Hips don’t lie: Except when they’re faking it

During the darkest days of summer, a very good friend of mine called to discuss her fall exercise schedule. In her quiet, sweet way, she told me about a class she had taken several years ago that got her into (her words) “the best shape of my life.”

Interest piqued, she told me the class was cardio belly dancing.

Modern Mary dons a jingle belt – ahem – hip scarf.

Hhhmmm, not quite what I would have picked out of the fitness catalog, I thought, but then I pride myself on keeping an open mind. And I adore my dear friend. How could she steer me wrong?

“Does this involve a jingle belt?” I recall asking her, with a sense of caution.

When she responded in the negative, I relaxed, read the course description, and signed up.

Fast-forward several weeks, when she and I carpooled to our first class. Nearly late, but with full bladders, we rushed past the glass walls of the classroom to pit stop in the ladies.

As we dashed by, I glanced into our classroom at a bright, mirrored dance studio full of jingle-belt-wearing, fuchsia peasant-skirt rocking and bangle-bracelet adorned ladies.

“T!” I shrieked at my friend as she ducked quickly into a stall. “I was of the understanding there would be no jingle belts!” I said, now trying to envision how a jingle belt would pair with my striped running shorts, athletic shirt and sports bra.

T fervently denied she had ever guaranteed a jingle-less class and then proceeded to produce – voila, what a coincidence– a supplemental violet belt-like hip scarf, stitched with hundreds of tiny pinky-sized jingle bells and bejeweled with mini triangles of fringe and sequins – from her workout bag.

God bless Shakira, and also, my belly dancing teacher, who looks much like this.

“I brought one for you?” she proffered, like an apology.

What is a hoodwinked girlfriend to do?

Suffice it to say, this was not the sort of “cardio” experience I had anticipated.

This wasn’t exercise (though 5 minutes in I was sweating like a heifer) in the way I had imagined it.

Exercise: meaningless repetition of a motion that provides the allusion of fitness.

Belly dancing: meaningful (if done correctly, read: sexy) repetition of hip swirling motion whilst holding in one’s gut and simultaneously moving, not just one’s feet, but also one’s arms, wrists, hands and butt cheeks (ignore the superfluous jiggling of butt, thigh and upper arm) while keeping the beat to our instructor’s favorite Shakira song. Oh, and hair flips. Lots of hair flips required.

Here’s what I did to cope:

Avoided looking at my friend for fear of strangling her or bursting into uncontrollable laughter.

Stood directly behind the dancer in front of me so as to block my view of moi in the front mirrors.

Apparently, swirling of the hips in a figure 8 motion requires similar motion of my tongue on the top of my mouth. Wore through my taste buds on the top of my mouth in one class.

Concentrated so hard I now need Botox on my 11s.

Refrained from laughing when 5-foot, 105-pound muscle-taught and curvy teacher asked and answered her own questions in a smiling, coo, “Do you love this Shakira song?! I love this Shakira song!”

Here’s what I learned:

In America today, people will do anything for exercise. (Not that furiously swinging one’s hips and sucking in one’s gut to music is not exercise. It is!)

It is possible for grown adults to brown-nose, even in a cardio belly dancing class. (Not me, but talk to little Miss Jr. Shakira in the front row.)

I am not as comfortable exploring new things as I once was.

If this were Modern Mary’s belly dancing class, I’d be the hands in the back.

That last realization really stuck with me. When we’re young, trying new things is filled with pleasurable anticipation and excitement. New things carry with them the possibility we may uncover a hidden trove of talent.

As we grow and age, we tend to pursue the things we are very good at. Sure, those pursuits are fulfilling, but they’re also safe, secure and reassuring.

But, even though we’re all grown up, I think we have to keep pushing past our learned comfort zones, but not with the hope we’ll undercover our amazing and natural ability to do a traveling figure 8 hip roll with snake arms. Oh no. Rather, we ought to push ourselves to try these new things because the challenge is good for us. And because the comfort zone is overrated. And, finally, because it’s OK to hate how much you stink at things sometimes – but still love yourself.