Bettye Ames, 66, is an attorney and an instructor at Misako Dance in Columbia, Maryland.
In 2007 or so, I made a pact with one of my girlfriends. We’d both been complaining about our weight, and I told her, “If you find an exercise class, I’ll take it with you.” When she came back with a belly dancing class, though, I thought I was going to have to break my promise. I had been diagnosed with sciatica, so I was having a lot of back and leg pain from a compressed nerve. It didn’t seem like wiggling my hips around would be a good idea. But I asked my physical therapist if it would be OK to take the class, and he said it would be good for my back because it would strengthen my core muscles. So there went my excuse.
We enrolled in an introductory course at a local community college and liked it so much that we continued. I found out there’s a lot more involved in belly dance than just jiggling your hips! It’s a system of movements that focuses on isolating certain muscles. If you see a dancer move her hips slowly, you may think, That’s easy to do. But it takes a lot of strength to move slowly. There’s balance involved, and flexibility. I love the self-esteem you get from being able to control your body and make beautiful movements.
There’s also a cultural aspect. Belly dance can be found in a lot of different Middle Eastern and North African cultures. It’s a way for women to get together and celebrate music and themselves — it’s not about entertaining men. We have fun with our glitzy costumes and over-the-top wigs, but at its heart, the dance is about the camaraderie of being with other women. It’s about the way it makes you feel: gorgeous and powerful and appreciated.
Since my youngest child graduated from college five years ago, I’ve been performing along with taking lessons. I also began teaching belly dance at a local studio. I used to think that without my children to look after, my life as an empty nester was going to be really boring. I wondered what I was going to do with all that extra time. My goodness — what a surprise I was in for. There’s a whole life out there!
Bettye’s Basic Moves
Large exterior hip circle
Stand with feet directly under hip bones, knees slightly bent, chest up, arms wide. Keeping upper body still, slowly slide hips to the right, then front, then left, then back.
Stand with feet a little apart, knees slightly bent. Push one knee back — don’t lock it — then re-bend it and straighten the opposite knee. Start slowly, building up speed, and alternate knees.
Stand as for knee shimmy. Tighten lower abs, from navel to top of hip. Slide upper body right, then left, then back to center. Slide chest forward and back. Repeat.