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Study: Belly Dancers Reap Benefits


Fitness, friendship and visibility are among the many reasons women take up belly dancing in their 50s and 60s.

In this first study of its kind, sociologist and belly dancer Angela Moe of Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, Mich., U.S.A.), focused on the benefits of belly dance for a small group of women 50 years and older.

The new study published online in the Journal of Women & Aging (Jan. 31, 2014), is part of a larger study that examined American women’s experience with belly dance as a form of recreative leisure.

Physical benefits

The women emphasized the physical benefits of belly dance. "Belly dance is very nurturing to your body," said one participant. "It is very forgiving."

Meanwhile, others said belly dance helped them to cope with physical and psychological changes during menopause by boosting their feelings of overall health.

"You can get so lost in the music and the beauty of the movement," remarked one woman "The other part of it is it can make you feel stronger, more capable, like a more whole person."

According to the study, even participants with physical injuries praised the benefits of belly dance. Take for instance, "Aziza", who suffered from back problems. "I would say my ability to just physically function is due in part because I dance every week," she said.

Social networks

Through belly dance classes, many participants extended their social networks. "I’ve been enjoying making friends in this new world," noted 56-year-old "Annie".

The classes also provided a sharing space for individuals coping with common concerns, such as illness, family problems or body image.

"Half my troupe is really heavy, and this is one of the few places that they feel they can express themselves and be accepted by people," explained one woman.

Others appreciated the intergenerational dimension of belly dance. "I love that aspect of it, that it’s for every age," one teacher remarked.

Recent retirees touted the opportunity to find new social networks through belly dance. "It’s just a lot of fun," said one 58-year-old woman.

Social visibility

Dancing can be magical and transforming.

For these older women, a particularly important aspect of belly dance was the opportunity to maintain their visibility in the community.

"You know how older women are devalued in our society? And we’re no longer sensual or sexy?" one woman observed. "Well, belly dance blows that myth away."

The women acknowledged that belly dancing is predominantly seen as erotic and seductive. But, it doesn’t have to be. The participants focused on how belly dancing made them feel as women.

For example, in public performances the participants welcomed the opportunity to take on another persona through the use of extravagant costuming and make-up. "It’s fun to dress up differently and use sparklies," said one woman.

Also, the study found the self-confidence the women achieved through dancing in public spilled over into other aspects of their lives. "I stand up for myself a lot more now than I used to," said 74-year-old "Lois". "I question everything."