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Belly Dance

Belly Dancing over the Age of 40, 50 and Beyond

over 50s dancer

Helena Vlahos

Recently, I have come across articles about belly dancers who have turned 100 and are still dancing, as well as forum posts where people ask if it is possible to dance into old age or even start learning this dance genre at 40 or 50 years of age. This has made me want to investigate more and write a post about this topic, especially since I am no spring chicken myself and as someone who loves to dance!

In my research I have come across several examples of belly dancers who are still performing later in life, including some who started learning in their 40s or 50s. It is definitely possible to become a professional belly dancer beyond the age of 40. In particular, it is certainly possible to teach, organise events, give lectures and talk at seminars.

There are perhaps some movements that are better left to young people, unless you have done them all your life and still have the necessary level of fitness (I list these movements further down in the Health Benefits section). Also, some dancers prefer to wear less revealing costumes as they age. However, none of these things should put you off, as belly dancing in particular is a low impact dance genre with movements that are natural in that they follow the natural alignment of the body, rather than going against it. I have also noticed, by attending several performances over the years, that even though dancers may lose the ability to perform the most physically demanding moves as they age, they definitely improve their feeling and expressivity in the dance.  In many types of Middle Eastern dance, feelings often matter more than physical virtuosity and it seems to me that  raqs sharqi in particular gets better as the dancer matures, being more of a woman’s rather than a girl’s dance.

Health Benefits of Dancing at any Age

There are several academic articles (listed in the references section below) that highlight the benefits that physical activity and dancing in particular has in older age. The benefits include psychological benefits linked to the fact that dancing is a social activity (Cooper & Thomas, 2002; Nadasen, 2008), as well as social benefits in that dance and leisure can help people subvert mainstream negative perceptions about aging (Wearing, 1995). In particular, Angela Moe (2014), a belly dancer herself, investigates how this is particularly true for older women who practise this dance genre.

Fifi Abdou mature dancer

Fifi Abdou

Benefits of dancing in older age, are not just social and psychological, but also physical. In particular dance is good for physical fitness (Eyigor et al, 2009; Bijun, 2000) and for the sense of balance  (Alpert et al, 2009; Eyigor et al, 2009; Federici et al, 2005), which is a good thing since with age falls become more common and also more dangerous as bones are more frail and at higher risk of fracturing.

Hence, unless your doctor has advised you against physical activity for any specific reason, dancing and belly dancing in particular is good for you at any age (but check with your doctor first if you have any specific ailments). There are, however, certain movements that is better to avoid if you have weak knees and/or problems with your back and neck. These are:

  • Hair tosses with head swings, as they can exacerbate neck problems. These movements are common in dances from the Gulf, Moroccan dances, Egyptian zaar and in general in trance dances.
  • Backbends. Avoid them if you have problems with your back and knees and also it is better to have a strong core in order to perform them safely.
  • Turkish drops are to be avoided also, for people with weak back and knees.
  • Floorwork in general is hard on the knees and it can hurt your back if you have suffered injuries in the past.

What to Wear

Some dancers over a certain age prefer to wear dresses rather than bedlah (skirt and bra costume). If you prefer to wear a bedlah but you want to hide imperfections of the torso such as stretch marks, you can wear a body stocking that covers the torso, as Egyptian belly dancers in the movies from the golden age of Egyptian cinema do. So, for example, Samia Gamal, Naima Akef, Taheya Karioka, Nagwa Fouad always wore body stockings. However, they did not do so for aesthetic reasons but rather because Egyptian laws forbid dancers from showing the bare skin of the torso. In any case, check out videos of those dancers (there are plenty on Youtube and Vimeo) for some ideas and inspirations. Body stockings can be flesh coloured or in the same colour of the costume. Also, you could have a fishnet material on top of a flesh coloured body stocking.

For the legs, some dancers wear leggings under their skirts and for the arms, if you are worried about soft under arms (called ‘bingo wings’ in the UK), you can wear long bell shaped or ruffled sleeves. In any case, I would advise against becoming too paranoid with issues of looks and to just enjoy dancing!

Mature Dancers

There are many examples of famous dancers who keep dancing until their 70s. One famous example is the American dancer Morocco (Auntie Rocky), who is over 70 and still dancing, travelling and teaching. Another American dancer, who is an icon of American belly dance, is Greek born Helena Vlahos who is still dancing and in great shape. I am not sure how old she is, but she was already dancing in the 1960s. As for Egyptians, Mona Said, Nagwa Fouad, Nelly Fouad and Fifi Abdou may not be starring in movies or dancing in night clubs any longer, but they are still teaching and performing at festivals around the world.

Below, Auntie Rocky performing.

You may be thinking that it is easier for dancers who have started dancing when they were very young to continue dancing all their lives. But what about those who learn belly dancing late in life, in their 40s, 50s or later? Can they become good dancers and what can they realistically achieve? I personally know some dancers who have started at such an age and they are now accomplished dancers and dance and teach professionally. For example, Ann Hall (UK based dancer now in her 70s) learnt belly dancing late in life, but is now a very good dancer and teacher and she travels extensively in Northern Africa and the Middle East to keep training. You can find more about her on her site www.medinabellydance.com

Melanie Norman, also based in the UK, started late but she is also a professional dancer now who organises shows and events with live music in London. She is also a great teacher. She started training at the age of 38 with no previous experience in dance and now dance is her life.

Mona Said in Greece in 2014

And finally, there are at least two belly dancers in the world dancing and enjoying themselves beyond the venerable age of 100! Belle Green, from South Setauket in the USA, turned 103 on 1st January 2015 and she teaches belly dance in Jefferson’s Ferry Lifecare Retirement Community. Catherine Furst turned 100 on the weekend of 15/16 November 2014 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, USA. She started belly dancing when she was 30 and has continued all her life. A baby by comparison, Angie Rounis danced at a talent competition in Maryland (USA) in 2011 at the age of 85.

Resources

Browsing the net I have found some resources you may find useful about learning and dancing at an older age:

Academic References

Alpert, P. T., Miller, S. K., Wallmann, H., Havey, R., Cross, C., Chevalia, T., Gillis, C. B. and Kodandapari, K. (2009) ‘The effect of modified jazz dance on balance, cognition, and mood in older adults‘, Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 21(2), pp. 108-115.

Bijun, X. (2000) ‘The Physical Fitness Effect of Sports Dance on the Middle or Old Age People [J]’, SPORTS & SCIENCE, 2, pp. 009.

Cooper, L. and Thomas, H. (2002) ‘Growing old gracefully: social dance in the third age’, Ageing and Society, 22(06), pp. 689-708.

Eyigor, S., Karapolat, H., Durmaz, B., Ibisoglu, U. and Cakir, S. (2009) ‘A randomized controlled trial of Turkish folklore dance on the physical performance, balance, depression and quality of life in older women‘, Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 48(1), pp. 84-88.

Federici, A., Bellagamba, S. and Rocchi, M. B. (2005) ‘Does dance-based training improve balance in adult and young old subjects? A pilot randomized controlled trial‘, Aging clinical and experimental research, 17(5), pp. 385-389.

Moe, A. M. (2014) ‘Sequins, Sass, and Sisterhood: An Exploration of Older Women’s Belly Dancing‘, Journal of women & aging, 26(1), pp. 39-65.

Nadasen, K. (2008) ‘“Life without line dancing and the other activities would be too dreadful to imagine”: An increase in social activity for older women‘, Journal of women & aging, 20(3-4), pp. 329-342.

Verghese, J., Lipton, R. B., Katz, M. J., Hall, C. B., Derby, C. A., Kuslansky, G., Ambrose, A. F., Sliwinski, M. and Buschke, H. (2003) ‘Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly’, New England Journal of Medicine, 348(25), pp. 2508-2516.

Wearing, B. (1995) ‘Leisure and resistance in an ageing society‘, Leisure Studies, 14(4), pp. 263-279.

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19 thoughts on “Belly Dancing over the Age of 40, 50 and Beyond

  1. Janet Rivera-Bright

    I would like to learn how to belly dance. Where are classes available in the Metro Detroit area?

    Reply
  2. JoAnn

    Excellent !! I too am a belly dancer who started later at 45 years old ; I’m now 50 years old and attend at least two classes a week and any workshop within an hours drive from my home. I’m also part of a small dance troupe ( Sarab), with two other mature & beautiful dancers. 😀

    Reply
  3. Lee Ali

    So true, Valeria! Oriental dance is an all inclusive, lifetime endeavor. I moderate the 1970’s Bellydance Group on facebook. At least half of our 7000 members are over 50-years of age, and still dancing. Helena Vlahos and Aunt Rocky are just two of our members who were pioneers of the once great American cabaret dance scene. There are many of us still around!! I became a professional oriental dancer in 1975, and I’m happily still going strong, dancing, teaching, and touring. We often discuss this topic on my group, and the fact that those of us in the 50~80 age bracket are now charged with the task of being role models for what it looks like to “dance as we age.” Brava, great topic!

    Reply
  4. ValeriaLo Post author

    Thank you all for commenting and I am glad you enjoyed the post! This is a topic I too feel strongly about as my intention is to keep dancing indefinitely 🙂

    Reply
  5. Ann-Marie Hammond

    I started belly dancing at age 39 and am still dancing, teaching and performing at age 50 🙂
    dancing makes me happy!

    Reply
  6. Amy Jones

    I started dancing in my late 30 and turn 50 this year. I love to dance and am working on a solo for a community festival in March. I will never be a great dancer but it is one of the best things that I can do for myself. I have always been a clutz but I feel free and beautiful when I dance.

    Reply
  7. Rita Miller

    Interesting article! Appreciate the subject of mature dancers. We’ve had our group (The Dancing Divas) performing for ten years. Our ladies range inin age from 52 to 77! (I am 64) Besides being part of the local belly dancing community participating in Haflas. We perform shows for the Northwest Florida Nursing/Retirement Homes, Senior Health Festivals and many more. We are a volunteer group, and cannot keep up with the bookings of our shows. It is keeping each of us young, our bodies moving, and we give back to the community, and give others that cannot get about, something to smile about, have a laugh, and see all our beautiful costumes.
    We will continue to dance as long as our God given bodies will allow. Thank you for this article.

    Reply
  8. Jenni

    My belly dance (Beledi) Journey started at 34 after the arrival of my one and only child. After more than 20 years of being in love with this dance I hope to continue on dancing, performing (troupe Director ) “Beledicious” and teaching for as long as possible. Recently l started learning the Tabla and this just heightens my love of the music. I highly recommend this dance to all ages.

    Reply
  9. Joanna

    It proves that you re never too old to learn something new. I only started dancing when I was in my 50s and I feel almost reborn again now. I feel younger than I have ever felt and have been meeting many great people along the way in the dance community.

    Reply
  10. Deborah

    My mother started dancing at the age of 4, and belly dancing in 1968 at the age of 37. She danced professionally (party gigs) into her 60s, and taught until infirmity prevented it at age 78. She and I co-produced dance festivals (which i continue on my own) literally until her death at age 81.
    This truly *is* a lifelong dance form…*everyone* can enjoy it, at any level, for a lifetime.

    Reply
  11. Saritza Velilla

    I started dancing in my 30’s. I went pro in my 40’s and perform with a professional troupe. This dance changed my life, gave me confidence and provides me with endless joy. I love my supportive dance community. I have made so many amazing friends along the way! I’m so happy our community keeps growing and look forward to at least 50 more years!

    Reply
  12. Zeyna Salah

    Years ago, Bert Balladine told me a dancer hits her stride after forty. Then, she’s lived enough of life to put real emotion into her performance. Loved that!

    Reply
  13. Eileen Nolan

    I started belly dancing at age 50, I am 54 and I am performing and won’t stop … Belly dancing has no age limit, no gender, no body type, no race or nationality, belly dancing is truly not prejudice. It’s wonderful for your body and soul.

    Reply
  14. Isla West

    I started in my 50th I am now 67 and just love
    it is so good for your confidence and the belly dancing community is amazing xx

    Reply

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