How Old is Too Old?

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Belly Dancer Leyla Najma, How Old is Too Old - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance Blog

Have you ever wondered how long forever is? As a belly dancer forever is over the horizon and beyond the distant star. It’s just a saying that is until the day comes and you find yourself literally over the horizon and the distant star is the neon signs of yesterday.  What is too old in this business?

The biggest question I get asked by more people than not, even those who aren’t dancers, is what is the oldest a dancer can dance. It’s a good question and one that I never really gave much thought. Why? I mean, belly dancers in their own minds are immortal beings with ageless imaginations and creativity that is endless, bottomless and omnipotent. Who thinks about the end of something when it’s just begun or it’s running its do course.

If the mind isn’t in-sync with the body, issues can crop up even if you are in your prime as a dancer. Some of the biggest drama queens I have ever seen have been belly dancers. It’s the one drawback to drinking from the well of creativity.

I saw a dancer in Egypt who was in her late forties or early fifties, out dance a bunch of dancers half her age.  I talked about her in a post a long while ago. She was dancing with a candelabra on her head and had the most exquisite hip work I have ever seen even to this day. The audience loved her and when she was done dancing, they gave her a long applause. I have watched my dear friend Barbara Sayre Harmon dance in her studio and she had the exquisite body gestures of someone half her age besides the agility of a ballet dancer performing Swan Lake. To this day, I love watching Barbara dance because she moves in a way that is timeless. Maybe that is the key; the mind thinks there-fore the body is.  Philosophy can go hand in hand with dance because in the quest for finding the perfect moves, we end up discovering treasures that take us on adventures beyond the immediate, a journey of unforeseen answers. Some answers are more confusing than the questions, leading us further into a plot of twists and turns. A dancer’s tutelage is more than drills and combinations; it’s a quest into the deepest part of herself. Sometimes the deeper a dancer goes, the more lost she becomes. This is where instinct comes to the rescue.

A while ago I was teaching a beginner student privately. She was a beautiful girl just turning 19, with a heart of a belly dancer or so I thought. After weeks of drills, I worked on a choreography with her so I could help her understand how to place in the combinations into music. She videotaped her classes and when she would go home, she would watch the two of us dance together to help her practice. After about two weeks of being filmed, she started to come to class moody and unfocused. She told me she felt that she should have been able to dance as good as me especially since in her mind, youth played a big part in who should dance better. She thought being younger and spritier than me would be her edge and I told her that I had been dancing for years and that learning belly dance takes time to learn so that it feels natural in the body. The last class she took from me, she told me that the dance was just too hard and that she should see an improvement that was comparable to my way of dancing. I just couldn’t get through to her that she had to practice the moves and make them hers. She wanted to dance like me and I was trying to help her dance like herself by feeling the movements her way. I wanted her to copy me up until a point but then as she understood the moves, I wanted her to show me them…her way. She could do this for me in class but at home, I think her family made it difficult for her by making fun of her.  It was an uphill battle that exasperated me to no end. She ended up making an excuse for not coming to class the following week and then no contact after that. She wouldn’t return my phone calls and by that point all I wanted to do was go find her and kick her in the butt.

In the end of this particular situation I found that having years over someone younger than me was to my detriment. Actually this is a first for me but it just goes to show you how irrational some people can be when it comes to age. So in the real world of age the scales can tilt either way. As humans on this planet, age has become enemy number one. The body isn’t something we embrace with an open mind. Funny that the mind though it dwells in the body opposes and criticizes the very thing that carries and protects it. Maybe we need to take the mind out of the equation and look at the body for what it is…home.

The statement, how old is too old doesn’t make any sense in many ways. When does a painter stop painting or a sculpture stop sculpting? Some of the cowboys I worked with years ago were in their 80’s, yes that’s right, I said 80’s and nothing kept them off their horses. I always had a feeling that as soon as they decided not to ride anymore, that would be the day they died. You can’t put passion and desire on a shelf and leave it to wither away. Life doesn’t work that way.

Sometimes little signs that come from the Universe will tell people when it’s time to put the horse out to pasture and hang up the spurs. Three years ago my ex-husband who was a lot older then me decided it was time for him to pass on and leave this planet. He was a medicine man and sometimes they have this uncanny way of knowing when their time is up. He dug his own grave and within a few months after digging it, he passed away, was placed in the grave with his cowboy boots on, chaps, spurs and cowboy hat. The things in life that meant so much to him represented the life he had lived and as I thought about his life, I realized that everyone wants to be remembered for how they lived, what they did, represented and who they loved.

My mortality hit me square in the eyes when he died and I wondered how long I would dance, teach or choreograph belly dance. Would I die being buried in my belly dance costume or would I die dancing in my belly dance costume? Interesting to think about but it is a bit gloomy.

How old is too old depends on the mind set of any given person and how they feel about themselves. I actually had a friend who quit belly dancing because she thought she was too old at age 30. Can you imagine what turning 40 was like for her? I’m going to be half a century old and I feel half a century young. I’m just getting the hang of this dance form and maybe just maybe, at 90 I’ll have it licked!

Photography by the amazing Vivien Skrupskis


My Choreography book which will be a small book full of combinations is almost finished. It will be for the professional dancer who knows belly dance verbage but wants some combo ideas for troupe or solo performing. I thought I would share my ideas so I hope you all enjoy it. I will have it finished  by the end of this week.

Remember to subscribe to Jareeda Belly Dance Magazine. This coming issue will be on health! So just click on the link to get the longest running belly dance magazine in the US!

My book, “The Divine Unrest-My Stories and Personal Views on Belly Dance” is now available in paperback for $12.99 on Amazon.  Or, you can get The Divine Unrest on Amazon as an ebook for your Kindle. You can also read a Kindle book on your computer as well as on your iPhone, or Android by downloading the the Kindle App. 

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About Leyla Najma
Lifelong professional Belly Dancer dedicated to providing "Belly Dance Instruction That Is Easy To Understand And Learn That Connects The Dots"


12 Responses to “How Old is Too Old?”
  1. KhalidaSerqet says:

    quote: You can’t put passion and desire on a shelf and leave it to wither away. Life doesn’t work that way.

    Excellent point…but you always have good ones!

    As long as you have the desire to dance, you can dance…you may not be as limber or as quick, but you can still move with passion and feeling — and to me, THAT is what dancing is about!

    • Leyla Najma says:

      Thanks for commenting in Khalida Serqet!! You are so right, it’s all about how you feel.

      I remember one time when I danced at a Armenian party, one of the Grandma’s pulled me on her lap and she grabbed my arms and started to dance with me on her lap! I was laughing and so was everybody else and to tell you the truth, she had more movement in one finger than I did with both my arms!



  2. Martina says:

    What a lovely post about “How old is to old” I am very new to belly dancing but it has captured my imagination and i wish I had found it sooner. Age(ism) is a thing we live with in today’s society unfortunately, my Grandmother saw me Belly Dance for the first time and was intrigued.. So much so that she Belly Danced with me and i can honestly say the smile that came over her face moving to the beats was priceless. Dance is a great form of interaction and has been for centuries and it should be embraced with as much vigor and enthusiasm whatever age you are. So great Post again and who cares what age you are! by the way my grandmother is 79 lol…

    • Leyla Najma says:


      Thanks so much for commenting in!

      If every woman had the chance like you to dance with her grandmother, the world would be a better place!

      Big Hugs,


  3. Lorri says:

    Heck, I’m 52, and I’m just getting started! I think “too old” for me, is farther down the road 🙂

  4. Allison Flynn says:

    Another great article!! This has been on my mind and I often think how long am I going to be dancing? Course I have said that I am going to continue as long as I can!! I have told my students even if we are all in wheel chairs we will still be dancing!! But, will be doing the same stuff today many years down the road? I realize that there is going to be a time when I won’t get hired for certain gigs because I am not the young women any more, but there are times know when I do not get certain gigs because I do not fit the look or criteria that they are looking for. So I do not think it matters how hold you are but your I do not think your every to old to belly dance just your path may change which is does anyway! Leyla, like you mortality hit me square in the eye when my ex husband passed away. It got me thinking how will I be remembered? Will I be remembered as a belly dancer or as a mother and wife? My ex was an avid basket ball and softball player and there was talk about burying him with his basket ball gear on but instead a suit was chosen and my kids made sure though that his basket ball and ball glove along with pictures went with him. So my guess is that yes, I will probably be buried with a few hip scarfs and a costume if my kids have anything to do with it! Lol!

    I really cannot imagine stopping belly dance and age or anything else is going to get in my way!! I also think that society puts a limit or try’s to… comments like your too old to belly dance or what do you think your doing? I think because it is glamorized like anything else society expects a belly dancer to my young and in there prime and when they see someone older more mature who is full of grace and dignity they cannot see or appreciate it.

    Creativity and Art you cannot put it away and box it up for good it is meant to be enjoyed for as long as you can do it!

    • Leyla Najma says:

      Hello Dear Lady,

      Age is only a state of mind and believing that belly dance is our fountain of youth is the magic of ageless beauty in belly dancers. Let’s drink a toast to our creative inspiration, the well of ancient youth and the fact that it never dries up…unless we allow it to!

      Big Hugs,


  5. Doe Gasque says:

    I started dancing at age 55 or 56 years old and am going to be 59 years old soon. I can’t wait to be 60 because I know I will be an even better dancer! I have never wanted to dance professionally or even in a troupe of students. I just dance for the joy of it. So, I will be dancing forever.

  6. Dianne says:

    I am 66 and just hung up my belt. If I were a famous dancer, then dancing at my age would be fine as I would have both the fame and the talent in my corner. I started dancing at 59, and tried to dance with some physical limitations. (I have Erb’s Palsy, so one arm is limited in what it can do.) My teachers mostly tried to get me to dance their dances, even though my body could never do what theirs did. Rather than encourage me to dance MY dance and find movements that worked for me, they’d push me aside and focus on the younger gals and the ones who didn’t have physical limitations to deal with. I love the music, and I love dance, but I am frankly tired of trying to compete with the young. At one community performance, some dancers waiting to use the dressing room remarked “We have to wait until those old belly dancers are done.” That isn’t the way I want to be viewed, and in American culture, I fear that’s more the norm than the exception.

    • Leyla Najma says:

      Hello Dianne,

      For the most part, I agree with you. The only sad part for me is that fact that you have hung up your belt. I am old school myself, turning 50 this year and if I would have heard that kind of talk, I would have told them something. I’m too Italian to hold back and pretty much rude is rude no matter what culture a person is from.

      I teach dancers to find their inspiration because I know I have found mine. If a teacher is so full of herself that she can’t look at each student and see them individually then I would say she doesn’t deserve the position. This dance field attracts just about everybody and just about everybody thinks they can teach. This isn’t the case and I feel to be a teacher takes more dedication than to dance. Teachers have to be selfless and they have to be willing to go the extra mile for students. I’m so sorry you didn’t find the right teacher and I hope that down the line if you do, you’ll get back into dancing.

      Just a little side note here, I’ve been dancing 25 or more years and have no clue if I am famous and quite frankly don’t care. Talent is in the eye of the beholder…some dancers really like me while others don’t. Bottom line is what I think of myself. And just so you know, if you are in my neck of the woods, I would love to get a hip scarf on and dance with you. As a matter of fact it would be an honor!!

      Big Hugs,