Too old to break a taboo?

Are you fired up by Fifty Shades and fancy a different way to stay fit? Belly-dancing is the answer, claims Maureen Paton, who shares with us its bountiful benefits

I came very late to the idea of exercise, having ignored it for decades until I reached an ‘interesting’ age and realised I urgently needed it. Yet although strength exercises build up older muscles and increase your metabolism, which helps to keep weight and blood sugar in check, who wants to start pumping iron for the first time alongside those driven young things at the gym? So the challenge was to find an alternative that offered benefits for older people. One obvious solution was dancing, since it increases the heart rate while putting the fun into fitness. But, although a huge Strictly fan, I’ve always been hopeless at partnered dancing. I also have arthritic knees, so Latino stamping around and uber-trendy salsa is a no-no.

Then I discovered the delights of belly-dancing… a revelation, as it lures you in with glamorous costumes and absurdly seductive music. It exercises you from top to toe, starting with the warm-up shimmying and progressing to the waving “snake” arms and fingers.


Health benefits

As a non-impact exercise, it’s excellent for helping to prevent osteoporosis and for improving flexibility, especially in the spine with a repertoire of full-body, undulating moves that lengthen and strengthen the spinal column. Who would have thought that something, which frankly looks so frivolous, could make us all so fit?

In fact belly-dancing is something of a misnomer for what is really the groovy art of hip-dancing. My boyfriend has nicknamed it “hip-chopping” because of one particularly rapid up-and-down hip movement which fans out to emulate the cutting of a cake into slices – and which does wonders for the glutes, by the way. So all you really need for this exercise is a functioning pair of hips (or replacements), which means all shapes and sizes can do it.

That’s the great thing about belly-dancing: it’s tremendously inclusive. One seventy-something woman comes ?to our classes with her twenty-something granddaughter, so it can be a great activity for bringing the generations together.


Dress to impress

Whenever I’m guilty of a mutton-dressed-as-lamb disaster, I know where I can wear it. Belly-dancing is an excuse to bring on the bling by wearing hippie skirts and hip-sashes with those rows of coins whose rattle shows whether you’re shimmying fast enough.

One very tall and rangy English teacher swapped her trackie bottoms for magenta harem pants with a matching jewelled bodice, giving us a glimpse of a startling personality change. It’s a dance like no other: you really can reinvent yourself.

The beauty of belly-dancing was summed up by my friend Sue, 55, who said it’s the only gym class where participants socialise afterwards. And you’ll never be short of a conversation when people ask what you do for a hobby.