Women in search of their inner goddesses

17th April 2009 at 01:00
Snake arms, Arabic walk, the camel - all a series of belly dancing moves which can help boost confidence and fitness

It isn't the most exotic-sounding location for a troupe of belly dancers, but in the leisure centre at Arbroath's Red Lion Caravan Park the ladies are on a quest to release their inner goddess.

That's what their teacher Liz Reid tells them, as she talks them through their first faltering steps as trainee belly dancers at this class run by Angus College.

Glasgow-born Liz was 45 when she began belly dancing six years ago and discovered her own inner goddess. She's looking the part this evening in the blue sequinned skirt and fringed bodice she bought in Egypt, when she went to explore the roots of her art.

This is the first class in a series of eight two-hour sessions and most of the women are first-timers. One or two have jangling coin belts slung round their hips to accentuate the moves - they've done this before.

"We're going to do something we call the goddess walk, because in the belly dance world we like to say that the dancing releases the inner goddess," Liz announces to 15 women.

A few giggle nervously, but Liz is used to it. "It's one of these things that once you start dancing, it's all about freeing yourself and getting into the music and feeling comfortable, "she says.

"You don't need to be 19 and size 10 to be a belly dancer, you can be any age, any size and you don't need to have done any dancing ever before," she reassures them.

The moves sound as if they might nudge a few women outside their comfort zone - hip thrusts and chest slides, snaky arms and the Arabic walk. Then there's the camel, which involves undulating your belly like the shifting sands of the Sahara.

"A lot of the moves describe exactly what you're doing, like snaky arms. It's not aeroplanes and you're not swimming," she says as she demonstrates to the circle of women, who are of all ages.

Most have come for fun and to do something a bit different, like Sharon Cummings, a 39-year-old barber with striking red hair. "I saw this advertised in the prospectus and thought 'that sounds good'. It's great fun, but it's hard," says Sharon, who has been to one session before.

"Now we are going to do a chest slide. Remember, lift your chest and your diaphragm is going to slide to the side," says Liz, a civil service administrator until early retirement last year. "It's like your boobs are on a shelf and you are polishing that shelf. It's like someone has taken the whole of your rib cage and you're shifting it to the side," she explains.

This is too much for the ladies from the furniture shop and 66-year-old Jennifer Pert is getting red-faced trying not to laugh. She's come with her two workmates because they think this might help their posture. "I think you've got to give it a chance," says Jennifer's friend, bookkeeper Margaret Barrowman.

Liz says later: "We've got unemployed people, retired people, office workers, teachers and we've got a doctor who comes here - so lots of different people."

"I had always liked Arabic music and really liked the beat because it's quite unusual," she says. Then, after a friend took her to a taster lesson, Liz devoted herself to this world of snaky arms and chest slides.

She attends workshops all over the country and helps other women escape their domestic goddess in pursuit of the more alluring inner goddess. "I think because I am (a) old and (b) overweight, I am also very conscious of how women feel about coming into a room if they are in their forties or fifties. So I am always aware of it.

"But, conversely, I think in a way because I am not young and I am not slim, they can look at me and think: 'Well, if she can do it, I can do it'. They can say: 'There's hope for me yet'. You don't have to be super-thin to be able to do it.

"For me it's very, very freeing and it's very powerful. It's a very powerful dance - it's almost like it's been designed with a woman in mind. I couldn't tell you the history of belly dancing and anyone who tries is probably lying, because for every belly dancer there's a belly dancer history, a different version.

"The moves just seem to fit a woman's body and when you get the technique, you can just be free and listen to the music. I find it very empowering. It's very good for self- confidence, it's very good for posture - everything really. I absolutely love it."

According to Liz, this is one of the few occasions when women can let loose and not worry about being looked at, ogled or judged by a man. But a few minutes into the class, three wee boys peer in through the glass door of the lounge bar - the Goddess is unleashed. "Go away boys," she shouts and laughs as they take to their heels.

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