Hips Don’t Lie: Why belly dancing should be on your self-care list

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If you’d sat me down in Freshers’ Week three years ago and told me that, by the end of my degree, I’d see my weekly belly-dancing class with LUBells as the highlight of my week, I’d say: “Wow, I can’t believe that I blossom into a beautiful, body-confident, size-eight goddess!”

Sadly, I’m less Shakira, more Subway-regular, but belly dancing has taught me that this is no bad thing. As my housemates, who also attend, and I say when we make a Sainsbury’s run after class, if we don’t have jiggle, how can we wiggle?

Dancing for two hours a week in Beginners group with Lancaster’s Belly Dancing society, LUBells, has taken me well out of my comfort zone and improved my self-confidence no end. Learning – under the excellent guidance of our teacher and society president, Nikolett – how to perform hip circles and slides, body rolls and to shimmy everything, has encouraged me to embrace my curves, both the kind that I proudly post on Instagram and the rolls that I previously tried to hide under the stomach band of my leggings.

Performing the routines is one of my favourite parts of LUBells. Having friends and housemates that I guilt-tripped into coming (alongside the awkward acquaintance or two that I didn’t expect to be in the audience) see what I’ve spent weeks working on is an incredibly rewarding feeling, as well as a great adrenaline rush.

Plus, it’s a great excuse to splurge on costumes. Floaty fabrics of every colour possible, as long as they’re bright; glittering tops that are often glorified bras, resplendent with sequins and beaded chains; swirling skirts and coin belts that jingle with every movement. Seeing the costumes that the girls have bought from far-flung corners of the internet is normally almost as good as performing the dances on show-night. While wearing such amazing costumes, it’s impossible not to feel good about ourselves.

It doesn’t stop there. Belly dancing is even more fun when props are involved. For our latest performance at the Charity Showcase, we learnt how to dance with veils. Swinging silks around without accidentally trussing yourself up in them is harder than it seems, but it makes dancing even more enjoyable and rewarding. Nikolett teaches us how to move with a range of props, including intricate fan-veil choreography and cane dancing, which we are starting this term.

For a person with little to no rhythmic ability, and who awkwardly laughs in any kind of social interaction, LUBells is the right society for me. The other dancers are really supportive and joining the society has been a great way to meet new people at the University and make friends outside my college and course.

There are health benefits too, both mental and physical. From a calorie-burning stand-point, belly dancing is a good form of exercise. More entertaining than plugging hours in on a treadmill or trudging outside for a run in the rain, it’s a great way to get up and move.

Isolating muscle groups to practice certain moves helps to strengthen obliques, abdominals and back muscles, which is a particular benefit for me as I have a crooked spine, so I can trick myself into thinking it’s the same as doing my physio.

In my final year of undergraduate study, it gives me a good outlet to de-stress and mentally recuperate. Dance class is a time when I can forget about looming deadlines and job applications, and focus on shimmying until I feel good again.

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