The look is important.   It’s been a long time habit of mine to think of myself as ugly.  It wasn’t easy to try on that first belly dance costume, and it hurt me that it was too small, even though it was the largest one there.   Some of the more experienced dancers, however, helped me out and suddenly I looked beautiful:  a lovely skirt of gold and green, a cover-up of burgundy and gold and lots of coins with a matching cover-up on the skirt …  beautiful!   Then several dancers got excited and they searched through everything available and found me a hairpiece and used clips to put my hair up.  Wow!  I had no idea I could look so good!

And every time I don a belly dance costume, suddenly it doesn’t matter any more that I sag and bag and have wrinkles and parts of me bulge over the edges.   I feel beautiful!

Just a note:  Do not, ever, shimmy while drinking a cup of tea.


Turns.  Pencil turns.  Hook turns.  And my legs are too fat and stiff to do either one, and they look so pretty!

I tried and tried and finally admitted it:  my legs are a lovely shape.  They’re just a lot wider than most, and I can’t put my lower legs in the right position for these turns.  As I walked sadly from my practice, I thought, What if I do it faster, without pausing to make sure my feet are in the right position?  What if I turn my body with that first foot instead of trying to place my foot and then begin my turn?   

By golly, it works!   Whoo-hooo!!!!!   I’ve got a ways to go before I look graceful while turning, but I’ve got the ability to do it!

That’s enough thinking for one day.

In a Different Class

In some ways, every one of us is always in a different class.  Even when we have the same teacher, the class means something different to each of us.

Belly dancing is more than just dancing.  It’s celebrating your womanhood, your very existence, being feminine and strong in your femininity.  Being real.  Being exactly who you are.  Being confident in who you are.  Being beautiful in your own, very personal way.  And sometimes, just being and knowing that you’re perfect the way you are.

Or maybe just being really, really tired after class and knowing that you’ll probably ache in a whole lot of places tomorrow — but you’re going to be back in class in time for the next lesson!


One of those amazing moments when I discover something new to me:   it’s easier to walk gracefully up the stairs if I do snake arms at the same time.

And a very sweet moment when I thought someone didn’t want me around, and discovered I was wrong.  Less than an hour later, I learned that someone I thought was angry with me is not.  I need to either think more or think less.  Or, perhaps, allow others to do their own thinking.

sometimes it’s tough

Beginner belly dance class.  Mid-way through the second year, I entered a beginner class, wanting to polish some of those basic moves.   The beginners started out with a warm-up that was far beyond my ability to do at all, let alone complete.  I was gasping for breath just trying to keep up at half speed.   Many of the actions were beyond my ability by a long way:  I simply could not make my body do them.  And this was a beginners’ class!

I tried.  I really did my best.  Everything shown that evening was beyond my ability.   I felt shocked, dismayed, discouraged.   Knowing that even rank beginners were WAAAYYY  ahead of me really hurt.  I’d been practicing at least one hour a day, often two or even three, for a year and a half, and here were brand-new beginners who were so far ahead of me I couldn’t even keep up with their warm-up.

Then came the actual dance movements.  The first lesson, I was able to do all of these at least to some degree.  By the third class, I was so far behind I was beginning to despair of evet catching up.  I left the fourth class crying.  I left the fifth class early and cried alone in my car.   I felt like a complete failure.   Twenty-one  months of lessons and drilling and daily practice and I wasn’t able to keep up with people who had only five lessons.    They were stronger, faster, quicker to learn, more agile, more graceful, more talented than me with all my practice and learning and working hard to become a dancer.

I felt like a failure.   I dropped out of class, not wanting the pain and humiliation of being reminded what a piece of crap I am.   I posted a thank you to all the teachers who had tried to help me.   I wanted to die.  I felt like I deserved to die for being such a piece of crap.

but….  one of the things that belly dance teaches is that each of us is different.  We learn at different speeds.  We have different natural abilities.  We have different lives with different demands on our time and energy.   We are different ages, with different bodies that need different amounts and kinds of rest, activity, recreation, nourishment.

Examining the way I’d been living other than dancing, I saw I had made some terrible mistakes:  I’d given up my weekly night out, during which I’d simply relaxed and enjoyed myself.  I’d given up my twice-daily walks, which were done more for pleasure than for anything else.  I’d turned my dance practice into exercise sessions.  It was almost as though I was punishing myself by learning to dance, by doing something that was just for my pleasure instead of to fulfill someone else’s ideas of how I should behave.

I was, in fact, trying to win back as friends those who had been so supportive to me when I was in pain, limping around my arthritis, struggling to climb a flight of stairs, waking multiple times every night because of pain, feeling sorry for me most of the time, and being available to others whenever they wanted to tell me their problems (not one of them offered to share any good news with me.  Ever.)

The safety of the familiar had seduced me into returning to the behaviour that had been hurting me for many, many years.  Belly dancing made me feel very alive, lovely,  and strong in a wonderfully feminine way.   It made me feel that being a woman was good.  That I deserved to have fun, to laugh at what I think is funny, to be myself and be pleased with me.  This was so new that it scared me, and I’d emotionally run away from it back to the familiar deliberate deterioration of me into a helpless, ugly, nasty, depressed old woman.

Well,  it’s possible that I’m going to be alive for a couple of decades more.  I can choose to live those decades in misery, or I can choose to enjoy life.   Enjoying life will mean I have to be me.   I have to accept that at 69 years old, my learning curve might be more deliberate and less spontaneous than it was fifty years ago.  (goodness, that’s half a century!)  On the plus side, that means it’s all my choice, that I’m not sopping up whatever’s there just because it’s there.  I’m choosing to learn to make the three quarter shimmy look good on my braw Scottish bottom.   It may take a while, but I will do it.  That braw Scottish bottom is not old, it’s experienced.  um… perhaps I should re-word that…




It’s good to add in some practice moves during your normal daily tasks.  However, DO NOT

  • do chest lifts in the grocery store check-out line
  • forget you’re wearing your first attempt at smoky eye make-up
  • belly flutter while filling your plate at a buffet
  • open your window to practice snake arms while driving
  • practice shimmies while applying makeup
  • practice hip bumps while walking in the wrong part of town
  • practice hand movements while waiting in line at a bank


Learning something new is a journey, one which can be quite different from the one you planned.  At least, the one I planned.  I planned to learn enough belly dance to surprise a certain group of friends.  I did not plan to become so intrigued by the dance I had learned that I want to learn more.   I did not plan to lose weight, grow my hair long, use makeup, become interested in jewellery and dresses, discover a whole new group of friends, or to lose some of my old friends.

My old friends did not desert me.  I changed, and they would have had to change in order to continue our friendship.  They chose to remain as they were or to go in a different direction:  such is life.   I am still choosing to dance.



There’s a short essay called “Desiderata”  that was popular for a while when I was a teenager.  While it’s popularity might have been largely because it was claimed to have been found in an old cathedral and dated somewhere in the 1700’s and this claim turned out to be false, there’s a lot of good stuff in it.   One part I need to remind myself often is “If you compare yourself to others, you will become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

There are.  Lots of greater ones, anyway.  It’s not a good idea to compare myself to other dancers because they are mostly a lot better than I am, and I feel embarrassed that I had the sheer unmitigated gall to dance where others could see me when everyone else in the show is so much better than I am.

And yet…   someone sent me some pictures today that were taken at a performance in which I took part last night.   They’re still pictures, so my dance form is not revealed, but the audience is:  the people were watching me and smiling as though pleased with my performance.   No matter what any critical dancer may say, those people enjoyed watching me dance.

Snake Arms and Smoky Eyes

Ah, snake arms!  That wonderful movement that makes a dancer’s arms look like a sinuous snake instead of human arms with hard bones and joints.   Something that looks so very easy that, practicing it at home in front of my shadow, I was sure I could learn.  I was wrong.  There is more to it than just wanting to move like a snake.  No matter how hard I tried or how long I practiced, I could not make my arms look like sinuous snakes.  Instead, they looked like human arms afflicted with a serious joint problem.

There is a trick to it, one that I still have to remind myself:  Do not hold your arms out straight!  Reach a little bit forward.   It’s an illusion that your joints dissolve while dancing.  They stick right in there with you, and your bones stay stiff in between the joints.   It’s how you turn those joints that makes the difference, as I realized the first time I recorded myself with a cell phone video camera.

Then there’s smoky eyes:  that wonderful mysterious look of exotica.   I can do that.  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!   With hours of practice, I can now make myself look like I’ve been punched in both eyes (though not necessarily with the same force in both eyes).   Occasionally I get it right, which is pretty exciting.   I got it right for a Hafla last winter.  I haven’t gotten it right since.   Today I allowed myself ninety minutes just for eye makeup, as I had, for some reason, agreed to dance at a seniors’ lodge with some other dancers.   The eyeshadow went on unevenly and I looked lopsided.  I washed it off and started again.  This time I smudged the eyebrow pencil into the eyelids, and washed it all off again.  And again.

Did you know that even if you’re using the best makeup remover and being very gentle, after you’ve washed it all off a certain number of times your eyelids turn red?

I decided that no matter how the next attempt turned out, it would have to do.  Besides, I’d already run over my allotted time.  It looked okay — kind of extra dark, but oh well, it’s stage makeup.  The false eyelashes were not an option for this event as I would have to drive, and the false eyelashes smush up against my eyeglasses which is very distracting for me while I drive.  So, I picked up a lovely makeup container that held a nicely-shaped brush covered with a shiny black liquid I thought was mascara.   It was false eyelash glue.   I had to walk around with my eyes partly closed for several minutes to let the stuff dry so it wouldn’t glue my eyelids into folds.

Imagine my delight to see all the other dancers wearing almost no eye makeup.   The lead dancer told me not to worry, most of the seniors had poor eyesight and wouldn’t notice anyway.  Funny, that was exactly what I was hoping.

Other than losing one of my bracelets early in my dance, all went well.   The lady who’d invited us there picked up my bracelet when she saw it fall and put it safely on a table.  I didn’t notice it was missing until two numbers by others had been completed.

Other than having some odd black marks on my left eyelid and under my left eye, plus a strange smudge at the outer corner of my right eye, I got all the make up off within two hours of getting home.  The black marks and the smudges remain, and for all I know, will still be there a year from now.  So will the memory of some of the audience telling me they enjoyed the dancing.

There’s no business like show business!

Comments from surprised people

Something I hadn’t expected (and maybe should have) is the number of people who react to my new interest by saying, “Oh, belly dance is good exercise!”

Huh??  Good exercise?   I do this for fun, for the joy of the dance, for the feeling of beauty, and they respond by telling me it’s good exercise, as though I need an excuse to have fun and feel joy and beauty?  What’s wrong with them?

And yet…  because of the increased self-confidence that seems to come with belly dance,  I’m not angry (as I would have been before belly dance).  These people have a different view of life, one which I do not share.   It’s important for people to do some things just because we like doing them and not because of possibly side benefits.   They need to think about the side benefits, I guess.  I need to think about the happiness of the doing.   And that’s okay.  We all have our own needs and beliefs.   As long as we’re not impinging on the needs and beliefs of others, we should fulfill our own needs.   And I love to dance!

I’m also learning to enjoy dressing up in those beautiful belly dance costumes with all the sparkles, spangles, and bright shiny beads.