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12 Things I Learned at My First Belly Dance Lesson

I thought I was too old, being 61. I found out I'm not too old to take belly dance lessons. Certainly, I've got the equipment--hips and a belly--perhaps, more than necessary. But, it's not like you have to be Über thin to belly dance, as you would if you were taking ballet.

1. The inspiration

How can you not be inspired to take belly dancing by this troupe from Albuquerque?  They are called Serendipity Belly Dance.  I saw these dancers perform last year.  Here's the best description of them by themselves on their website:

"Serendipity is a whimsical and wildly entertaining troupe based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. With strong roots in traditional cabaret, their unique expression of belly dance involves everything from the serpents they mimic to the realms of fire!"

Notice how a few of these women are pretty voluptuous and don't have really flat or concave bellies.  This was the takeaway from their performance: I could do it, too. Not for performing in public, probably, but as a great dance activity.

2. Cabaret Style: Serendipity Belly Dance 2015

This video is about Serendipity Belly Dance in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

There are mainly two types of belly dancing--tribal and cabaret style. The Serendipity troupe dances cabaret style.  This is the type that is most common in the US.

It's based on Turkish belly dancing combined with some modern music (which could be jazz or even rock) and is often performed with props, such as swords, finger cymbals (zills) or winged veils.

The costumes are usually pretty flashy with sequins, high heels and silky coverings.

3. Tribal Belly Dancing

Tribal dancing in Albuquerque: www.roguebindis.com

Now, this is tribal belly dancing. I like this type.  To me, it seems more like something from ancient times.  It is often performed as a group of dancers, but it can also be performed as an individual. 

In fact, American tribal-style belly dance's movements are inspired by folkloric dances of the Middle East, North Africa, Spain and India, according to Wikipedia.  The feeling is ancient and connected, with its vibrant costuming, music, use of zils (finger cymbals), movements and interaction between the tribe of dancers.

4. I love my lessons at Maple Street Dance Space

I took my first and subsequent lessons at Maple Street Dance Space in Nob Hill.  And I wasn't the only one who was in her 60's!

You don't have to pre-register; you can just drop in.  The cost per lesson if you drop in is $15 per class.

And you don't have to have a costume.  A pair of comfortable shorts, tights and tee shirt will do.  Some people do wrap a sash-type belt around their hips to put them in the mood.

Maple Street Dance Space:

Current Belly Dance Class Schedule: 

Level 1- Mondays - 5:30pm (back studio) 

Level 11- Wednesdays at Maple Street Dance Space in Nob Hill. 

5. Beginning class is fun!

Beginning belly dance students: www.sinclairclarion.com

I felt very comfortable at Maple Street Dance Space.  I didn't feel stupid.  

Here is the description of the beginning class.

"Perfect for the new student or those that wish to learn a bit more about tribal style bellydance technique and stylizations! Basic introduction to tribal belly dance steps and movements, including combos and dance drills for take home practice as well as some finger cymbal instruction and dance conditioning.. Students will learn the core language of tribal style belly dance, steps along with layering techniques and more! This is a great class to check out if you are interested in fusing styles of belly dance or just want to get moving! This is an ongoing beginner level class, no need to preregister! Drop in students are most welcome to join in anytime!"

6. The health benefits of belly dancing

I mostly walk for exercise. But I wanted something else that would be fun and also good for me. So I discovered belly dancing here in ABQ.  It combines aerobics, many yoga postures and great music and company.

7. My teacher is so talented

This is my teacher Flo Bargar on the right.  Not only is she an an excellent dancer, she is very patient and friendly.  She is drop-dead wonderful!

8. The costumes

I long for the day I feel good enough to buy a costume to wear.  There are so many things included in a belly dance costume--veils, pantaloons, layers of large tiered skirts or 10–25 meter/yard skirts, sashes, netting (which is great in covering a little extra belly), the halter or bra decorated with coins and textiles.  

And the jewelry!   "The jewelry commonly originates from Central Asia, from any number of nomadic tribes or empires (e.g., Kuchi, Turkoman, Rajasthan) and is often large and set with semi-precious stones or, when mass-produced, with glass. 

Dancers frequently "tattoo" their faces with kohl or kajal. Make-up is usually eye focused with heavy use of kajal."

The above photo is from Tribal Souk (which means market in Arabic), an online belly dance shop owned by my teacher Flo and her husband Duane Bargar.  They brought in some samples of their stuff after class one day and I went crazy.

12. Belly dance abounds in ABQ!

Belly Dance Classes in Albuquerque! A list of belly dance classes in the area. Pick a class and start belly dancing!

9. The music

Belly Dance Music Arabic Darbouka

The traditional beat of belly dance music, no matter where it originates from, is contagious.

10. The moves

There are generally four parts to a belly dance, which lasts about 20 minutes. 

1. The introduction when the dancer enters the room--consists of fast and then slower movements

2. The use of the veil which is very slow and sensual

3. Floor work when a lot of movement is conducted by the dancer on the floor

4. Drum solo--The drums start beating faster and faster and the dancer keeps time with it, moving faster and faster until she is shimmying. 

11. The finger cymbals / zills / zils / sagats

Music: Composer Ibrahim El Samahy created "Thalia", a song on his CD, STARDANCE Vol. 1 Dancer Zahirah inspired me to create an improvisational dance with finger cymbals in my good friends wedding.

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It's not at all as simple as it looks.  Using the finger cymbals requites a lot of practice and knowledge of different musical patterns.  They are a lot of fun when you do learn to use them (my next goal).  Many of the cymbals are made in Syria.  The dancer often uses them at the beginning and the end of the dance.  Before dancing with the veil, she often removes them and may hand them over to someone to hold for her during the rest of the performance.