Back when I first started this blog, I wrote a post about why I love belly dance. To this day, it's continued to be one of the most popular posts on this site. However, I was reflecting on this topic recently, and realized there is another big reason why I love belly dance that wasn't included in that original post.
The reason is this: belly dance is open to women (and men) of all ages.
You can start at any age and you can stop at any age.
In many dance forms, ballet especially, if you don't start training as a small child, your body won't develop in accordance with the structure needed to execute the dance at a proficient level. Ballet dancers have to work to change the body's natural state so that the legs can work while turned out from the hip, the feet can carry the weight of the body while balanced on the toes, and body fat stays lean for ease of executing jumps, partner work, and aesthetics. Due to the grueling and taxing nature of the dance, many ballet dancers peak young, frequently in their 20s to 30s, leading them to the path of early retirement (at least as performers).
Belly dance is quite the opposite. Belly dance doesn't required any reshaping of the body. It works with the body's nature alignment and composition, and thus allows dancers to start at any age. In fact, most belly dancers do not start as children or even teenagers. Most start in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, like myself, who started when I was 26.
I also appreciate the fact that belly dancers aren't forced into early retirement. I see belly dancers in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond still regularly teaching, performing, or participating. Usually the attitude I see toward "older" dancers is one of appreciation as wise and experienced voices in the community, as women to be looked up to and emulated for their nuanced and intricate skill at performing and emoting. These are the women who are sought after as teachers and mentors, rather than being issued an expiration date.
Living daily in a culture that revers and worships youth, this opposite attitude enveloped in the belly dance community is a breath of fresh air. It's a wake up call for women to embrace and appreciate themselves and their bodies, knowing that their worth doesn't decline with age. Age and value aren't correlated like advertisers and popular culture want us to believe.
This is why I love belly dance. As I grow older, belly dance grows with me. It's an art form that is continuously broadening and awakening, allowing me to fall more fully into my authentic self. Leaving judgments behind and embracing and supporting the individuality I continue to excavate. Regardless of age, I know that belly dance will always be there for me when I reach for it,
Photo Credit: Painted by Corporate Art Task Force and available on FineArtAmerica