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OTHER ITA SITES:
Belly Dancing for the Midlife Soul Part 2
Isadora Duncan, the mother of modern dance, says, “The dancer of the future will be one whose body and soul have grown so harmoniously together that the natural language of that soul will have become the movement of the body. The dancer will not belong to a nation, but to all humanity.”
In October 1989, while taking a brisk walk with my friend, Judy Cullins, I was given an idea that would allow me to merge my body and soul so harmoniously that my life literally changed. Judy had casually mentioned that she was taking a belly dance class through an adult education program in San Diego. Her exact words were, “It’s a hoot,” and that was just enough to spark a long held adult fantasy. So at the age of 52, this mother of five registered for the Tuesday night belly dance class and never looked back.
During my first night of class, our teacher greeted us at the door with these instructions, “Grab a veil out of the box,” she said. “There’s a dancer inside of you and she just needs to be let out.” It was right there that I caught the belly dance bug and it changed the course of my life forever. Although my friends and peers couldn’t quite grasp the concept and repeatedly asked why a mature woman decided to belly dance, I could only say that I found the whole idea of this type of expression both provoking and rewarding.
I have found that belly dancing is a metaphor for life, for in dance we move through time and space, just as we do while we live out the passages of our lives. As I studied the art of movement, I was also learning the art of living, since belly dancing teaches one how to be in the moment, to be in the body and most of a to feel with the entire being. I’ve not only learned how to stay in shape, but I’ve learned to lead, to follow and best of all, to let go.
Ten years after taking my first lesson, I started teaching classes to a group of mature women, age 50 and over (My oldest student was 91) Students come with loads of self-doubt and self-consciousness, fearfully displaying their belly, yet eager to exercise and have some fun. They all stay because they love the chance to play and be in the present moment just like we did as children. “Love your belly” is what I say, for it’s the only one you have. “Belly dancing can be equated to removing a curtain as you start to express yourself,” states Valentina Kouznetsov, a computer engineer from Russia. “It’s an exercise for my soul and puts me in touch with my inner feminity.
According to a recent Psychology Today survey, fifty-six percent of women are not happy with their bodies, most of whom are troubled by their abdomens, hips, muscle tone and weight. But things are changing and believe it or not the change is coming about through the unusual art of belly dancing. During my classes we work our abdominals and hips in a way that our culture doesn’t teach. Sheila Disper, a retired social worker says, “We may be seniors but we’re not in rocking chairs.” I’ve noticed a lot of young people who can’t even keep up with us,” says Audrey de la Houssaye a retired chemist. Twenty years to tighten my abdominal muscles that were weakened by surgery, I am finally achieving results by belly dancing.
Several women have told me they wished they had known about belly dancing in their child birthing years as they really see how it would have helped them surrender and open more easily to the birth energy. What Lamaze calls “pelvic rocking” and “deep breathing” are referred to as “belly roll” and “flutter.” Since life begins in the belly we now get a second chance to get back in touch with our bellies without becoming pregnant.
Something absolutely miraculous happens to women as they swirl their veils and isolate their hips while waving their snake-like arms. I love seeing my students rediscover the magic and mystery of their true feminine energy for belly dancing truly puts one in touch with the profound wisdom and beauty of who we really are, no matter what our age or size of our bellies. We are transformed into earth mothers, playful little girls, queens in ornate costumes and seductresses all rolled into one desirable woman.
In as much as belly dance is improvisational, there are basic moves, but once learned the dance becomes a personal expression of the dancer. Eventually each belly dancer moves towards greater self-acceptance and confidence. Valentina, whose mother often called her a clumsy child, says, “I no longer feel awkward. I am now a dancer with a soul – and the soul is beautiful!” Clinical Therapist, Susan Siegel says, “The dancer was sleeping within me. It was not in my master plan but I love being alluring and spontaneous in my performance. It’s more about feeling than thinking.
During belly dance, the mind, muscle, hip and shimmy celebrate a woman’s strength and the goddess within. It’s also very festive as women dress in alluring costumes, shaking their hips and their belly, coming together as “sisters” in a non-threatening environment. Audrey de la Houssaye states, “I always want to look my best in a costume which motivates me to take better care of my body.”
While spending seventeen days at Ground Zero, Rachel Chavez, a San Diego nurse, and long time belly dancer, visualized herself dancing. Doing so seriously reduced her stress. “I found myself swaying my arms to remove myself from the incessant sounds of the cranes and jackhammers.”
Once a student feels comfortable with the dance moves and their ability to express themselves in an unstructured way, the women easily don costumes and eagerly look forward to participating in monthly performances at senior centers and nursing homes in San Diego. Both the men and women in the audiences smile as they watch the dancers flail their veils, balance swords and act flirtatious. When a dancer drapes a perfumed veil over the head of a man in the audience, all the men smile, secretly flattering themselves that the gesture really was intended for them. The women smile too, because they all know better. “I love the sense of feminine mystery” behind my veil and the feeling of mastery says Susan Siegel.
The women who enjoy this form of dance find it to be a powerful yet joyful expression of their inner souls. Belly dancers will never let their age get in the way of their lives for dancing is more than fun
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