with room to move and stretch carefully before you begin.

Stand up straight with your butt tucked in and aligned with your back. Slightly bend your knees and don’t lock them.

Your stomach muscles are what are going to pull the movement of your hips. You’ll get better at this as your muscles get stronger.

Think of the lower and upper parts of your body as two different entities. Up top you are going for what are called “heavenly” movements—flowing, graceful, fluid—of your arms and hands. Down below you’ll be bringing the fire, the earthy movements—quick, staccato, precise.

Now draw a line straight down the center of your body vertically. Practice moving one hip at a time (by using your stomach only) side-to-side, back and forth and up and down. When you get it going (with the other side not moving at all), try figure eights, circles or anything that feels good to you. (My teacher said to get the right height to your moves, pretend you are trying to get off a high bar stool with one cheek at a time.)

Try different movements with each side of your body.

Next go for the truly impressive stomach ripples. This is not easy and uses three different muscles: The one that runs from your ribs to your belly button, the one shaped like a crescent moon just above your pubic bone and the area that runs between that crescent muscle and below your navel. Isolate them and clench and release each one (like exercising your Kegel muscle.) Your stomach muscles will eventually thank you.

Now add the music. There are lots of great belly dancing CDs. 50 All Time Greatest Bellydance Hits is a good one with which to begin (you’ll be able to tell by listening which parts of the music require putting the emphasis heavenly or earthy moves) and, for inspiration, lots of DVDs so that you can practice at home. Amira’s Bellydance 101 Belly Dancing Basics For Beginners is beloved by the more voluptuous among us and Sadie’s Complete Bellydance Guide really drills you on how to isolate the various muscles groups, how to maintain correct posture so as not to injure yourself and takes its time on helping you master the shimmy.

Find them both on Or be brave and take a class. Sure, you will feel silly, but so will everybody else and it is sure to be a time full of giggles. Be sure and visit and buy yourself a diaphanous outfit (beaded bras, harem pants and tribal skirts even come in plus sizes), jingle bell anklets, coin belts, jeweled bindis for your forehead, even scarfs and veils to entice. Salome has got nothing on you.


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