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