I’m a 57-year-old retired lady with a pretty sedentary lifestyle. Three years ago I was diagnosed withosteoporosis. It was quite a shock. I thought that happened only after you hit 65 or so. My doctor suggested Pilates, but exercising with no real end goal in mind did not appeal to me. Since my husband has cancer and his treatment regimen leaves him in a weakened state, partner dancing was not an option. I decided to try belly dancing. Seeing a friend roll a quarter up and down her stomach performing a belly dance some years back during my college years, the dance form seemed a great option to strengthen my core muscles while having fun.
In my former life I was pretty active. I used to hike, rock climb, scuba dive, and bike. The highs I experienced through my successes with these efforts left me always wanting more but not knowing where or how to get it. With my aging body and declining physical prowess, I felt that such highs lay beyond the scope of possibility for me. In spite of that, I attended the “assessment” at Saffron Dance Studio where I was selected for the Oriental Apprentice Group, a group for not-ready-for-prime-time dancers. The studio director informed us that if we were not sufficiently prepared for the performance, even up to the day of the event, she would yank us out of the lineup.
In addition to my physical limitations, I also have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). I’ve had it all my life and it has been the bane of my existence. The disability has achieved recognition in the modern classroom and children receive special assistance to compensate. Schools didn’t have that in my day. You were left to flail about on your own. I took diving lessons in high school. Once I leaped on the board to execute my dive. In mid-jump, I blanked out. When my feet descended to the board, I froze then emitted a high-pitch “Whoops” and flopped into the water. My 9th grade gym teacher heard about the incident and told me that she heard I was a clown. For the rest of the school year, she harassed me to insure that I would not be a clown in her class. With ADD, people try to tell you that you just need to be better organized or concentrate more. Without a lot of training, it’s like telling an anteater to chew. It just doesn’t have the equipment. Our group dance instructor noticed this. When she would give me instructions, she would repeat them or make sure to speak to me directly to make sure I understood or was paying attention. Because of my disability, I also took private lessons to improve my dancing.
Up until the afternoon of the performance, my self-confidence remained at low tide. My insides quaked like a bunny rabbit. I breathed like a freight train, drying out my mouth and causing my ears to pound. When our group rehearsed in the morning on the theater stage for the first time; other dance troupes, sitting in the auditorium, ululated, shrieked, and clapped. Totally unprepared for this visceral reaction, my brain short circuited and I missed my cues. My director reprimanded me later. We repeated the routine a few more times and I asked one of my teammates to review the ending with me individually. She did so graciously in the face of my request to repeat it at least ten times.
For our piece, we wore purple circle skirts, jewel-sleeved midriff length stretch tops, and a body suit, accessorized with a beaded gold belt and rhinestone jewelry. Our director taught us how to apply makeup, which was a whole new experience for me. Stage lights require a whole different level of investment in makeup and learning how to apply it. It started with face primer Wall primer I know. Face primer, not so much. For theater, you need to have face, eye, and lip primer to prevent fading, topped off with setting powder. I never heard of setting powder either. My husband was staggered by the transformation: from wife to Elvira. Our director added glitter to our hair and outfits before we went on stage.
The dance piece that our director selected for us was “The Seventh Veil.” When we were told we would be performing with veils, many of the group members were a little alarmed. I drew my inspiration from the biblical story of Salome and the dance of the seven veils, where she seduced Herod to get John the Baptist’s head on a silver platter. Not the most charming endgame, but that wasn’t what Salome was thinking when she danced. She was going to get what she wanted. To complement our purple costumes, our director chose gold veils, the colors of royalty and wealth. Our routine was short, a little under three minutes, but the rich swirl of colors created a moving tapestry across the stage.
I never totally believed that I would get through the performance. I no longer feel like a quaking rabbit. I am now a leaping tiger.
I started belly dancing a few years ago to combat creeping osteoporosis. Most belly dancers perform barefoot. Naked toes enhance the sensuality of the piece. According to Shamira, a dancer, teacher, drummer, and RCA recording artist, who has been performing since childhood: “The good thing about dancing barefoot is you definitely have more control with much less chance of ever losing your balance or slipping and falling. You’re more grounded which gives you an earthier look, there’s less friction if you’re dancing on carpet, and you can point your toes and show off your pedicure.”
When I started belly dancing, I had serious issues with not wearing shoes. In my childhood home, my father, a former shoe salesman, insisted on wearing shoes or slippers at all times and I have incorporated that lesson into my daily life. Any podiatrist or orthopedic surgeon would agree. Companies such as Good Feetand Dr. Scholl’s have capitalized on foot pain. The Placentia Foot and Ankle Group states on their website that your feet are not supposed to hurt during your lifetime. They recommend that you do not go barefoot if you are prone to being flat-footed, which I am. According to OSHA, a cushioned, size-specific arch support can profoundly reduce health care costs.
Your feet hold a key to your physical well being. When your feet hurt, everything hurts. As most of us walk on hard floors most of the time, our spines take a pounding from the constant shock of hitting those surfaces. Walking on natural surfaces, on the other hand, massages your feet. According to an Old Tarahumara saying, “if you run with the earth and you run on the earth, you can run forever.” Barefoot running clubshave sprouted in tune with this maxim. When I was on a hiking trip in the Transcarpathian Mountains with some Ukrainian friends, one of the men was a masseur and holistic health enthusiast. He encouraged me to stroll in a sheep pasture after a hard day’s hike. Maneuvering through sheep doo did not appeal to me, however, so he relented and let me put my shoes back on.
My refusal to shed my shoes caused some consternation among members of my belly dance troupe, but our dance instructor supported my choice. I dropped the jazz shoes, which are hideous even though the support is great. The jazz shoes prompted the kerfuffle, but I continued to wear my pink ballet slippers with gel inserts while we practice for our performance. After the performance, my stance was vindicated when one performer broke a toe from walking around barefoot at the show venue and another stepped on a pin in the carpeted lobby. Others also complained of multiple aches and pains of which I had none. I attribute it to my shoes.
Shamira points out that people erroneously think that bellydancing barefoot is true and proper form. Poor dancers went barefoot. As dancers gained notoriety and earned more income, they wore shoes as a symbol of their success. Shamira, tired of pulling glass shards out of her feet when dancing in restaurants and clubs, now dons Hermes sandals. I somehow doubt I could wear those and survive the performance. I think I’ll stick to my ballet slippers.