Belly Dance is More than Just a Fitness Class

Often clothed in baggy workout clothes, the shy beginning belly dancer uses the excuse of wanting something fun to get in shape.

Belly Dance is More than Just a fitness Class

Belly Dancers

Photos by: Helmut Albrecht
The people in the photo are Sandra, Olivia, Louis and our newest troupe member Johari.

Many new students enter my classes with a sense of embarking on something unknown but many don’t realize the depth of what they are about to undertake. Often clothed in baggy shirts, jeans, or sweatpants, the shy beginner uses the excuse of wanting something fun to get in shape. As they watch students of different levels enter, often with new costume elements or heavily adorned tribal belts, I look for the light to ignite in their eyes. I know they’re lured in when they venture so far as to reach out and touch someone’s belt or caress a tassel with appreciation for the artistic embellishments.

As the class begins I start by clarifying the body posture: very erect, knees soft and pelvis released, the shoulders are proud and strong as the arms and hands remain soft. Slowly, we start by moving each joint individually, then in combination.

Belly Dance Students

Belly Dance Students

At this point, the beginning student starts to realize how intensely difficult, yet simple, this art is. It seems so easy to bend this knee while straightening the other but as they struggle to make their bodies do what I instruct, contorted faces of concentration can be seen throughout the class. Soon, as they always do, someone will exclaim, “My body just doesn’t move like that!” Assurances from the other students will keep them moving and they begin to discover their own bodies as if they’d never met.

The students learn the anatomy of belly dance, so too, they learn the anatomy of the music. Middle Eastern rhythms are fun, complicated and often unpredictable. The experienced dancer is familiar with the more common rhythms and can easily identify them by sound or name. Venturing into music that is based on 9/8 or 7/9 tempos can intimidate even the experienced western dancer who is used to 4/4 or 8 count music. As each song begins in class, I clap the tempo and ask the dancers to listen to the music, not just hear it. In Belly Dance, we interpret the music with our bodies; we play with the beat, flirt with the rhythms, and seduce the melodies. We become one with the music so understanding it is vital.

Culture, etiquette and professionalism then become focus as the dancer advances and begins to consider performing.

Belly Dance Costumes

Belly Dance Costumes

Costume construction, vocabulary, and the history of this dance become an overriding addiction as closets are taken over by exotic fabrics, tassels, beads and antique jewels. Lamp shades and curtains are purchased simply to take apart for costume elements, while second hand stores are scoured regularly.

What originally was entered into as a “fitness class” has now become part of who you are. Your hair has grown longer, your walk is more feminine, and your inner spirit and strength shines through every pore. Your world views have widened, your understanding of cultures deepened and your conversation revolves around more than the little league.

So, you tell me… is it “just a dance class” or a whole new way of life?


  1. Jasmine

    Awesome blog! I have found some wonderful Belly Dance costumes at Scarlet's Belly Dance Lounge.

  2. Jessenia_IslandTribe

    LOL, because I can remember being that beginning student right down to the sweatpants and baggy shirt. It does become part of the fabric of who you are. I've become so accustom to those complex rhythms, its difficult to listen to other types of music; I get bored. I go clothes shopping for everyday and work wear. But, it ends up, “that's a beautiful skirt for dance,” or, “that would make a great belt.” I walk a little more upright, head held high, and smile on my face. I have an opinion, its of value, and I don't mind sharing it. I didn't have that confidence prior to becoming a belly dancer. I really can't imagine a day without belly dance. Thanks Sajah for being such a fantastic teacher – I love this article.

  3. Nuri

    Well, coming from a Dance background, I can remember attending my first class. Scared at not knowing anything, I was taken aback by every element. I had to “unlearn” a few things as well as being able to naturally do others. I've had the wonderful experience of having two totally different instructors with almost opposite ways of instruction. Finding just the right teacher is something you “feel”. Being accepted for who you are also makes for a deeper connection in class. I've come to admire, appreciate and love my fellow classmates – with all their surprises, experiences and wonderful inner beauty. And I attribute all of this to one very patient, understanding, loving and wonderful teacher Sajah. To her I thank deeply for teaching me how to BE, how to FEEL, how to EXPRESS, and how to LOVE being a woman!
    Yes, BellyDance is way more than just a class . . . it's an expression of your inner soul and the ability to share it with others! Sajah, you're more than a teacher – you're an inspiration and my Hero! Thank you!

  4. Sajah

    Thank you for your kind words, they mean a lot to me. It’s students like you that make teaching such a wonderful gift.

  5. Sajah

    Thank you for your kind words, they mean a lot to me. It's students like you that make teaching such a wonderful gift.

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