Making the gyms go belly-up

Marketplace Staff Mar 19, 2007

TESS VIGELAND: We’ve all heard it before: at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day is important. You could opt for the treadmill and stairmaster at a spendy gym. Or you could go for a brisk — and free — walk around the block. Humorist Sandra Tsing Loh discovered a shaky middle ground.

SANDRA TSING LOH: Nine a.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays? My entire neighborhood — they’re belly-dancing at the Y.

And today, so was I. I was invited by Hasmik, an Armenian mom at my daughter’s school. And I know enough about mother-to-mother relations to know that if you’re lucky enough to be invited, you’d better go. You don’t want to come off like you’re the sort of mom who’s too good to belly-dance at the Y or anything . . .

And I must say, not only am I delighted with how clean and cheerful the YMCA is, it’s 55 bucks a month for the whole family, and adult classes are free. And what a further pleasure to learn that, unique among the dance genres, as soon as you walk into a belly-dancing classroom . . . you drop 50 pounds.

I am not an anorexic person — my basic goal is to keep from pushing 150. Too hard. No matter. Compared to other females I see in the mirror, I look like a scrawny chicken. Even as I tie an orange sash festooned with gold coins around my hips, I see that of this tribe I would rank but 24th out of 25 wives. I would be the skinny one, the sickly one, laughed out of the village.

To my left is an Armenian grandmother with flaming purple henna’d hair, literally on top of the body of Dom Deluise. And yet, I have to say, when that OOOh-duh-duh OOOh-duh-duh begins and she starts belly-dancing, she looks awesome. Like a Grecian vase. Keep in shape? That is her shape!

And I have to further admit that, due to a tight left hip, even my bad belly-dancing feels great. Oh my God, I think: I am officially entering my “breaststroke in floral swim cap at the YMCA” years. When smoker’s-voice Sally, the 85-year-old lifer in purple lycra tights, comes over to give me belly-dancing tips, I am grateful.

A little veil work, gentle lope across the floor with a little Oooloolooloo, a heartening talk about female self-esteem from our instructor, who is also Rubinesque? I’m going back. You wanna come? For members, daycare is free! I’ll save you a hip sash. But do prepare by lifting — and eating — a few dozen kabobs. You’ll need your strength.

VIGELAND: Sandra Tsing Loh is a contributing editor at Atlantic Monthly.

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