Bringing the Harem Into My Home

(In part 1 Jena tells of a build up of eight years of curiosity about Belly Dancing before diving into a Middle Eastern Music and Dance camp. She emerges inspired and with a DVD in hand.)

After a weekend immersed in belly dancing my body felt nothing other than delicious. There was a freedom in my hips and a languor in my movement that heightened my baseline joy as I walked through life. Determined to keep this feeling alive, I was armed with a feminine type of weapon: an instructional DVD.

With a gorgeous blond gracing the cover, the “Belly Dancing for Abs” DVD consisted of three 15-minute dance workouts that could be done separately or together, for a 45 minute experience. It was an accelerated learning system, with voiceovers explaining which muscle groups to use in each move and 3D symbols representing the shape and direction of the movements. This DVD demystified belly dance, and proudly conveyed the message, “you can do this too!”

And so I did it. And then I did it again. I began with 15 minutes, and when I was able, I progressed to 30 minutes and eventually, to my pleasant surprise, I could dance for all 45 minutes. Though not without breaking a sweat! My cardiovascular fitness improved and my body showed signs of toning in ways it never had before. My once faithful routine of sit up-type exercises became yesterday’s news. I was a fresh and faithful convert to dance fitness DVDs.

Have you ever pondered, as I have, how wonderful it would be if in this modern age of semi-sedentary lifestyles, our bodies would evolve to need less exercise? Wouldn’t it be marvelously convenient? Speaking for myself, I don’t doubt that if I had been given the magical ability to exempt my body from the need to exercise, in a moment of overload overwhelm, I would have done it by now!

“My incredibly hectic life,” had been the reason why for eight years, belly dancing had been my fantasy, not my reality. I was too busy! For me, the discovery of dance fitness videos equated unlocking a personal koan: how does a New Yorker stay fit?

In my chronically multi-tasked, entrepreneurial Manhattan life, exercise had been a personal puzzle that I had paid many years of attention to solve. I confess that in various phases of my life I have waded deeply into the waters of inactivity and struggled with the riddle of finding time to get my body moving. And after almost a decade of working on the front line with busy New York clients seeking health and wellness, I’ve been witness to the creative ingenuity required to be consistently physical in a way that your body loves and your schedule approves of.

Out of the blue, I had found a brand new solution staring me straight in the eye, ticking every box on my checklist. Dance fitness DVDs were (i) inexpensive (ii) something I could do in the intimacy of my home and (iii) got my creative juices flowing with sensuous music and luscious dance routines. It was a stellar match and no matter how often I repeated the workouts, boredom never ensued.

As my practice continued, the results blew me away. My moods were noticeably uplifted. My concentration improved. I felt a new realm of magic and sensuality becoming available to me on a daily basis. My stamina increased and my abs, thighs and arms became notably more shapely.

Within a few months, belly dancing had become an ingrained part of my life and was one of my favorite topics of conversation. After several months of hearing me talk ad nauseum about my “awesome belly dancing DVD” and my “mesmerizing belly dance teacher, Neon,” my boyfriend said, “why don’t you invite her over for dinner?”

I tracked down her email and with nothing to lose, I reached out. I told her of my great appreciation for her work, and how I am now recommending her DVDs to my clients. I mentioned I suspected our clients are a similar type of woman and that it would be lovely to get together and connect. I closed by suggesting we dine together, proposing that I cook her a meal at my wellness center.

My letter worked. She replied positively and we set a date for dinner. In preparation for meeting her, I did more research into her work, and the more I did, the more surprises I uncovered. It turns out that she is not only a night club dancer as her bio on the back of the DVD said, but the owner and producer of the DVD company itself, boasting over a hundred dance fitness DVDs, ranging from belly dancing, to hip hop, to hoola hooping, yoga and pilates! I realized that who I was about to meet was not just an incredibly sensuous dance and great teacher, but a visionary entrepreneur and an industry leader.

She graciously arrived bearing 10 different DVDs as an offering, and we hit it off instantly. With our shared passions for dance and making things happen in the world we had plenty to talk about. Her with her long straight blond hair, me with my curly hair, and both with our bright, incessantly curious eyes, we seemed like cousins, similar yet different.

“Do you know the secret of success of our DVDs for those of us who dance for weight management?” she asked.

“Do tell,” I replied, intrigued.

“Despite popular myths, the best weight loss results come not from super-intense exercise, but from moderate exercise maintained over longer periods of time. The challenge then is to be motivated to do so.”

“Tell me about it!” I lamented.

“This is why dance fitness is such a success. It makes it easy to stay with the routine, by distracting you from the fact that you are exercising is an experience with flavors ranging from sexy and entertaining, to intensely spiritual. It’s so rich it is easy to stay in engaged.”

She went on, “I have designed my newest bellydance fitness programs – ‘Luscious: The Bellydance Workout’ and ‘Love Potion’ – to feel like a journey, with uplifting emotional tones, elements of mystery, romance and humor. The goal is, always, to help you enjoy the art of dance, focus more on grace, less on sweat, and to deliver real workout benefits while allowing your mind to escape into the realm of beauty, and physical and emotional joy.”

I was living proof that her design was meeting its purpose. My belly dancing practice had become a daily escape, almost like a drug, fulfilling a deep longing and craving.

Although I was clearly exercising, my belly dancing sessions had come to feel like a sacred ritual, an occasion to dip deeply into the source of my feminine magic.

“What is femininity?” I asked myself, realizing that there are as many correct answers as there are hours in the day. Femininity is the sum total of who we are as women. Sometimes soft, sometimes fierce, sometimes playful, we women are always in the act of creating.

Belly dance is our training ground. Its moves favor the curves of a woman’s body and look great on any shape or size. In the words of Neon, “even the simplest moves look mesmerizing and impressive when performed with grace and emotion.” With its contrasting moves that can be sharply percussive or smoothly fluid, belly dancing teaches us to proudly own every archetype within us, from the warrioress to the seductress, each possessing her own unique beauty. In an age when the socially condoned norm of how to look, think and behave, can seem oppressively tight, belly dancing is a liberating breath of fresh air inviting women of all ages to cultivate self-acceptance and self-confidence.

As for me, I confess I’m addicted. Once I could handle a 45-minute DVD, I started doing two back to back! Though make no mistake, this was not in the spirit of inflicting a grueling belly dancing marathon up on myself, no, not at all. Although fitness did play a part, I danced for rejuvenation, I danced to taste my femininity in action, and I danced because it animates the physical part of me, the living, pulsing, breathing part of me, the animal part of me, this one life I have been given — my body.

Whether you are a total beginner or an advanced dancer, DVDs are a brilliant way to dive into this rich art and fitness modality. One day you’ll be wondering how on earth to do a hip circle and the next – at a party, in a club or in your own room for your lover or your own self – you’ll find yourself shimmying up a storm. Often compared to yoga as a practice for physical and spiritual development, belly dancing awakens an artist in each of us, reunites us with our femininity and opens the doors for a lifestyle of pleasure and sensuality.

By Jena la Flamme © 2009

With thanks and appreciation for the input of Neon
Find Belly Dancing and other dance fitness DVDs at

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