Happy New Year to you all! Today's the day resolutions begin. Mine last year was to simply get more exercise! Our muscles stiffen with age and the only way to overcome that is to keep moving. As the saying goes, use it or lose it.  

So in addition to doing regular yoga on my own and walking, I signed up for exercise classes! Not just any exercise class but dance exercise class which is much more fun. 

My city offers all kinds of programs for the 50+ age group. That's where I joined instructor, Lois Walker's "Move and Groove" classes.  She taught us the dance steps going through the decades like rock and roll from the fifties, the  Roarin' Twenties' Charleston, the twist in the Sixties, 70's disco moves and also various Latin dances like the salsa and the cha-cha-cha. She also threw in a brief introduction to other classes she taught including boxercise and belly dancing. 

It's always more fun to have the clothes which suited - for example flared skirts for rock and roll and some of the Latin dances. What delighted me was when she brought in extra sets of bell and coin charm embellished light scarves which we tied around our waists and around our necks (see my photo at top left).

Lois actually had a large collection of dance jewelry which she kindly let me photograph. And she donned on her full belly dancing exercise outfit and posed for me!

She is a marvelous instructor who made her classes fun. I soon realized why those tinkly embellishments were helpful. If we didn't really move our hips much, there was little sound which made Lois remind us to "stop dancing like a Canadian"! We were all too self-conscious and stiff so we needed to relax and get into the groove. 

The last time I wrote about belly dancing and jewelry was this post about a kumihimo bracelet tutorial made with belly dancing charms. There was one very negative reaction  - one reader unsubscribed marking the post as offensive.  What a shame that some misunderstand this dance form. But I also understand that misgiving as belly dancing is sometimes highly sexualized in the West with very skimpy outfits. 

Traditional belly dance originated in Egypt long ago. It is a social dance where both men and women, young and old perform - although in conservative communities, the sexes are segregated. There are also professional dancers who keep the performance art form alive especially through film. 

Belly dance is directly derived from the French term, danse du ventre or dance of the belly since much of the movement is centred around the hips. The term was used after an exhibition of Middle Eastern dancers in Paris in 1889. Raqs sharqi (Eastern Dance, Oriental Dance) is the name Egyptians use for the group of modern belly dances. The Sohag folk dance group demonstrated the Sai'di style with  traditional clothes in this video . The dancing actually starts at the 2.08 min mark :

Over time, belly dance spread far and wide with every region developing their own style complete with their own traditional clothes and jewelry like the nomadic desert tribe, the Bedouins, in the video below. Bedouin women are known for their loud ululations (high pitched howls with a trilling component) which they use to honor someone :

The Islamic Moors ruled Southern Spain for 800 years until the 15th century. They sent singers and dancers to Damascus and Egypt to bring back the Middle Eastern belly dancing to Andalusia, in Southern Spain. The Romani (Gypsies) also called the Gitanos in Spain, wandered and settled there in the 15th century. It is theorised that the fusion of the Andalusian style with that of the Romani led to the creation of flamenco.

Watch this wonderful modern fusion style, the Flamenco Oriental, where you can see both the distinct flamenco and belly dance moves and the use of flared skirts. The lovely and catchy music is Al Andalus by Albert Buss.

Belly dance is now popular worldwide, not just for performance but also as a form of exercise, especially good for the pelvic region. Slow belly dancing during labor is also getting popular on social media.  

Light exercise has been established as good for expectant mothers with low risk pregnancies.There is not sufficient scientific evidence yet if dancing truly helps during labor but some of the hip movements probably loosen and relax the pelvic muscles. At the very least, it is a wonderful distraction on what could be hours of early labor and might lessen the pain at the same time. 

By dancing, the women remain upright. In the past, normal deliveries were largely in this position with the mother to be being supported by other women or with the help of birthing chairs or stools . Gravity helps speed up the baby's exit. It was only when male doctors started to get involved in the birthing process that pregnant women were made to lie down.

Even some medical staff today have been dancing with their patients in early labor. Watch this Brazilian doctor doing his Latin dance moves together with his patients in order to get things moving along!

Hip movements are found in other dance styles around the world - think of the slow Hawaiian hula or the rapid Tahitian dances. Remember the "twerk" craze some years back, around 1990?  It wasn't new at all. "Booty dancing" has its origins in Africa. There are many such dance styles in Africa but the ones from Uganda do show off that twerking move particularly well:

Dancers use jewelry not just to adorn themselves but the ones which move and make sounds also accentuate the dancers' movements.  We are all familiar with the energetic dances from India with their musical jewelry but do you know that men also wear bells for dancing?  Here are the male Morris dancers from the UK who still uphold this folk dance tradition dating back to Medieval times. They dance with bells on their shins and with hankies (or sticks) :

Some of the most spectacular dancers are the men from the Virsky Ensemble who perform the Ukrainian folk dance, Hopak, also known as Cossack dancing.  My legs ache just watching them! This style of dancing developed in the 17th century when returning Cossack warriors would dance in celebration. 

We think of ballerinas going on pointe but there are male dancers who also dance on their toes. This is a short demonstration of the male Georgian dancers in one of their high energy and difficult routines. The video opens with the women dancing like they are floating across the stage.  (Georgia as in the country and not Georgia the US state) :

Perhaps one of the most astonishing dance to see is the New Zealand Maori haka . It became widely known when the country's sports teams show off the haka at the beginning of international rugby matches. It is actually a traditional dance performed by both men and women to welcome distinguished guests and to celebrate important events like weddings and funerals. Sticking out the tongue though is only performed by men.

Here are Maori men in their traditional beaded clothes,jewelry and tattoos dancing the haka. The sounds are created by voice, stomping and slapping of thighs and torsos :

My favorite dance from Malaysia, the country of my birth,  is the lively and popular Malay joget, danced here by the Nyala Dance Theatre.  Notice that the women wear very large brooches called kerosang.  

The joget was inspired by the Portuguese settlers who danced the branyo which itself was inspired by the corridhinho from the Algarve. The Portuguese conquered Malacca in the Malay peninsula in 1511 in order to get into the lucrative spice trade.  They were there until 1641, long enough for some to settle down, intermarry and influence the culture, architecture and language. The Portuguese also settled Goa (India) and Macao (China). This again goes to show how widely people traveled and immigrated over the millenia, bringing new perspectives and sharing their traditions in new places. 

 Below is the Tajik/Pamiri dance. Note their beaded necklaces, hat and hair adornments!  If this music, dance and the costumes remind you of north-western India and Pakistan, then it should not surprise you to know that Tajikstan is a small landlocked country in Central Asia, just north of India and Pakistan!

Anyone can dance, even if you cannot hear the music.  This amazing performance at the 2009 Deaflympics - a multisport event for the deaf- was held in Taipei, Taiwan. All the dancers are deaf, guided by their hearing helpers in white. The modern costumes remind me of Thailand. The performance was titled Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. In Buddhism, a bodhisattva is a person on his/her way to Buddhahood (a Buddha is someone who is spiritually enlightened). The Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is one who has 108 avatars and embodies the compassion of all the Buddhas. 

Dance styles are not restricted by borders but over time, they spread far and wide. There isn't any cultural misappropriation if it is done respectfully and in this amazing video, to a high degree of skill. All these dancers are from different countries, paying homage to Irish step dancing.

Dancing is also for all ages. You are never too old to dance and to enjoy dancing. Watch this amazing 93 year old, Jean Veloz, dancing the same routine she did 74 years before! She was just 19 when she danced with two men in a scene from the 1943 movie, "Swing Fever". 

Nor are you too young to dance.  Dance is all about self expression and moving with the music as shown by two year old William Stokkebroe, the son of Danish ballroom dancing champions, as he jived to Elvis Presley's Jailhouse Rock! Watch till the end.

Are you inspired to try dance exercise class? It's good to take a break from jewelry making and crafts for sure! I know I will be signing up for more dance classes this year. Not just with Lois but with Dee-Dee, the Zumba class instructor!

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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM