All right, I’ve just returned from my first ever belly dancing class. Yippee!
I’m trying to figure out what sort of format I want to use for writing up my exercise experiments. Let’s start with a simple 1-5 rating system.
Fun quotient: 3.5. Probably would have been 4.5, but the class was packed. I really liked it, but I wish I’d had more space and a better view of the mirror. If I keep this up, I might try the Friday night class, which should be a lot emptier.
Sweat quotient: 2. I walked in with my hair blown straight and walked out with it wavy. Had to wipe my brow a few times. Which, honestly, was more than I expected — but nothing compared to, say, doing 12 sun salutations in a row. And the instructor said she thought the heat was actually cranked up about halfway through the class, so it wasn’t necessarily just the workout.
Fat Friendliness: 4. There were all sorts of body types, and I’d say I was just slightly above the middle of the range. Very few of the basic movements we did today would be hindered by fat, though I occasionally had to take a slightly wider stance than the instructor to keep my balance, and I suspect there will be arm movements down the road with which the Rack of Doom will interfere.
Exhaustion quotient: 1. About the same as a good walk; I felt like I was doing something, for sure, but I didn’t get tired, and it wasn’t hard at all, cardio-wise.
Post-class invigoration quotient: 2. I got a small burst of energy, but it definitely wasn’t the near-euphoria I get from my yoga practice.
Humiliation quotient: 3. It definitely, definitely helps to have a good amount of body awareness or be especially coordinated, if not both. I’ve got the body awareness from yoga, which helps immeasurably with isolating and moving very specific muscle groups while keeping the rest of your body still. I am not, however, coordinated — in fact, I have a non-verbal LD that makes me pretty spatially challenged. So I did great when we were just practicing tilting our pelvises up and down or moving our ribcages side to side, but I was a total disaster when we started putting steps and movements together in, you know, a dance. That will take a lot more practice for me. The good news is, I’m old enough now to know it will eventually come with practice, even if it takes me longer than anyone else in the class — and I’m old enough not to really give a rat’s ass if it does. But my biggest challenge will be getting frustrated and wanting to give up before it comes — and if I’d started this before I started yoga, when I still had no concept of how to make my pelvis move separately from my ribcage, or how to use my knees to move my hips, the frustration would have been severe. I probably would have given up after one try. (Keep in mind, however, that I am the type of person who is absurdly hard on myself and will totally stand there in my FIRST CLASS EVER beating myself up because I’m not as good as the instructor who’s been at it for years. If you’re somewhat more sane than that, you might be able to cope with the frustration better.)
Pain quotient: 0.5. My feet got a bit crampy, but I think I have mild plantar fasciitis or something like it, so all things considered, it wasn’t bad. Other people complained of lower back pain, but I didn’t have any — and usually, if there’s lower back pain to be had, I will have it.
Other thoughts: I found myself really struggling with my ADD. I could get a lot of stuff (more or less) on the first or second try, but then, as we did it over and over, I’d lose my concentration, start to mess up, and then be too flustered to get back in the groove. I’m going to have to really work at staying present.
Related to that, I found it was really easy to forget to breathe. I’m so used to yoga, where the instructor is calling “Inhale… exhale…” all the time. I did my best to connect breath to movement on my own, but because the speed of the movements you’re doing changes all the time, it was hard. When we were practicing something slowly, just to get used to the movements, it was pretty easy to go “movement 1/inhale; movement 2/exhale.” But then, just as I was getting in the zone, the instructor would go, “Faster!” Goddammit. So I need to figure out how to breathe at a consistent rate while moving at different rates, for the sake of both my lungs and my awareness.
Oh, and finally — because this is always my first question about any new exercise program — the website suggests wearing something tight on top (“like a leotard or halter top”) and something “feminine and flowy” on the bottom, like a long skirt. Plus a hip scarf. I do not own any long skirts, leotards, halter tops, or hip scarves, so I improvised with bootcut yoga pants, a tight tank top, and an old Land’s End pareo. As it turned out, almost everyone was dressed pretty much like me — many of the students had their own belly dance-specific hip scarves, but otherwise, it was yoga pants/leggings and t-shirts all around.
So. Overall, it was really fun, and I definitely intend to go back. Breaking everything down to the basics does make it feel more like an exercise class than a dance class, per se, and I actually like that about it — quite frankly, I don’t see myself ever performing as a belly dancer. Not ’cause I don’t think I’ll get it eventually, or ’cause I don’t think it looks awesome, but because the idea just doesn’t really appeal to me and never has; I don’t dig the idea of waggling my hips at strangers all that much, and lord knows I will never, ever find a sequined bra top that fits me. I decided to try it because so many people had told me how fun it is — and they were right — but if I were going to take a dance class with an eye to performing, there are like a half dozen other styles I’d prefer. (You may or may not be hearing about some of those in the future.)
ETA Next-day pain quotient: 1. If I try to do the same moves we were practicing yesterday, my hips hurt and my arms get tired quickly. But I don’t feel sore functioning normally.