From Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause

A New Routine

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched—they must be felt with the heart.

Helen Keller

For millennia women danced through life, preparing themselves to waltz, polka, or tango through menopause, that dreaded time when their brains and brawn were predicted to shrivel along with their reproductive organs. After centuries of fearing this dismal cycle, women began reading and overcame their fears by spreading the story in Genesis about Sarah and Abraham.

You remember the story, don’t you? An angel of the Lord appeared to Abraham and predicted that his wife Sarah would produce a son. Standing behind their tent flap, ninety-year-old Sarah overheard the conversation and tittered with skepticism. Later, she fulfilled the prophecy and gave birth to Isaac (a record neither topped nor matched or recommended).

Nowadays, women accept this change-of-life period as just another challenge. By the time my turn arrived, I had one daughter in college, and I was still chauffeuring our other daughter—and her schoolmates—to endless high school and social events.

My first clue that I had begun menopause was my initiation into the sweating sorority. Yes, I know men sweat. Women perspire. But that doesn’t apply during menopause. Like most inductees, I left my damp silhouette on my bedsheets every morning and carried boxes of tissues to absorb the rainforest seeping through my pores during the day. I quickly learned not to let my hormonal imbalance turn trivial incidents into emotional crises. And like all those women who preceded me, I persevered.

While living with the discomforts of menopause, I continued my motherly duties and endured noisy sleepovers, survived my daughter’s driving lessons, and suffered sleep deprivation while awaiting that same daughter’s safe arrival home from dates.

By now she was a senior, busy with extracurricular school activities, a part-time job and a driver’s license. Suddenly, I realized that our television and stereo weren’t constantly blaring, phones weren’t constantly ringing, and my pantry and refrigerator weren’t constantly raided. In this newfound peace, I resumed some of my favorite interests: music, sewing, reading, and writing.

One day while researching Middle Eastern cultures, I learned that belly dancing wasn’t some wicked dance, but was a danse du ventre that dated back to biblical times. It was quite a revelation to discover that what I had regarded as erotic dancing was considered folk dancing in Mideast countries!

Hmmm. . . this could be interesting, I thought to myself. The graceful arm and body movementsmight be an excellent way to firm my sagging muscles and redistribute my weight. After more research, I decided that belly dancing might also be a good way to get rid of my stretch marks and shed some unwanted cellulite.

When I contacted our local parks and recreation department, the woman behind the counter snickered at my request. “In order to justify the expense of a teacher, you’ll need to sign up at least twenty women.” The haughty expression on her face and the smarmy tone of her voice left me feeling like she didn’t think my idea was worth pursuing. Fortunately, my neighbors did. By day’s end, I had the required signatures. I took my petition back to the recreation department.

Class information was circulated and sign-up lists for three classes were filled the same day. My glee turned to frustration when I discovered that my petitioners and I were put on a waiting list. After reminding the “snicker lady” that I was the one who had initiated the belly dance course, she relented.

Our full class listened attentively as our certified instructor gave us a detailed history of belly dancing. She taught and demonstrated body stretches, camel walk variations, scooting shimmies, head slides, and serpentine arm and torso movements.

She also played authentic Arabian music with delicate nuances of music moods that shifted between cheery, mournful, and lively melodies. Although the instruments had foreign names, we soon recognized flutes, zithers, drums, tambourines, mandolins, violins, and cymbals.

Among interesting facts she taught us was that in many Middle Eastern countries, belly dancers enter the delivery room and gyrate to music, encouraging the birth mother to perform rhythmic movements to promote faster and healthier deliveries. She emphasized that belly dancing wasn’t a sleazy, sexy, cabaret dance, but a sensual dance filled with emotion that must be performed wearing proper belly dancer attire.

Hmmm . . . since I enjoy sewing, why not make a costume?

After buying a book illustrating traditional belly dancer attire, I bought a blue two-piece bikini swimsuit and matching chiffon fabric. I also bought a CD of Arabian music that I played over and over on our stereo, memorizing the two-two and two-four beat while I sewed pearls and rhinestones onto the bodice, veil, and skirt band of my costume. Without telling my husband about my daring venture, I attended classes, practiced movements, and sewed while he was at work. By the time lessons ended, I managed to perform a fairly respectable routine.

Proof arrived several weeks later when my husband returned from an out-of-town business trip. He called from the airport, so I knew he was en route home, and thus I had time to set the scene.

We lived in a bi-level, so as soon as I heard our garage door grind open, I clicked on the stereo and positioned myself strategically at the top of the stairs. Wearing my costume, dangling earrings, and clinking bracelets and necklaces, I struck a sultry pose, flickered my eyelashes, and undulated with abdominal flutters to the exotic music.

By then, my husband was halfway up the stairs. He came to an abrupt stop, dropped his jaw and luggage, and grabbed the banister. After a quick recovery, he grinned from ear to ear and watched me perform traveling hip rolls, circles and thrusts, camel walk variations, head slides, and shoulder shimmies.

As soon as the music stopped, he dashed up the stairs, swept me into his arms, and whisked me off to our master bedroom.

When female friends question how I coped with menopause, I hesitate. Hmm . . . should I share my story? Then I confess, “Oh, I just followed the example of women who preceded us and danced to a new routine.”

Sally Kelly-Engeman

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