Heart racing. Nerves throbbing. Stomach churning. You’d think I was having an episode the way I was feeling, standing outside my old university gym that fateful Wednesday morning. As I watched some men shooting hoops in the court, I asked myself what I had gotten myself into.

Contrary to misconceptions of it being a dance of seduction, belly-dancing actually used to be performed at festivals as a social dance. Nowadays, it’s a form of exercise that aids in digestion, weight loss, muscle toning, posture improvement, and stress reduction.

When it was time to start, I positioned myself at the very back of the room. I knew this was something in which I would, in all likelihood, fail miserably. But I never would’ve guessed that I would learn so much about life in just a simple hour-long class.

1. Love your body. Love yourself.

I don’t have washboard abs, and I can’t twist my belly if my life depended on it. I was half-expecting to find scantily clad women in colorful veils ala-Princess Jasmine as I entered the room. But in my trusty old jogging pants, I saw that my classmates were just ordinary people in everyday clothing. I know better now than to trust Hollywood again.

The beautiful thing I noticed during the class was that it was not a typical rehearsal room—there were no mirrors in sight. This was done to encourage participants not to feel self-conscious. I knew I was bending and twisting incorrectly, but I just did what I could with everyone else, and best of all, I was having fun. Who cares if I had jiggling baby fat?

Oftentimes, we are so concerned about how we look and how other people will see us that we forget that loving our insecurities is the only way we will ever truly feel accepted. If we do not accept ourselves, how can we expect others to do the same? Release inhibitions by loving your body and loving yourself – when you’re at peace with your body, you’re at peace with everyone and everything else.

2. Learn to be flexible. Learn to adapt.

I am not a bendy person. My muscle coordination is as good as my non-existent geometry skills. But as I tried my best to learn the moves, I found myself adapting to the rhythm. I realized that if I didn’t try to force my way all the time, the moves just came easily to me.

In life, we all have our own set of routines. We often just stick to what we know and what we’re comfortable with. But change is ever present, no matter how much we try to avoid it. Remember that being stiff and stubborn and unwilling to change will never get you anywhere. Only change is constant in life, and you have to be flexible to succeed. Never stop learning. Never stop adapting. You’ll find that life is easier to live that way.

3. Push your limits. Push yourself.

Our instructor said that belly dancing moves the body in ways no other exercise will require it to move. The steps challenge the body into different positions and thus promote its overall wellness.

After a while of clumsy mistakes and short water breaks, I was finally starting to feel the flow. The time came when we had to put all our moves together in a culminating dance. Despite a few sharp pains in my side, I noticed how my whole body was softening, like I was being released. By the time our dance ended, I somehow felt free.

I realized then that even though we hadn’t done some of the more difficult steps she spoke of, my body really did feel challenged to move like it hadn’t done before. It made me feel fulfilled.

This is why we will never know our personal limits until we challenge ourselves. Overcome your boundaries with determination and passion. Who knows? You just might surprise yourself.

4. Even the most absurd things can bring people together.

When the class ended, we were told that both men and women of all ages, from five to eighty-five, could do the dance because it was non-impact and very safe.

As I looked around at my newly-formed family, I came to appreciate even more the beauty of belly-dancing that had brought us strangers from different walks of life into a single room with a common goal. I realized that the dance wasn’t some body-shaking, sexuality-exuding, my-abs-are-better-than-yours workout. It was not only an art that served as a healthy and fresh way to keep fit, but it was also a celebration of inner and outer peace with others. In this cynical world we have today, we need that more than anything.

Photo by Matt Paish

Cathy Lo

Cathy Lo is a freelance writer by day and a geek by night. She constantly struggles between sniffing the novels lined up in her bookshelf and trying to whip up something unusual in the kitchen, much to the dismay of her loving husband. To this day, she still has not cooked a decent meal. She one day hopes to soar the skies as a superhero for her future children, but for now she strongly believes in saving lives with her work as a writer for Cracking the Happiness Code.

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