How to Belly Dance Forever

Every dancers dream is to never get sick, injured, or heaven forbid, to be permanently disabled. Dance comes from a place of pure joy that sometimes feels as if it should last for an eternity.

My dream is to be that belly dancing grandma, stretched lobes sagging under the weight of my huge vintage jingly earrings, belly kinda saggy from age and having kids (but I’ll be showing it off anyway), bingo arms flapping a bit, and movements stiffer, but still bringing the emotion and form that I did as a young dancer. I wanna perform and teach forever. I hope I can.

The beautiful thing about belly dance’s folk roots is that the dance is for all ages. There isn’t some ideal of beauty or technique that isn’t attainable by the average person. It’s the punk rock of dance forms, anyone can do it.

I grew-up studying ballet and modern, and in those dance worlds, I’d already be retiring from my career. The average age of a retired dancer is 34. And that’s probably old for some branches of dance. Those dance forms place more emphasis on being super-athletes, on perfection and pushing the body beyond it’s limits to create art. They dance through sickness, injuries, whatever. I’ve seriously been told by modern dance teachers to “dance through the pain” when I was injured. This may be okay for some, and that is their choice, but it’s not for me. I want to take it gentle and nurture my body to go the long haul.

At the first belly dance competition I attended, a gorgeous cabaret dancer took the stage in her flowy silks and sequins, her back turned to the audience, she glided across the stage, beautifully toned muscles creating a symphony of movement… Then, she turned around, and I was shocked to see her wrinkled face. She had to have been in her late 50’s. That was probably the first time I’d seen a professional-level dancer of that age performing (and yes, she was really not that old). I will note that moment as one huge inspiration for me to continue belly dancing.

The belly dance world is full of these inspirations. I took a class with Jamila Salimpour a few years ago, when she was in her 80’s. She had limited movement, so she had an assistant, who demonstrated the movements for her. But she was still a vivacious and brilliant instructor.

I am at the age that most dancers retire, and I feel like I’m just coming into my own. Granted, I’ve had some set backs due to health, but I’m not letting that hold me back. Most of my favorite dancers are over 34, many way over 34, and I know that my enjoyment and ability to share this dance form, gods willing, will continue for many more years to come.

I did lose the ability to dance once, for two years. It was because of a crippling autoimmune disorder, that I now, thank goodness, have under control. So I know the heartbreak of losing something you love so deeply, and I also know that if the time comes when I am too old to dance, I will be okay.

So based on what I’ve observed from other dancers, and know from myself, I think that this is a good list of things to do to try to ensure that you can belly dance forever (or for as long as you can):

– Don’t let some ageist beauty standard hold you back. Shimmies look amazing when you have curves to shimmy, all bellies are beautiful, and every dancer is the embodiment of the goddess in all her forms, maiden, mother and crone.

– Someone can always do that move better than you. I will never be able to do a Rachel Brice style back bend, my spine isn’t built that way, and my body takes a little more TLC now that I’m older. Our abilities are what they are and they can change, and that’s okay. Everyone has their own beauty and their own contributions to make to this dance form.

– Don’t train too much, or too little. Both of these things can actually  increase the inflammation in your body. Listen to what your body tells you. Don’t push it.  Also, get off yer arse and practice at least a bit on a regular basis. Do other kinds of exercise, like walking, yoga, etc. I’m also a huge fan of the “mini-practice”. Drill movements while doing mundane things, like waiting for the tea water to boil. Those short bits do make a impact.

Eat well and thrive. Did you know that some foods can contribute to inflammation or arthritis even? Some of the things we think of as natural ageing aren’t really. My 84 year old great-aunt just went on a Paleo diet to treat her diabetes and happily discovered that her arthritis went away too. Diet is also a big factor in why I’m able to dance again. 

– Cultivate a dance community. Be it virtual or local. Find support, other people to dance with, and encourage each other. Keep going to festivals and networking. Let younger people treasure your sage wisdom.

– Not everyone can dance, or even walk for their entire lives, and that’s okay. You are not what you do. Your beauty shines on always.

“In my dreams I am never crippled, in my dreams, I dance.”

– Louise Brooks

louise

What about you? How are you cultivating longevity in your dance? 

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Belly Dance to the People

I think learning to dance and practicing dancing should be free.

Before you dance teachers out there have a heart attack, hear me out for a moment.

This is not to say that I think that dance teachers, for all their hard work, should not be compensated. I certainly enjoy being compensated. I’m broke and I need the extra money, for sure. But this is more about a dream of how I think our culture should be. My dream is that one day we can break out of this Capitalist work model that makes art into a commodity and forces artists to charge for services or starve.

Let me explain a little further…

What we now call “belly dance” is an art form that was created partially out of a mish-mash of folk dances. Folk dance is a communal activity that is done by everyone, even untrained dancers, and the dances are learned by observation, not by formal instruction.  It is art for art’s sake. It is a way to connect to members of your community, to stay healthy, to enjoy life.
Why is our participation in art forms like this now only done if we have the cash to shell out on classes? 

Again, I understand that in our current social model, we have dance instructors who want to make a living off their art, and deserve to be compensated fairly. But, I know I, for one, wanted to take belly dance classes for years but was too poor to do so. I’ve had to stop taking formal classes at various points because I’ve been broke. I’ve also felt frustrated at times because there wasn’t just a place for us dancers to meet for free and drill movements. Belly dance, to me, has always felt wonderfully connective and communal. This is one reason why I love Improvisational Tribal Style belly dance so much. The dancers dance with one another. We support one another. It’s not like solo dance classes where people shuffle in, stare at the instructor, and then shuffle out without interacting. The dance is about interacting.
Nearly every culture has had some kind of communal dance form. Sadly, that kind of community activity has been ripped out of our society by Capitalism, both because of the time we need to invest in our wage slave jobs, and the way it has effected our familial and community structures. Nuclear family structures and rental homes instead of family owned lands has created both easily moved worker units, and an extremely destabilized culture. But let me not go too much into economic/social theory here…

I love teaching my girlfriends to belly dance. When I live in a place where my living room is big enough, I invite people over for free classes. Belly dance is so healthy, so enjoyable. I just want to share. While in college, I even taught free classes once a week at night for students.

Sadly, right now my apartment is too small for fun free classes and drill parties. I want to teach classes again and I’m looking for a local studio to rent. In this case, I will charge, because I’ll have to shell out to rent the studio. But it will be sliding-scale.

So, if you are also want to learn belly dance but can’t afford it, I suggest the following:

– Check to see if there’s a free school near you. Sometimes there are classes available.

– Take a dance class once a month. You can spare 10-12 bucks. One-on-one instruction is really essential. Then drill the moves at home and buy a used belly dance DVD that focuses on technique. Or take an online class.

This brings us to the next part of this blog post. Free places to learn belly dance online.

Again, one-on-one instruction is essential. However, when I was first learning, I could only afford one class per week. So I bought a few DVDs, and used those to drill other nights of the week. It was incredibly helpful. Back then, there was not this amazing abundance of online videos about everything.

Here are some great free online classes and practice drills that I’ve found. (There are also paid online classes that are wonderful and higher quality than these, but this post is about the free ones.)
Enjoy, and maybe share the moves you learn with your friends.

Tribal Moon Bellydance has a whole series of ITS tutorials and drills on their Youtube channel. Wonderful stuff.

Seba from Wildcard Bellydance also has a series of drill and instructional videos. Check them all out.

Tiazza has an extensive number of tutorial videos online, and even a website dedicated to it. She teaches cabaret style, and even has sword dancing tutorials.

The amazing tribal fusion dancer Sharon Kihara’s DVD workshop is up on Youtube. Is this a pirated version? I have no idea. If it’s illegally up there, let me know and I will take this down.

Fat Chance Belly Dance actually has a series of drill videos up on Youtube too. They really need to get a better quality camera (love you ladies!) but it’s still extremely educational.

Some dancers offering online classes on their websites also have a few videos for free. Here is one I found that looks lovely:

http://www.elysiumclassesonline.com/

There you go. I hope that was helpful and educational. Here’s to sharing the joy and richness of our art.

xo Cypress

First Post!

Hi everyone. Welcome.

This is the inaugural first post for my new blog. I started this to inspire myself to write more and to project my creativity outwards. Hopefully in that process I can not only hone my abilities, but inspire and maybe amuse others.

The name of this blog, Luna Matrix, is an ode to the contentedness and power of feminine energy and creativity. It also references our connection to the cycles of the earth that are sometimes mysterious.

I want to write about the creative process, bellydance, visual art, costume design, feminist social critiques, and my love of the natural beauty of Oregon and thereabouts. I’m also going to include snapshots of my life, what it’s like to be an artist who has to work a day job, a kooky eclectic 30-something who’s never managed to hold a “real” job for more than two years and who one day dreams of autonomy from the Capitalist grind.

For more on me and my “qualifications” on these subjects, you can read the bio in the left sidebar and/or checkout the About page.

Some specific topics that I’m going to write about are:

– Bellydance! (of course) Reviews of teachers, festivals, classes, videos, and costume gear. Musings on bellydance history, sub-genres, social impact, and the like. Reflections on my own dance practice and performances as a solo artist and with my band Black Magdalene.

– Costume design: Designs and inspiration for dance, festivals, and fun. Tutorials, tips and updates on the things I’m currently working on. Links to things on the web and other neat sparkly things.

– Social commentary, health and practice tips, random videos, music, musings on art and life,  goofy things… Yep, whatever else I feel like writing about.

Thanks for reading. Looking forward to the good things to come…

unicorn