Belly-Dance: That’ll Teach Me

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m taking a beginner belly-dance class.  It has been a tremendous learning experience, despite the fact that I have absolutely no natural aptitude for it.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

The word ‘choreography’ has ‘chorea’ as its root. defines ‘chorea’ as ‘any of several diseases of the nervous system characterized by jerky, involuntary movements, chiefly of the face and extremities.’  That explains a lot.  I’m a word geek.  I’m just doin’ it right.

Also pertaining to choreography:

In choreography notes, ‘CCW’ means ‘counter-clockwise’.
It is not a typo for CCR.  Which is a relief, because as much as I love Creedence, I just can’t see belly-dancing to ‘Heard It Through The Grapevine’.  ‘Bad Moon Rising’, however, would be frighteningly apropos.

Never trust your friends.
The friend who exhorted me not to laugh at her… has belly-danced before.  The friend who swore she had two left feet… used to be a cheerleader.  Their hip shimmies are perfect, even though the only time they practice is during the one-hour class.  I practice every morning, and I still look as though I’m frantically trying to dislodge a barbed-wire wedgie.

If you stand with your feet close together instead of planted sturdily shoulder-width apart, you look more like a belly-dancer and less like you’re about to punch somebody’s lights out.
Unless you’re me.  Then it helps, but it doesn’t completely solve the problem.  I’m really not planning to punch anybody; that scowl is just baffled concentration…

Belly-dancing is best suited to women who have hips.
When you’re built like a telephone pole, it doesn’t matter how much you shimmy, you still look like a telephone pole… in an earthquake.

If you use an X-rated phrase to memory-associate the names of the moves, you WILL begin to giggle at inappropriate times in the class.
But that’s okay, because giggling is pretty much the only appropriate response to watching me try to belly-dance.

Studio mirrors were created by Satan himself.
Just sayin’.

I am apparently incapable of shimmying my hips without simultaneously flapping my hands.
This might not be so bad if the objective of the class was actually to impersonate an epileptic penguin.  But on the up side, I’ve developed a genuine empathy for tubby flightless birds with neurological disorders.

Start every day with a smile!
It’s hard not to, when I’m confronted by the sight of myself gyrating gracelessly in the mirror every morning.

Which leads me to…

Do not practice belly-dancing while wearing nothing but your underwear and a jingly hip scarf, even behind closed doors in the privacy of your own home.
Or, if you do, don’t describe it to your friends.  In a restaurant.  Just as the waiter sneaks up behind you.  For the record, he had the best deadpan I’ve ever seen.

Humility is a virtue.
I’m so friggin’ virtuous right now, it’s making my eyes water.  By the time the lessons are finished, I fully expect to achieve sainthood.  Or possibly martyrdom.

How to belly-dance.
Well… no.  I haven’t actually learned that yet.  But we have six lessons left, so I’m still hoping…

* * *

The instructor keeps going on as if she actually expects us to dance this piece in front of an audience.  If anybody’s got an inspirational story about how you started off sucking at something and ended up acing it, now would be a really great to time to share.  Even better if you ended up acing it after six lessons…

47 thoughts on “Belly-Dance: That’ll Teach Me

  1. Bad Moon Rising finished me. Woman, you slay me.
    My 10 year old granddaughter loves to dance but for reasons cannot keep up with a group dancing, too fast, too nimble for her one leg. So her dance instructor has her learning belly dancing and she is a flippin’ pro at it. Won several regional competitions. Her baby sister is a hoot when Masha is practicing. Dasha wants to dance and bounces whatever portion of her anatomy is free.


    • It’s fabulous that she’s found her niche! 🙂 The “official” reason I chose belly-dancing was to develop core muscle isolation and flexibility to help with my kickboxing, but the truth is it’s also because I suspected it was the only form of dance I’d might actually be capable of learning. All the footwork in traditional dance just scares me!


      • Belly dance basics seem easier than most styles to pick up. I have lived with the assumtion that it is an easy style since afterall… I can do it! However it was only a few weeks ago I was showing a few moves to some pro dancers in other genres. We had to pick a few moves to perform in a group piece 30 mins later. I was worried i made it too easy for them as they learned so quickly, so i showed a few other moves to see if they would rather those. ‘Holy shit, how do you do that, you make it look easy’ was a comment I got from one young woman. the woman that made the comment is currently kicking butt as a top 20 finalist in ‘So you think you can dance, Australia’. I think the style that is easiest for people, is the one that is closest to how they would naturally move or express themselves. So belly dance can be super hard or super easy, depending on who you are.


  2. Bwahahahaha!
    I remember my first session of belly dance classes – two left feet, and both on backwards! 😀
    Thank you for the chuckle!

    I have always had a difficult time with choreography. I still do, which is why I dance improv these days. Looking back at videos of me dancing… ohmaigawd, I sucked! Or… at least, *I* think I sucked. I still have performances that I look at and think “I could have done sooooo much better.”

    Good luck with it; I certainly hope you keep on dancing.


    • Thanks, Adara! It gives me hope to hear that you didn’t just spring onto the dance floor in total perfection – that’s hard to remember when I’m watching those fabulous videos. And I love your line: “two left feet, and both on backwards”! 🙂


  3. Haha, I’m a bellydance teacher and I found this really funny 🙂 glad you’re enjoying the classes though. I always encourage my beginners to see the funny side and not worry too much about making fools of themselves in class – everyone is going to look silly in class at some point, including me, so it’s best to just embrace it 😉

    BTW there’s no shame in skipping the performance at this point if you don’t feel ready. 7 weeks is practically nothing in the grand scheme of learning to dance. Most students here don’t even perform at recitals until they’ve been coming to classes for a year or so!

    And it might not seem like it now, but consistent practise will always win out over ‘natural’ ability without practise, in the end. You’ll get good eventually if you keep at it and don’t give up, I promise 🙂


  4. Very funny post! Maybe it will help you stick with your dancing if I share a bit of my story. Belly dance – I was so nervous about my first classes I couldn’t even look in the ‘satanic’ mirrors (this was more than 14 years ago). I felt so awkward it was just torture. The teacher saw my suffering and turned the class around for the first few lessons until I was able to cope with what I was seeing. The hip movements came easily but the upper body and brain did not seem to have any connections and I just couldn’t get the shoulder shimmies at all. I also swore I would never, ever perform. For 3 years I didn’t perform, and I have to say my stubbornness held me back. This all changed over time and to my complete surprise I ended up becoming a belly dance teacher and performer! The strange awkward creature in those mirrors did eventually transform. (For the record, I didn’t start until after I had a baby, I never was a cheerleader, had 0 dance experience and never was sporty. So the learning curve was steep but success was all the sweeter)


    • Hi Jade! I just popped over to your blog – thanks for visiting all the way from Down Under! And thank you for the inspirational story – that does make me feel better. 🙂 My learning curve is extremely steep, but I’m practicing hard… and not taking my failures too seriously. I figure as long as I’m having fun and training my muscles to move in new ways, it can’t be bad. And who knows, maybe I’ll get hooked on belly-dancing like you did!


  5. Loved the post and the breakdown on terminology. LOL Still chuckling. As another poster mentioned, I too can brag about a musical instrument learned. Ah yes. Mama played piano by ear, and did a beautiful job. She could play classics after listening once and rocked the house down with Honkey Tonk. I tried violin, had to quit, made the neighbors have spontaneous nose bleed. Then came clarinet, again, it wasn’t pretty. We couldn’t afford a piano again (mama lost hers in a storage fire). I managed a keyboard from a musician and did fairly well. I found my niche one day when I came upon my Papa’s harmonica. I picked it up and….drum roll please….started playing, from memory and by ear, Lara’s Theme (the one from Dr. Zhivago). I freaked my own self out on that and still laugh to this day at my wonderful talent. Even if it was just a “one hit wonder”. It’s a shame I couldn’t have done it at a younger age so she could have enjoyed it too.
    BTW, I too am watching closely the progress on Book 8.


    • Wow, what a great talent! I hope you’re still playing. Harmonica is such a conveniently portable instrument compared to the piano – maybe I should give it a try. 😉

      I’m off to write more on Book 8 now – I should have six uninterrupted hours today (barring any surprises). Woohoo!


  6. Oh my… practically peeing myself here. This is hilarious! If I do have an inspirational story tucked away in my mind somewhere I can’t even come close to retrieving it at the moment. Probably because this sort of reminds me of trying hot yoga once and I’ve programmed myself to block that shit-show out. LoL


    • Ha! You made me LOL! I never tried hot yoga – ashtanga was hard enough. But your comment reminded me of the time a new girl came to our class. She was right next to me, and during one of the long stretches, she farted. Loudly.

      She never came back…


  7. You did it to me again. Wheezing ensued. Gad, that’s funny! And the visuals. Yep, we’re gonna need to see the video from your graduation recital.

    Then again, maybe not. If you keep painting those great pictures with words…

    And just LOOK at the Book 8 progress bar! Just BLITZING up to the 33% mark! I’m pumped! Nicely done. You rock. Remain calm, and crank on…


  8. Okay, what I used to suck at and don’t any more. Playing a trumpet. Everybody knows that learning to play a trumpet is a long, arduous, and hideously noisy process. Eventually, however, with perseverance (and maybe a little talent, it couldn’t hurt), the racket becomes at least bearable and may even begin to resemble music at some point.

    When I was a kid, well, the story is long and ugly. Suffice it to say that perseverance won. And my mom was a true saint not only to listen to all that wretched honking and blatting, but to encourage it! Dad was okay with it, too. Why wouldn’t he be? He worked about twenty hours a day, so he was never around when I was making the neighbors dogs howl.

    Anyway, by the time i hit high school, I could play pretty much anything I wanted to play. Still can. I can read music, but I haven’t needed to since about junior high. I’ve loved playing my trumpet for something over fifty years now, and now more than ever.

    Look at it this way, Diane. When you’re practicing your dance, the neighbors’ dogs don’t howl.

    Do they? I mean, they don’t, right? Right? 🙂


    • I decline to answer on the grounds that it may tend to humiliate me… actually, I’m kidding. I’d never subject a dog to that kind of abuse. I close the blinds, of course. 😉

      I’m in awe of anybody who can play by ear. Last time I was in the music store (always a bad place for me), I picked up a book that promised to teach me to play by ear… and I promptly got stalled on the very first exercise. Apparently I’ve made it through fifty years without ever learning to identify the sound of middle C… or any other note for that matter. I can’t even identify intervals given a starting key. I hope it’s only lack of practice, and not a tin ear. Anyway, at least I have something concrete to work on…


  9. The visuals I got from reading this post made my morning! (Oops, afternoon–just checked the clock. Yikes.)

    I can’t believe I’ve never put the chorea in choreography. I associate it with Huntington’s and Sydenham (in rheumatic fever) but not choreography. They must have decided upon that word after seeing some of us less graceful folks dance. 🙂

    Good luck with your finished product and good job for sticking with it! Very cool, actually. 🙂


  10. I hear ya. As a kid, I had to leave the training wheels on my bicycle for over a year, and I finally learned to roller skate by holding onto a rope tied to a ceiling beam in my garage. And I won’t even tell you about me learning to water ski, other than I remember hearing, “Let go of the rope! Let go of the rope!!” XD


    • I’ve never tried to water ski, but I’ve heard horror stories from friends who didn’t let go of the rope… and ended up digging their bikini bottoms out of places they didn’t even know they had. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than having to search for one’s bikini bottoms in several square miles of lake while trying to conceal oneself from the waist down…


  11. “Barbed wire wedgie,” “epileptic penguin,” belly dancing has created a new avenue for your creativity, but really, we want a video…


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