Belly Questions

by Shira

It's inevitable. As soon as you tell friends, family, coworkers, and strangers on the street that you're a belly dancer, the Belly Questions begin.

  • Does it help you lose weight?
  • Does it give you a flat stomach?
  • Do you need a fat belly to belly dance?
  • Does your belly get bigger when you do all those exercises?
  • Do you wear a jewel in your navel?

Then, of course, there are all those tired old puns about bellying up to the bar, jelly bellies, belly laughs, hillbellies, pork bellies, and more. It's enough to give us a belly ache! What's a dancer to do? Give snappy answers to silly questions, or make a sincere effort to educate? A lot depends on who asked the question and whether they deserve a smart comeback or an informative answer. Here are both snappy answers and earnest answers to help you respond the next time you get one of these questions.

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Does It Help You Lose Weight?

Snappy Answer: Nope! By the time I load myself up with all those beads, sequins, coins, mirrors, and yards and yards of skirt, I weigh ten pounds more than I did before I got into costume!

Earnest Answer: Well, belly dancing is another form of exercise, and exercise is always helpful when you're trying to lose weight. But attending a single hour-long class a week isn't going to peel off the pounds. To lose weight, it's necessary to adjust your eating habits and do at least a half hour of some kind of exercise per day, each and every day. That exercise could be belly dancing, but could also be other things. Click here to read Belly Dancing And Weight Loss for more information on how to use belly dancing to trim down.

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Does It Give You A Flat Stomach?

Snappy Answer: Nope, the roundness of my stomach is caused by the fact that I have a uterus and I have to have a place to put it. No amount of dieting or belly dancing is going to make that uterus go away!

Earnest Answer: Belly dancing does indeed tone the abdominal muscles. The resulting strength and control does make it easier to suck in the gut. When done for a half hour or more each and every day, and combined with a change in eating habits, belly dancing can also help shrink fat cells throughout the body, including those in the abdomen. This can obviously make the stomach area flatter than it used to be. But the notion of a flat stomach is unrealistic for most women because the female body has organs inside it that men's bodies don't have, and these lie just behind the navel. In some women, the body structure allows these organs to lie far enough back that a flat stomach is possible. But usually even a very slender woman will have a slightly rounded stomach area because of the placement of her uterus. Rather than chasing the unrealistic vision of a flat stomach, why not celebrate the femininity of these curves?

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Do You Need A Fat Belly To Belly Dance?

Snappy Answer: Do you need bow legs to do country-western line dancing?

Earnest Answer: People of all sizes and shapes can learn how to belly dance. The same move might look different on a plump person versus a very slender person, but when executed with skill it can look good on both body types.

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Does Your Belly Get Bigger When You Do All Those Exercises?

Snappy Answer: No, but I work up an appetite when I dance, and the triple-scoop ice cream cone I eat after class probably makes my belly bigger.

Earnest Answer When we think of body builders, we think of bulging muscles. Many people don't realize it takes more than movement alone to produce that muscle-bound look. For starters, the hormone testosterone plays an important role in creating bulk. Women, of course, don't have as much testosterone as men, so their bodies will respond differently from men's to exercise. In addition, the type of exercise that causes that bulk involves moving very heavy weights with a small number of repetitions. Using a lighter weight and doing more repetitions will lead to less muscle bulging. Now, compare this to the movements that belly dancers do--dance movements don't involve bulk-building resistance training with weights. The very nature of dancers' abdominal movements leads to smooth, well-toned muscles, not large bulging ones.

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Do You Wear A Jewel In Your Navel?

Snappy Answer: No, but if you'd like to give me a 4-carat real diamond or ruby I'd be happy to wear it for you.

Earnest Answer: The practice of wearing a jewel in the navel was invented by Hollywood, under a censorship guideline known as the Hayes Code. It has absolutely no basis in Middle Eastern tradition. The Hayes Code forbade showing the navel in a movie or television show. So, during early Hollywood's fad of "sheik" and "harem" movies, the way of dodging this restriction was to put jewels into the navels of the fine young ladies who were baring their midriffs in harem fantasy costumes. Because they saw navel jewels in so many movies, both the dancers who embraced the belly dancing fad in the 1960's and "the general public" who watched them believed that these jewels must be somehow "authentic". In those days, the U.S. had very few dance teachers who had actually gone to the Middle East to research what the dancers there really did, so there was no one to tell these well-meaning people that they had the wrong idea. Consequently, misguided dancers perpetuated the myth for a decade or so, until real facts started replacing the misinformation they had been working with. Today, navel jewels are rare among "real" belly dancers, generally used only when the dancer is either doing a comedy act or striving for an "early Hollywood" theatrical effect.

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Isn't Belly Dancing Something Like Stripping?

 Snappy Answers:

  • No, getting ready to take a shower is somethinjg like stripping. Belly dancing is, well, dancing!
  • I can't believe people still believe that stupid old misconception any more!
  • No, it's like Dancing with the Stars, except we wear more clothes than they do.
  • (Using the "Mom" voice): Oh dear, you shouldn't show such disrespect to a traditional dance of another culture!

Earnest Answer:

Actually, no, it's nothing like it at all. Belly dance originated in the Middle East as a social activity that women do with other women and men do with other men. Stripping originated in Europe and North America as a response to men's desire to see sexually titillating entertainment. They don't even come from the same part of the world, nor do they have the same purpose! Belly dancers wear far more clothing than what many people wear on the street in the summer time, and we keep our clothing on.

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