Dance For Your Life

Belly dance class at East Prince Senior Initiative

Many women who shun the gym do belly dance as their main exercise and enjoy the fitness benefits along with the fun. Unlike some forms of dance, such as ballet, belly dance is more physically accessible to most women in the general population. It also remains an activity they can safely pursue as they mature. In fact, belly dance is very well suited as exercise for maturing women.

Studies tell us that by age 75, 66% of women report no physical activity whatsoever. A certain level of fitness and range of motion is needed to perform daily activities and live independently. This doesn’t happen suddenly at age 75, but creeps up on these women starting in their 40’s and 50’s when they could be dancing against the tide of aging to prevent this.  Let’s look at some ways that belly dance can benefit mature women.

  • Belly dance is a low or no-impact activity so it protects joints that have seen some wear and tear over the years.
  • Belly dance improves balance. 30% of women at 65 and 50% of women at 75 suffer one fall per year. Dancing strengthens the muscles we use for walking and standing up straight to improve stability while moving or standing still
  • Belly dance is a weight-bearing activity so it helps to preserve bone density in the hips and legs. Fragile bones combined with impaired balance often lead to hip fractures, which are devastating and sometimes fatal in older women.
  • Belly dance helps to strengthen core muscles, protecting the spine, improving posture and reinforcing balance.
  • Belly dance is a light to moderate activity. This fills the bill for recommendations of accumulating 30 minutes most or all days of the week. This kind of conditioning helps minimize daily fatigue and shortness of breath while climbing stairs or carrying groceries.
  • Belly dance is a group activity. Staying socially engaged improves mental outlook and feelings of well-being, especially important for seniors.
  • Done on a regular basis, belly dancing at a moderate level of acitivity can help prevent or reduce the age-related accumulation of fat in the abdomen. This not only makes you look better, but improves your insulin sensitivity, warding off Type II diabetes which develops in 1 in 4 of people over 65.
  • For the 29% of women over 45  that have osteoarthritis, belly dance (and gentle exercise in general)  helps to maintain joint function. It cannot reverse joint damage, but it will not hasten it or exacerbate pain either, according to research studies.
  • As a low to moderate level of regular exercise, belly dance can lower blood pressure 8-10 mm Hg in healthy women and in those with mild hypertension. That might be just enough to keep some borderline women off blood pressure medication.

If you already dance, as many of my blog readers do, then you already know that above all it is FUN! It can also be challenging, keeping you learning new things which is good for your brain too. The beauty of belly dance as a lifetime pursuit is that it can positively change the way we age – and face it, nobody gets to stay 25 forever! It is also a dance that can change along with our bodies. Most of us will give up splits, laybacks and Turkish drops at some point, but the dance remains full of the beauty, subtlety and grace that drew us to it in the first place.

So whether you are in your 20th year of dancing or just starting out at age 50, know that you are doing something good for yourself today, and for the health of the future, more mature you.

How has your experience with belly dance changed as you have gotten older? Did you come to belly dance later in life?  How has it affected your health? Tell us in the comments below…

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36 Responses to “Dance For Your Life”

  1. jean smith Says:

    I am now in my 32nd year of belly dance….I enjoy it just as much and have more fun than when I was younger!

  2. Tanja Howard Says:

    I discovered belly dance when I was 50! I’m now 58 & enjoying both Tribal and Cabaret styles & have taken several workshops throughout the years, including sword, veil, & finger cymbals. I have also discovered “drumming” – frame & djembe, among others. It’s great to feel “alive” again!!!! I recommend it for all!

  3. Kate Says:

    Great article-but there is one unmeasurable statistic, that is our self-esteem. Being mobile, off drugs (or at a minimum intake) and having fun is in my view the big three that dance has given me.

    The support of my ladies and the prospect of so much fun is the best medicine anyone can take. I’m braver, stronger and much more happy now.

  4. Jessie Says:

    Greetings!
    I’ve been belly dancing for about 38 years. Started it on a whim and it took over my life – the dance, the food, history, and of course the costumes and performing. The Dance helped me survive many friendships, hard times, sorrows and joy. “Siduri”

  5. Louise Says:

    I never really thought I would find this sort of role model at my age of 59, http://users.mrbean.net.au/~phoebe/ , but there she is! I hope I can still be dancing in my 70’s!

    I wonder who the oldest bellydancer in the world would be?

    Probably a great grandmother somewhere around the Mediterrranean who still steps small and light, and sways in time at family gatherings.

    • Phoebe Carter aka Zaida Says:

      Hello, I am Zaida – Belly Dance for Older Women – http://users.mrbean.net.au/~phoebe/
      I shall be 76 in July and still entertain at Aged Care Homes and anywhere else people will sit still long enough to watch ~cackle~
      Belly dance is my LIFE and also my husband Mike’s – he is almost 79. He has been dancing since I started teaching in March 2001 and I still have 3 of my original ‘girls’ who are all now in their 70’s.
      Viva Belly Dance!

  6. Saeeda Says:

    I have been dancing for 11 years and it has helped me through times of joy and times of deep sadness. I lost my Mum last year and dance has helped enormously with dealing with the grief. Dancing really does enhance ones’ mental health – it makes you happy from the inside out.
    The physical benefits are huge as well but I think the fact that it feeds your soul means that the dance will hold its wonderful appeal forever – however young or old the dancer.

  7. Yolanda Ciuro-Rivera Says:

    Love this!

  8. juanita Says:

    I began dancing in my 20’s and due to changes in my life I got away from belly dancing for a number of years. I developed osteoporisis in my 40’s. About 5 yers ago I rediscovered belly dance and began teaching again. I am 59 now and have been removed from medication for osteoporisis. My bone density has improved 23% in the last 5 years!!

  9. Jackie Says:

    Great article – hurray! for the “maturing” bellydancer.

  10. Anne, Jersey, UK Says:

    I started dancing at age 43, and am now 59. Despite a bad back I am able to enjoy dancing and the close personal friendships that come along with it. I’m not as flexible as I’d like, but there is plenty to enjoy, and I’ve always thought that belly dance helps us to accept our bodies as they age and appreciate the beauty and grace they can still convey. I shall not be hanging up my belt anytime soon!

  11. MeiLin Miranda (@MeiLinMiranda) Says:

    I started at age 48 after a bad experience in a tribal class 20 years prior. I’d wanted to take it back up but was afraid. I’m so glad I did! I’m now 50–almost 51–and can honestly say dancing keeps me sane and helped me back from a near-fatal illness and its accompanying deconditioning. If I were ever conditioned in the first place! 😀

  12. suzanne norman Says:

    I was 40 when I started, and it was after the sudden death of my husband. I was in a pit so deep I couldn’t see daylight. The combination of bellydance and yoga and meditation were my salvation. I will be 50 on my birthday, and the more time goes by and the more I teach and share my joy with other women of all ages (my students range in age from 7 to almost 70) the more I enjoy bellydance. I has helped me to heal and learn and grow. I highly recommend it to women of all ages, sizes, shapes, ethnicities, and even those with physical limitations.

  13. Dawn Says:

    I have been dancing for about 2 years now and started at age 44. I first was drawn to a different type of creativity because I need that to fulfill my life and it was lacking. It has helped my confidence level which has helped me gain a promotion at work. The emotional support I get from my troupe has been invaluable. Belly Dancing is so much more than just dancing.

  14. leyla Says:

    started belly dancing after fifty. i’ve been studying this dance for five years. yes it’s great for exercise and best of all meeting new people and attending so many activities. have been able to perform at haflas, and festivals. i was also introduced to fire dancing while performing at our local annual earthdance celebration. i feel younger.

  15. Habiba Dance Says:

    Great post Mahin! Young or old, Arabic Dance can offer so much for everyone.

  16. Mona Freeman Says:

    Your never too old to try something new. I’ve always wanted to take a class, but was not aware of any in my area. Was so happy to find out that our little community offers bellydancing and bollywood. Only been doing it for a year. It’s great getting out and meeting new people. We have a great group of girls with attitudes to match. Don’t ever let anyone tell you your too old to do something(was my case as I didn’t start until I was 51.) I ❤ it! It also helps to have an awesome teacher who is so motivating. She makes everything look so easy. Thanks Shanta!

  17. Helen Lipscombe Says:

    I took my first class at 52. I’m now almost 58 and loving it more than ever! I enjoy the exercise, the music, the lovely friends, and the shared love of the dance with all these wonderful women. Performance is another great experience that I now enjoy and look forward to. I’ll dance and take classes as long as I can, and at the moment I feel that I still have plenty to give. Sure, I can’t do all the things the young woman can, but it doesn’t matter. Bellydancing is keeping me young in mind and body….Love it!

  18. sarannah Says:

    Started in my 50’2 after I divorced my husband. Now 75 and living in Egypt and the dance goes on…………….and on!!!

  19. saphirenz Says:

    I began learning belly dance at age 60 and quickly became enthralled . I am now aged 71 and will continue to dance for as long as I am able I am part of a four dancer troupe. called Aaminah I am tall and slim and do not look or act my age. We dance twice per week (more if performing) once to work on our own repertoire and ability and one to hold a class. We subscribe to the Middle Eastern Dance Association of New Zealand and will attend its upcoming annual festival (Raks Samini). I love my belly dancing which forms an important part of my regime to maintain or improve fitness mobility, flexibility, isolation, balance and even bone density. An hour long session is an excellent aerobic workout and above all good fun. I am a devotee who can not imagine life without it….//and I love your BDQs

  20. Jackie Pierson Says:

    I’m in my forties, I started dancing about two years ago. I’m now in better shape than I have been in years. I have already performed a few times, and have made some new friends. I reccomend it to every woman.

  21. Laurel Says:

    I’m 57 andI love belly dance. It has connected me with young and mature, skilled and beginners, fit and less able. It’s gifted me with friends and confidence. I wish everyone the joy that I feel.

  22. Janine Says:

    I first discovered belly dance in my early 20’s, but moved a couple years later and did not re-visit until I was 45! I am now 48 years old and have been belly-dancing for the past 3 years. Belly dance has helped me lose over 100 lbs! I have gone off blood pressure medication, improved my overall physical condition, and have much better coordination and balance. And let’s not forget the mental excersice! Learning combinations and choreography and ingraining new moves into our muscle memory helps us stay sharp. People are always surprised when I tell them my age..and I like that! Belly dance is helping me stay perpetually young. But the best part is that my story has inspired others. My doctor has actually had me tell my story to other patients and thus I have “recruited” others (young and old) into the belly dance world. It’s so satisfying to physically improve our mind and bodies while having fun!

  23. Janice Says:

    Great comments here! For me starting when 49, belly dance built on my growing self esteem, self image and self expression. I have a wonderful group of women friends as the result of dancing and the bonus is the exercise.

  24. Honora Simon Says:

    At 79 I started to belly dance a month ago to help me recover from being inactive due to foot surgery. I also joined a gym to regain my muscle strength. I have been a social dancer for many years and also learned to tango when I was sixty, but I will continue with belly dancing. It gives the best work out using muscles I never knew about. Besides the health benefits, it is great to see your body responding gracefully. What a mental tonic!

  25. Saniyah Raks Says:

    Hell yeah! Love it…..I am hitting 40 this year. Sooo happy to have found my place in dance that allows me to continue what I did as a younger me but in a different form that allows me to express the now me. Shimmies and smooches to all.

  26. Bianca Says:

    Bellydance usually leaves me feeling good, whereas other high impact dances such as. Flamenco usually leave me aching!

  27. Christina Farmer Says:

    I took my first class at age 52 and have been in weekly classes ever since. I turned 59 in December and am still in love with everything bellydance. Beyond the health benefits and boosting my self confidence, I have found my very best friends through this fun Dance. It’s inspiring to read so many posts from other women over 50! Thank you Mahin for your hard work and continuing to share your knowledge with us. We love our Daily Bellydance Quickies!

    • mahinbellydance Says:

      Thanks, Christina! I agree, the stories and comments that women like you have posted here have been very inspiring and remind us all why we LOVE this dance so much and how much it enriches our lives. 🙂

  28. Mirjah Says:

    I was 32 when I began my raqs sharqi journey, at the end of this year I’ll be celebrating my 20th anniversary of MED.
    The past 12 months I’ve danced better and stronger than ever.
    Yalla!

  29. Heather Says:

    i started at 30 and now teach dancing at Seniors College…hence the above picture of us at EPSI…i’m the one in red…not the senior, senior although she is 84 and still in my troupe…we have a lot of fun and hope to keep dancing for a very long time ….if we get a chance to teach elsewhere in the community…hope to start a class with kids and older folks…just for the fun of it!!! I dance now to control my osteoarthritis as does my friend and we are much more mobile this year than we were last when the picture was taken….kudos for belly dancing for pain!!!

  30. pat Says:

    I began belly dancing at 43, 10 years ago, and loved it but was busy with parenting and let it lapse. Now, at 53 I’d like to take it up again. I’ve been hesitant but am inspired by all of the lovely, positive comments here! Thank you!
    Does anyone know of classes in Melbourne of mixed ages? (I’d feel more comfortable in a class with at least some other mature age ladies)

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