I Tried It: Beginner’s Belly Dancing at Studio 1831



I’ll let you guys in on a little secret: I regularly convince myself that I am totally capable of doing things that I don’t actually know how to do. Sometimes it’s great for conquering fears and pushing my own limits, but other times it sets me up for complete and total failure. Belly dancing, I learned, falls squarely into the second category.

With ten years of dance training under my belt, I like to fancy myself a dancer. And while most of my training was in ballet, my heart has always been with types of dance that have looser rules, like lyrical, modern and Latin.

Belly dance, with its rolling hips and abs and obvious sensuality, seemed like one of those types of dance in my limited, informal encounters with it. So needless to say, when I heard about Studio 1831’s belly dance classes, I was insanely curious. And needless to say, my curiosity got the best of me.

Valerie Rushmere, the studio owner and an accomplished dancer herself, let me tag along to her Wednesday night beginner’s class. To say that I was clueless would be an understatement. I was lost before the music even came on.

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Before the class started, we were instructed to put on our hip scarves. I immediately panicked because I didn’t have a hip scarf. But that panic was closely followed by the dawning realization that not only did I not have a hip scarf, I didn’t even know what the heck a hip scarf was.

Turns out, after not-so-discreetly checking out what all the other students were doing, that a hip scarf is literally just that, a big fancy scarf that you tie around your hips. Makes sense. And, thankfully, Valerie had a drawerful of them for the underprepared, like me. (Note: I realized later that everyone was wearing brown or black scarves. Mine was bright red. As if I needed to stick out any more.)

Hip scarf crisis averted, we went into the warm up. It was easy enough, so by the time we moved on I was feeling pretty confident. Next up were isolations, which are exactly what they sound like — moving one part of your body while keeping the rest still. Sounds easy enough, right?

Ha. Not quite. We started with the upper body — shoulders, head, and chest, and worked our way down. In case you were wondering what a beginner’s head isolation looks like, it’s not unlike what I imagine a chicken having a seizure looks like. Oh, that was just me? Oops.

The real discomfort started when we got to the lower body. My self-consciousness kicked in in a major way as we were instructed to push our stomachs out as far as we could, and shake our hips such that our butts and thighs were jiggling like crazy. I already felt awkward and uncoordinated, but now I felt fat, too. I decided right then that belly dancing was most certainly not my thing.

But then Valerie came to the rescue. When she told us that it was totally normal for things to be jiggling all over the place, I was a little skeptical. But watching her demonstrate the moves showed me that the isolations by themselves might look a little silly, but once they’re all put together the result is insanely cool. (And that even the most perfectly-toned dancers can shake their butts, too.)

I decided to try and forget my body woes and make it through the rest of the class. For the last few minutes, Valerie had us try and put those basic movements into use across the floor. I messed up often, tripped on my super-long hip scarf more than once, and probably looked like a total idiot. But I had a blast. I left tired, sweaty, and surprisingly sore, but I shoulder-shimmied and hip-dropped the entire way home. I definitely plan on giving belly dance a second try. And who knows, I might even buy a hip scarf of my own.