We love trying out new kinds of exercise and our editor, Ange, had the opportunity to road test Middle Eastern belly dancing thanks to a hen’s party lesson from Sarrah Jayne who teaches at Auckland’s Viva Latino! Dance Studios (plus we scored some extra tips for you from Viva Latino’s! Dallia as well!).
My only previous experience with belly dancing was one of those cliche tourist experiences in Dubai where everyone rides a camel to a tent in the middle of the desert and does their best to copy a young lady who has obviously been belly dancing all her life. She then goes on to purposefully select the most uncoordinated, rhythmless european males to get up in front of the group and do the majority of the dancing. Entertaining? Yes. My idea of belly dancing? Not so much.
This time, it was a hen’s night and a real lesson – a smaller group of ladies looking for entertainment and fun, and who had pretty good coordination to begin with…
Getting started with belly dancing
Sarrah Jayne has been belly dancing for around 10 years and started when she was 15. She says, ‘My mum took me along to a class, it was amazing to find a dance form that was so accepting and supporting, non-competitive and fun! It helped me so much with my body image through my teens and I was really lucky to be surrounded by wise and inspiring dancers who are now my friends for life.’
You don’t need any fancy gear to get started – comfy clothes like gym gear and bare feet will do. Sarrah says. ‘It’s a bit counterproductive to wear a skirt to a beginner’s class because your teacher needs to see what your legs are doing. A hip scarf or coin belt is always a fun idea.’
If you’re worried about having to show off your bare tum, we have some good news for you. Sarrah says, ‘There is never any pressure to show your belly, a lot of my students choose not to – or to wear a leotard or body stocking instead. Some really feel it gives them quite a confidence boost showing their belly for the first time, it can be quite a special moment, because it shows trust and acceptance of your body.’
Dallia – another Viva Latino! instructor, teacher at Oasis for Dance, and belly dancer of 16 years – also had some useful tips for us. Dallia says, ‘I always wanted to learn it, but was always too shy. I even stepped into a studio, but was so scared that I left again straight away. It took me 10 more years to try again and I never looked back.’
Her best tip for beginners is to simply enjoy it. ‘Don’t compare yourself with others. Watch your posture and don’t rush, but take your time to master the moves. Especially the shimmy takes a bit of time and patience,’ she says.
Getting the moves right
My advice from my hen’s night experience is to listen carefully, follow the instructions and watch what the teacher is doing. If it gets too tricky moving everything at once or you feel you don’t have much coordination to begin with, choose either your arms or your legs and just focus on one area at a time.
Sarrah says the type of belly dance you would be doing in your first lesson depends on the background of the teacher and the style you’re learning. She says, ‘My beginner’s classes always start with a Goddess walk (as a warm up) basic posture, slow shimmy and starting to work on hands and arms which I feel are a really important part of belly dance.’
One common question – that also came up at the hen’s night – is how to you move your upper body and keep your hips still or vice versa. Sarrah says, ‘The key is practice and also flexibility, I always recommend yoga to belly dancers as it not only increases flexibility and range of movement but it helps build strength to prevent the hips and knees from injury.’
What belly dancing works out
Dallia says belly dance is fun, it tones and strengthens your body, helps with coordination and increases your fitness too, ‘But the moves are all very natural and you often don’t realise that you just had a ‘workout’. I like that.
She also notes, ‘And what dance form includes a 14 year old teenager with a 60 year old mature woman? We all dance together and appreciate each other. That is something our society has lost a bit I feel.’
You’ll be doing a lot of isolation moves that will target the smaller muscle groups you never knew you had! Artistic hand and arm movements, and a whole lotta butt shaking gives you an exercise session that will target your whole body. Definitely recommended if you’d like to try something new or to mix up your existing workouts.
For more information on Viva Latino! Dance Studios, lesson times and other opportunities to give belly dancing a go, check out their website www.vivalatino.co.nz.
For belly dance instructors and lessons in other areas of New Zealand, see www.nzbellydance.org.nz.
Photos / Viva Latino! Dance Studios (Top – Dallia, Middle & bottom – Sarrah Jayne)