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Fit And Healthy

by Despina


Belly dancers or not, we all need to look after our health. As performers, our bodies and faces are on display, and this can be a little unnerving at times. Dancers of any type can face the same problems. For example, anorexia and bulimia are rampant among young women ballet dancers. It's tragic, but very true and getting worse. So what about the issue of fitness and health among belly dancers?

Firstly, we're lucky — belly dancing is suitable for women of any age or shape, so technically we are immune to eating disorders and the suffering and psychological damage that goes with them. Technically, yes. In reality, no. In reality we are still part of a world that worships thinness and for many minds, the thinner the better. We are bombarded with images of stick-thin models, whose bodies are more like those of prepubescent boys than women. And for the very few who are naturally very thin I have no criticism. But for the rest who starve themselves and take drugs like speed and cocaine to keep their appetite under control (to the point of having no appetite at all) I not only feel sorry for, I'm very angry at.

I'm angry on behalf of the young girls who look upon these women as idols. The young girls who kill themselves slowly and waste away in front of their family's very eyes in order to live up to a totally unrealistic, unhealthy and deadly standard. I'm angry on behalf of all women who are being told the same lie: if you're not stick-thin, you're unworthy of being loved and being successful.

It's time to educate ourselves. It's time to educate the young girls and women that we have contact with and influence over. And the best way to instruct others is to first teach ourselves. But first, we must first rid ourselves of all the lies we are fed.




The Ultimate Lie

The Ultimate Lie: To be stick-thin is attractive. When you're leafing through a magazine full of undernourished models, feel no jealousy. For many, this is easier said than done. We've all been brainwashed - society has made sure of it. But think about it: what's so damn good about being admired by the world as supposedly beautiful when you're on the verge of death or on the road there? And don't get me wrong — models have been brainwashed as much as we have and are unlucky enough to be trapped in a world that demands the unreasonable from them. Remember when the heroin addict look was "in"? What a horrific indication of what society is capable of convincing us of! And many will do anything for the glory — whether it be starvation or drug addiction. And that's nothing to be jealous of or admire.

Remedy: Through belly dance, learn to appreciate and admire the beauty of your own body. All our bodies are beautiful — don't let these trashy magazines and the fashion designers tell you otherwise! And who are the fashion designers anyway?? Well, many of them are men. Men are entitled to work in the profession they please, but what do they really know about being a woman? I'd say not much at all. Yes, they can study fashion. Yes, they can have a creative flair for design and come up with some fabulous outfits. But the fact is, they never wear these outfits themselves (although some just might…) Okay, so you might say "some designers are women" and they're creating the same style/size of clothing to encourage the same brainwashing. If this is the case, I'm not sure if we should let them into the women's club any more.

Ask Yourself: Are you happy with the size of your body? If you are, great! If not, look at what normal clothes sizes (we all wear a range of sizes, hence the pluralisation of that word) you should wear for your height. Are you those sizes? If you are, stay that way — if they are normal sizes for your height, don't be duped by the lies society feeds you — that a grown woman should be a size 6 or 8 no matter what height she is. If your sizes are bigger than what would be considered appropriate for your height, but you're happy and confident and not risking your health by carrying that little bit extra, then fabulous! If not, consider a new eating plan and exercise routine. And belly dance is the perfect thing for the latter! If you're practicing belly dance once a week, either double the time you practice, or fit in another session each week.




Rules for Fitness & Health

Rule Number 1: Ignore the scales. Throw them out. Weight means nothing. That's why I said look at the clothes sizes that are appropriate for someone of your height. You could go down 2 sizes in clothing and stay the same weight or even put on weight due to the fact that muscle weighs much more than fat. By exercising and eating right, you'd change the balance and have more muscle than fat. The scales will be telling you you're getting nowhere, but in reality you're on the road to being fitter and more healthy.

Rule Number 2: Don't diet. It's just plain unnecessary. The word "diet" firstly has the word "die" taking up most of the space, and we don't want our eating to have anything to do with death. It also indicates that it's a temporary thing. "Going on a diet" usually means you'll go off it at some point. The attitude we need to develop is that of a healthy eating plan for life, not a diet. Dieting sounds like a nightmare anyway — as though you can only ever eat celery all day long. That needn't be the case.

Rule Number 3: Eat. But that doesn't mean just any old thing. Eat right. There is so much information on balanced eating plans. Unless you're very overweight, you needn't make radical changes that you'll have trouble adapting to. Ease yourself into your new eating plan. For example, if you eat greasy fast food 3 times a week, reduce it to twice a week for 2 months, then reduce it to once a week for 3 months. By that time you should have eased your way into the rest of your eating plan and you will be used to the less fatty, less sugary foods you're eating. Maybe you won't even want greasy fast food any more. But never deny yourself of it. Keep the rule to once a week - that way you're not banning yourself from particular food. If you don't want it, you won't eat it and you'll lose nothing. If you do eat it once that week, then you've broken no rules and feel no guilt. This is significant because as soon as something is totally prohibited, it's the very first thing we want and continue to crave until we get it (in copious amounts). So, allow yourself chocolate, if that's your love — half a normal sized chocolate after lunch or dinner every day. It won't harm you, and it will be one of the factors that will determine whether or not your healthy eating plan will be successful.

Golden Rule 1: Never look at food as your enemy.

Golden Rule 2: No food is bad food in moderation.

Key Words: Reconnect with your body and love it as it is now.

Rule Number 4: Dance! Dance, dance, dance, dance!! Oriental Dance is the perfect exercise. It's low impact, designed for women's bodies, accepting of women's bodies in any shape and of any age, is healing, brings out your creative side, releases tension and above all FUN! What more could we ask for (besides the usual: to win a million dollars)??



About the Author

Originally inspired by the 1960's television show I Dream of Jeannie, Despina has been studying Oriental Dance since 1992. She studied with a variety of people, representing a variety of different belly dance styles, and through that acquired a broad perspective on the dance. She started performing professionally in 1995 and then teaching in 1997. Her mentor, Amera, has provided a great deal of valuable guidance over the years.

Since 1998, Despina has dedicated herself full-time to teaching and performing belly dance. In 2002 she completed Belyssa's Bellydance Teacher Training Course.

Despina has contributed several articles to this web site.

For more information about her dance studio in Australia and its activities, see her web site at:

Click on the photo to the right to see Despina's picture in more detail.




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