Too Heavy to Bellydance?

by Shira

Dear Shira,

I've wanted to learn how to bellydance for many years. Recently, I've discovered a class that's being offered in my community that I'd like to take. But I'm overweight. Can I still sign up for the class anyway? Am I too fat to bellydance?

--Baroque Body


Women of all siWomen of all sizes can bellydance! Try it even if you think you are overweight!

Dear Baroque,

One of the great things about Oriental dance is that you can do it regardless of your figure type. The dance moves complement the way a normal human body moves--they're not like ballet which tries to create an impression of being ready to float into the air. I've seen a number of larger ladies in the belly dance community who move very gracefully.

Unlike jogging or aerobics, belly dancing is a non-impact form of exercise. That means that you can do the dance movements without placing undue stress on your knees, shins, and feet.

You won't have to compare yourself unfavorably against your classmates, because even the classmate who jogs 30 minutes per day and works out 4 times a week at the gym will probably have just as much trouble as you - maybe more! - learning how to do the movements unique to belly dancing such as rib cage isolations, snake arms, and hip articulations.

You can begin learning to belly dance even if you're out of shape, and the dance itself will help you guide your body into physical fitness. It doesn't feel so much like exercise when you're wearing chiffon!

There are a number of costuming options that look great on plus-sized women--you don't need to wear a midriff-baring bra/belt/skirt set, although you can if you want to.

Attractive costuming options could include:

  • Aa beautiful caftan accessorized with a hip scarf.
  • A a tunic worn over pantaloons.
  • A baladi dress, like the one worn by Leyla Lanty (from the San Francisco area) in this photo. Although cut in the shape of traditional folk wear, the sparkly paillettes give this one a glamorous, glittery nightclub look.
  • An evening gown style of dress.

PHOTO CREDIT: This photo was taken by Leyla's dear friend Marcia Morris Conklin.

See the Photo Galleries section for more photos of larger-sized dancers.

Leyla Lanty

Some of the faster belly dance movements, such as staccato hip movements and shimmies, are very aerobic. Practice doing those for 20 minutes per day, and you'll probably start shedding some of those unwanted pounds! Fast belly dance moves like these can burn 250-300 calories per hour.

Now, if you're truly overweight, there are certain paying dance jobs for which you may not be considered a viable candidate. Be prepared to accept that, and set dance goals that aim for jobs that value dance skill more highly than body type. What do I mean by "overweight"? If your doctor has been urging you to lose weight because of concern over the risks your weight is causing to your health, then you probably won't find many opportunities to work professionally in restaurants, nor are you likely to be hired for parties honoring men's 40th birthdays. To put it another way, if you weigh more than 30 pounds over the top end of the range that your doctor recommends, then you'll probably find yourself facing rejection if you focus your job-hunting efforts on certain types of gigs. I'm not saying it's "right", simply that that's how it is. Even a superbly skilled dancer with graceful movements will not be the right fit for those gigs. However, there are other types of gigs which are still suitable for you, so you just need to plan your goals around those.

You also may find that membership in some troupes is not open to you--some troupe directors select only certain body types. It'll seem unfair when it happens to you, but you can't dictate their "artistic vision". So, be prepared for the possibility, but don't let it discourage you! Keep looking, because there's sure to be another troupe out there that will appreciate you for your dance ability!

Don't get me wrong--I've seen some lovely dancers with very voluptuous figures. I appreciate beautiful dancing regardless of the size and shape of the dancer herself. But sadly, the "general public" often embraces the body type paraded on fashion runways and television shows, and unfortunately many of the people who make decisions on hiring dancers embrace whatever body type the entertainment industry is currently embracing.

The good news is that there are plenty of troupes that will welcome you, and plenty of performance opportunities which will welcome you. So, set out to discover the joy of expressing your creativity through dance!

Try to find out early in your relationship with a teacher how she feels about queen-sized dancers. If it becomes obvious that full-figured dancers are denied troupe membership opportunities, and if troupe membership is your goal, then don't waste any further time or class money on this teacher. Look for someone else who will give you the opportunities you seek.

So, sign up for that class -- chances are there'll be people of all sizes and shapes in that room, including some whose bodies are shaped a lot like yours! Be realistic in the goals you set for yourself, and you'll have a lot of fun dancing!


PS: You may not be as overweight as you think! Many beautiful women who have been admired by society were endowed with alluring feminine curves. Consider, for example, Marilyn Monroe. Now, nearly 40 years after her death, millions of people still fondly remember what a beautiful woman she was. Don't let the entertainment industry and fashion industry lie to you! Read Fit And Healthy by Despina Rosales.


Women of all sizes can bellydance! Try it even if you think you are overweight!

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