Though bellydancing is often misinterpreted as a dance of seduction, it is actually one of the world's earliest fitness regimens to prepare a woman's body for childbirth. The basic movements of the dance provide the perfect mix of isometric and isotonic resistance, which shapes the body without forming bulky muscle. Bellydance also increases endurance and strengthens the cardiovascular system, while improving posture and overall health. The dance has even taken many women from the pits of depression to a stronger sense of self and power, better able to face challenges with a positive outlook and renewed self esteem.
Taking a bellydance class might sound like a crazy idea to you, but with the overwhelming popularity of dance fitness programs such as Zumba and television shows likes "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance," dancing has made its way to the forefront as a fun way to tone and sculpt muscles, increase flexibility, challenge the body and drop pounds. And now, thanks to the Western New York Bellydance Association (WNYBDA) - a team of dancers, instructors and students who love the dance and strive to educate the community about it - a new, more confident you is only a shimmy and a shake away!
The WNYBDA offers a range of classes for beginners up through advanced dancers of all ages at two locations - Allentown Athletix in Buffalo and the Sherry Martin School of Dance in Williamsville. Starting in the fall, classes will also take place at the Performing Arts Dance Academy in Hamburg. Classes cost $8 each or $30 for four and there is no registration or membership fee. Discount certificates are often available in the WNY Super saver as well. If you want to give it a try, just show up to one of the classes with a water bottle and comfy clothes, ready to smile and move your body in a whole new way! I recommend starting off with a beginner's class on Tuesday or Sunday, as the Friday night combination classes require a certain level of technique and experience in order to keep up. You can go barefoot or wear socks, and any props that are used - such as canes and veils - are provided by the instructor. Coin belts are also available for purchase in class and really allow you to soak up the whole experience.
The thought of attempting a bellydance class might sound intimidating at first, but I can assure you from experience that it is actually much easier than you would think. I have always loved to dance but never took classes, despite wishing I had. I even thought about giving bellydancing a whirl before, but didn't think classes were offered here in Buffalo. So when I learned about the bellydance classes offered through the WNYBDA, I saw it as my window of opportunity and decided to give it a try! I'll admit that I was a little hesitant on the day of my first class and had no idea what I was walking into or if I would be able to move my body the right way, but after feeling a bit awkward for only the first 10 minutes or so, I quickly started to get the hang of the motions.
Within 15 minutes I was smiling and enjoying shimmying to the beat of the music with the other women, and by the time we began working with veils and dancing in and around them, I was hooked. I felt beautiful and more confident than I had in a while, not to mention pretty darn sultry! I'm only 24 years old and often still feel like a girl more than a woman, but as I watched my hips roll back and forth, accentuated by the coin belt the instructor lent me so I could soak up the full experience, and gazed at my arms loosely rolling up the sides of my body, I truly felt like a woman. I have always hated my skinny waist and wide hips, but with each step I started to love the way my body looked more and more. As I watched it undulate in the mirrors, I realized that my hips are actually perfect for bellydancing!
The classes are primarily taught by Nedra Bashira, a Buffalo native who is the founder and president of the WNYBDA. She has been featured on CNN's Fit Nation and travels around the world to perform and study Middle Eastern dance, hosts workshops with famous bellydancers, is currently in the process of producing a local television fitness program and will soon release 3 workout DVDs - "Better Back by Bellydance," "Nedra's Bellywood-n-Bhangra Workout" and "Prenatal Bellydance with Nedra." Although bellydancing has evolved greatly over the years and is now often merged with other styles of the dance to create American tribal or fusion dance, the WNYBDA offers what most people refer to as "true" bellydance, where the dancers wear sequin or coined costuming and use traditional movements. The music is typically old school Egyptian or Lebanese, although modern interpretations of old classics are becoming more common. In Nedra's classes, dancers also learn the interesting history and traditional movements for many different forms of bellydance/folkloric dance found in countries such as Egypt, India, Lebanon, Greece, Turkey and more.
Nedra begins each class with a series of stretches. She then turns on the music and starts dancing slowly, making sure everyone has got the hang of the steps and movements before moving on. By the time she picks up the pace, I promise that you will be amazed at your ability to keep up. And even though your form will not be perfect, it will get better and better with each class you take. In fact, Nedra's favorite part of teaching is seeing the progress her students make and the way bellydance affects them. She says, "I love watching my students grow from those first shimmies and figure 8's into confident dancers!"
Aside from working up a sweat, torching calories and toning the body, Nedra insists that the greatest benefit of bellydancing is the way it beseeches dancers to come out of their shells and see themselves in a whole new light.
"You find a whole new world when you hear the music and experience the dance for the first time," Nedra says. "The steps may feel clumsy at first, but they lead to an entirely new expression of self!"
Jessica Lister of Cheektowaga has been taking Nedra's classes for about three months. She discovered the WNYBDA through WNY's super saver website, which often offers a discount certificate for the classes. When I asked Lister how bellydancing makes her feel, her response was simple. "Sexy," she said with a laugh. "It makes me smile continuously."
Her favorite thing about bellydancing, however, is the instructor.
"Nedra is hillarious and very professional. It's encouraging when the instructor is phenomenal, it keeps the bar high and gives you lots of room for improvement."
As for offering a little advice to newcomers, Lister says, "Just relax and have fun. No one is judging."
So what are you waiting for? Drop in for just one class and I promise you'll be amazed at how much fun you have, how often you smile and how quickly you feel more confident in yourself and your body. And hey, if you love it that much and keep going back for more, you might wind up becoming a member of Nedra's performance troupe - a group of professional and semi-professional dancers who get paid to dance at wedding receptions, birthday parties and corporate events.
Summer classes are currently available at the following locations and times. Class schedules change quarterly and can be found at wnybda.com.
Beginner Bellydance/World Dance: Tuesdays 6:30 p.m.
Intermediate Bellydance: Fridays 7 p.m.
538 Delaware Ave,
Buffalo, NY 14201 (parking on street)