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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Dear Shira



Dear Shira:

Too Overweight to Bellydance?


All about belly dancing! Explore belly dance!

The Question

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


All about belly dancing! Explore belly dance!

Shira Responds

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 is intensely athletic and requires many years of training to achieve the look. 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 low-impact form of exercise. That means that you can do many of the dance movements without placing undue stress on your knees, ankles, 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 find it just as challenging as you do — maybe more! — learning how to do the movements unique to belly dancing such as rib cage isolations, snake arms, and hip articulations.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by PixieVision, Glendale, California.

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!

Most belly dance teachers don't require their students to bare their midsections in class. In most belly dance classes, it's fine to wear a snug-fitting tank top, a pair of yoga pants, and a hip scarf. I personally teach my classes with my midriff covered, to show by example that it's okay to cover the midriff in class.


If you stay with the dance and decide you'd like to perform, there are a number of costuming options to choose from — although many plus-sized dancers embrace the midriff-baring bra/belt/skirt set, others prefer costume options that provide a more covered look. Your teacher can help you find something that will make you feel fabulous.

Examples of costumes that don't involve baring the midsection include:

  • A beautiful caftan accessorized with a hip scarf.
  • A tunic worn over pantaloons.
  • A baladi dress cut in the shape of traditional folk wear.
  • An evening gown style of dress such as that shown in the photo to the right.
  • A folkloric costume, worn to perform a folkloric style of dance.

See Shira's separate Bellydance Plus web site for many photos of beautiful larger-sized dancers performing in a wide variety of costume styles.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Lina Jang, New York City, New York.

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 start to feel a boost to your cardiovascular fitness. Fast belly dance moves like these can burn 250-300 calories per hour.

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! Set a goal for yourself to have fun and explore what your body can do, and you just might discover a form of exercise that you can enjoy for many years to come!

— Shira



All about belly dancing! Explore belly dance!

About this Column

Shira has received many questions from readers over the years related to various aspects of the dance. In this column, she picks some of the more interesting ones to answer publicly. Details contained in the questions are sometimes removed or disguised to protect the anonymity of the person who asked the question.


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