Tag Archives: belly dancing

Belly dancing for a healthy body

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com



Belly dancing is both a relaxing and enlivening dance that can help tone the body and improve body confidence. Its physiological benefits include improved fitness, better circulation, suppleness and correction of postural alignment. On a body confidence level, many women feel they have regained their ‘feminine self’ and become more comfortable with their bodies through belly dancing.

The basis of the core moves is always the center – just below the navel – or in esoteric arts the place known as the hara, second chakra or simply “the cente.” Yoga and Pilates are two popular exercises that like belly dancing, focus their energies on the ‘centre’ and the breath.

Physical fitness can greatly improve with regular sessions of belly dancing. It helps firm and tone the muscles in a gentle way, especially the abdominals, arms, upper back, hips and thighs. A more vigorous belly dance ‘workout’ lasting for at least thirty minutes, practiced 3-4 times a week, will certainly improve muscle tone and overall fitness, as belly dancing can be a fun and energetic form of aerobic dance.

Working out to fast paced, repetitious music with spicy tabla rhythms will make the exercise more enjoyable. A series of constant stepping moves, lifting and alternating arm poses and shimmies is the basis for a safe, low impact workout. As with all aerobics safety precautions, it is advisable to begin with a warm up consisting of gentle movements, in this case shoulder rolls, arm lifts, basic step/points and circular moves. Then gradually increase speed and repetition of moves, and after the workout remember to stretch and cool down.

Here are some physiological benefits of belly dancing:

Improved circulation; improved suppleness; increased joint flexibility; deeper breathing, better oxygenation of blood; relaxing and calming; reduces stress; possible aerobic exercise workout – burns fat, raises metabolism and improves resting heart rate.

Belly dancing also tones all major muscle groups – legs, thighs, calves, gluteals, abdominals, upper arms, back; reduces cellulite; eases PMT symptoms; prepares major muscle groups for pregnant women to assist the birthing process.

Belly dancing for suppleness and relaxation.

The suppleness and fluidity of movement necessary for belly dancing can help relax and lubricate joints and can be helpful in cases of arthritis, particularly in the wrists and shoulders. The dance, practiced gently in the beginning stages, usually produces beneficial results for muscle and joint conditioning. Participants, who had suffered uncomfortable back pain or shoulder stiffness for years, have reported improvement after several weeks of belly dancing. It is becoming a popular form of rehabilitation exercise, now advised by doctors and therapists. Of course, if anyone has chronic back or knee problems, they are advised to see a doctor first before embarking on a belly dance course.

The relaxing benefits of belly dancing calm the mind and assist the focus required to learn new movements. Repetitious swaying, circular and flowing movements are likened to a state of dance-meditation. The dancer often finds that a session of taqsim or slow, graceful dancing will clear the mind and induce a state of mental relaxation. The faster forms of belly dance are stimulating and fun, and either slow or fast belly dancing can be useful in cases of anxiety or mild depression.

Body confidence

Belly dancing boosts self esteem in a gentle yet powerful way. The movements are artistic and feminine, creating a positive feeling of sensual expression and freedom. With sensuality being a desirable quality of belly dancing, the dancer feels safe to explore the soft, beautiful ways the body can move. Sensual taqsim (slow circular dance) is emotively charged and deeply felt, inspired by the haunting melodies from the east. In our western society, bombarded with mixed messages about sexuality and self expression, many women find this extremely liberating. In the act of dancing with sensuality, the dancer frees herself in physical and emotional ways.

The body, which becomes increasingly supple and graceful through practicing the dance, literally learns to move more beautifully. Dancers feel a heightened sense of elegance and poise when they dance, and this delightful confidence remains long after the class or performance is finished. The body awareness that comes from belly dancing often triggers an emotional response. Women with low self image begin to honor their bodies. Previously weight conscious participants relax and become comfortable with their bellies and hips. Voluptuous women appreciate their ample curves. It is  possibly one of the most liberating arts, especially for the women of today.

Pregnancy and childbirth

Belly dancing originated as a fertility rite thousands of years ago –  the movements celebrated and birth process in the form of mimicry, and many of these circular hip moves can be seen in other dances evolved from birth-rites and celebrations of sexuality and fertility – Hawaiian hula, Polynesian dance, African dance and Brazilian samba and Latin lambada. Often associated with religious rites and celebration, the primal elements of both divinity and sexuality are central to the evolution of these forms of dance.

Today, the belly dance is linked with birthing, mainly due to its focus on the belly and hips. As a pre-natal exercise, belly dancing in its gentler forms is strengthening for the pelvic muscles and relaxing for the mother-to-be. Many Arab women say shimmies should be avoided during pregnancy, but the figure eights and rolling circular movements are good preparation for childbirth. This makes sense, as the rolling movements not only feel natural, but assist with the normal pelvic relaxing process to prepare for birth and at the same time, helps firm the pelvic muscles for labor and post-pregnancy recovery. Indeed, the dance can be a comfortable exercise that not only gets the mother ready for the birth process, but connects her to the unborn child through a series of movements which focus her attention on her belly.

Many of my students who were second time mothers after taking up belly dancing reported much easier and relaxed births with the ‘belly dance baby’. The body also gets into shape quickly, the pelvic floor is toned, incontinence is avoided due to strong pelvic floor muscles and the general condition of health is better with regular dancing sessions. Baby often likes swaying in mother’s arms when she’s doing figure eights and dancing to soft music! Belly dancing and birthing have been inextricably linked for thousands of years – since the days of ancient female deiety worship, to tribal fertility ceremony, to the harem, to birth customs in today’s Arabian villages.

Belly dancing can help relieve PMS.

`My students have reported over the years that one of the most incredible benefits of belly dancing has been the relief of PMS, which some had suffered from quite severely. Many women with PMS, never again had to deal with painful periods thanks to belly dancing. Relaxed, slow belly dancing can be beneficial in the reduction of the pain and pelvic congestion experienced several days to a week before periods. Practicing a deep belly breath whilst dancing is also helpful.

Permission to reprint by Keti Sharif www.ketisharif.com


Core groups of belly dance movements

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com



Belly dancing originated in the Middle East and parts of Africa. Therefore, specific moves are culturally intrinsic to various countries. For example, Egyptian baladi is very earthy and the important base movement is the downward hip drop. Turkish dance uses a lot of hip lifts. There have been many cultural and artistic influences that have shaped belly dance styles around the world. Yet there are some core moves that remain constant to a homogenous style of belly dance that is globally recognizable.

1. Hip movements, rolling or slow

Belly dancing requires supple rolling motions in the hips. These moves are often done to slow improvised music and is called “taqsim.”

a) Hip circles – small rolling hip circles are done with the pelvis pivotting on an axis in a continuous circular movement. Much like Polynesian or Hawaiian dance. Anthropologists believe this ancient move emulates birth and fertility ritual.
b) Larger hip circles
are similar to the way you would move if you were spinning a hula hoop around your waist…but make the move slower and lower.
c) The inward figure of ‘8’ requires the vertical movement of the hips to create a shape like a number ‘8’ by alternating sides; first the raised toe and straighter leg pushes the same hip upward, and inward. Then this is repeated on the opposite side, in a pendulum action. Weight must smoothly shift from left to right. It is quite a contained move.
d) The outward figure of ‘8’ is a wide horizontal move. Imagine drawing an ‘8’ on the floor by pushing alternate hips first diagonally forward, then tracing half the ‘8’ back. Repeat. Feels flatter in the feet than the inward ‘8’.
e) Maya – a vertical outward ‘8’ that is quite contained – and looks like”honey spilling from a cup!” It is a more advanced ‘8’.

2. Hip movements, staccato or fast

To faster music, especially drums, the hips move with more energy! The main fast hip moves are:
f) Hip lift – the hip lifts upward whilst the rest of the body remains quite still. Isolation is important for effective fast hip moves. Turkish, Lebanese, Persian and Ghawazee (Egyptian Gypsy dance) incorporates many hip lifts.
g) Hip drop – very Egyptian, it is a deep seated downward hip move. Again make sure the whole body doesn’t ‘drop’ when the hip does – isolation is important.
h) Shimmy – the most exuberant, fun move of all! A quivering of the flesh on the hips and bottom. You must relax your knees and build up a constant vibration from the knees to the thighs. It also helps get rid of cellulite! In fact, the ‘shimmy’ was done in the Artemis days in ancient Turkey as a wild, unrestrained fertility dance.
i) Travelling shimmy – you can walk with a shimmy too! Either with a hip down move as in Egyptian baladi, or with a twisting movement from the waist like the Turkish dancers move when the rhythm speeds up.
j) Hip accents – you can push your hips outward to the sides – a bit like a small, sudden ‘thrusting’ move. Remember to isolate the hips. These look great with drum accents in the music.

3. Belly and torso movements

            Turkish dance is more of a ‘belly dance’ in the true sense of the word than Egyptian or Moroccan dance – both which use more hip moves. Belly moves are very good for toning the abdominal muscles.
k) Tummy roll – a smooth three part belly ‘rolling motion’ where the abdominal muscles alone are used – without any movement of the spine. First ‘push’ out, then ‘pull in’ the upper abs, then ‘pull in’ the lower abs. Continue this roll.
l) Undulation – a sinewy swaying motion of the spine and belly. First move the weight of the body forward and then ‘pulling back’ with the abs and pelvis, like a wave.
m) The ‘camel walk’ – a combination of this undulation and a travelling step. It feels quite natural, with a slight ‘scooping’ effect. Just step on the front foot, then the back in synch with the undulation. You alternate stepping low with slightly bent knees, then high with straighter legs to create an up-and-down camel walk.

4. Snake arms and shoulder moves

            In belly dancing the arms should be natural and relaxed. Snake-like arm moves or rapid shoulder shimmies enhance belly dancing. Again, isolation is important.
n) Shoulder roll – roll the shoulders back and around in a small, smooth circular motion
o) Snake arms – slow, mesmerizing move done with arms out to the side, alternating levels, i.e.: lift one arm up while the other is down low and then smoothly, swap. Maintain some poise in the arms. You can do this by focusing on the elbows lifting the arms up and down.
p) Shoulder shimmy – a rapid, relaxed vibrating move in the shoulders. You can start slowly by pressing one shoulder back as the other come forward, and then speed up. Try to keep the hands still and level while the shoulders shimmy.

5. Head and neck moves

q) Head slide – The main head movement used in belly dance is the head slide (a gentle continuous move from right to left, the head slides horizontally). It is very much used in Persian dance, Turkish and Egyptian folklore.
r) Head/hair flick – The other head move often seen is the head/hair flicking move like in Khaleegee (Gulf dance) or Zaar (Egyptian ritual dance). It is a wild, exhilarating movement that should be monitored and learnt with a professional teacher as it can be rather harsh on the neck.

6. Turns and stepping moves

            To enrich the dance and provide exciting contrast to the stationary isolations and on-the-spot moves of belly dance, use steps and turns. Steps and turns make use of ‘space’ and also create sweeping movement that accompanies the full orchestra.
s) Step/point – a simple step with a flat foot down then the opposite foot pointing out, thus enabling then hip to come forward and up slightly. Works well with a regular medium paced rhythm.
t) Triple step – a sprightly, gliding, flowing step with the front foot coming down, then briefly shifting the weight back on the back foot and then shifting weight to the front foot again. Then change feet. Count 1-2-3, 1-2-3, etc.
u) Turns – the most simple and effective is the three step turn. You must actually push your body weight in the direction of the turn. Start with the body facing the front. The first step is out to the side. Next step you turn 180 degrees, weight onto the other foot, your back to the audience. Then lastly step onto the initial foot 180 degree turn (continuously in the same direction) to face front again. Pause on 4th beat.

Permission to reprint by Keti Sharif www.ketisharif.com