Every human body needs to move to stay healthy and if you are lucky enough to find an exercise that you enjoy you will be more motivated to keep doing it.
Belly dancing is a full body workout that can be adapted to any body regardless of gender, age or fitness level. In the following article, I will explain how belly dance for fitness may be just what you were looking for whether you’ve just now decided to get off the couch and get started with a new workout, getting back in action from an injury, or adding another activity to your existing routine.
The Benefits of Belly Dance
Belly Dance is a full body work-out that focuses on isolated movement and is generally low impact and can be adapted safely to most any body. A knowledgeable and safe instructor will do warm-ups first and guide the students through proper body alignment and moving safely through the technique of the dance. If you give yourself a month to stick with it, you will start to see your body change. Here is a list of benefits that most people find have improved after dancing for a few weeks:
- Tone and Trim
- Balance and Coordination
- Strength and Flexibility
- Brain work (memory)
- Weight loss with good diet
- Stress relief
- Creative outlet for artistic self-expression
How it moves
The belly dance has a rich history and has roots in many countries from the Middle East to Turkey and Egypt and more. Each country gives it its own style and flavor from the costuming to the dance movement itself. Dancers here in the west are now influencing styles in these old countries where it originated. It is still evolving and now fusing with other dance forms like Flamenco, hip hop and dub step. It has become stylized with goth and fantasy using props like fire. The differences are so varied and detailed in the histories to cover that information in this article.
Basically, the movements are variations of the same kind of technique with emphasis on the hips and isolations and undulations of the torso and abdomen. The dance also has different components of stationary movements, traveling steps and floor work. Using props such as veils and zils (finger cymbals) will also build strength, flexibility and coordination in the upper body, arms and fingers.
The general breakdown of the belly dance moves are:
- PERCUSSIVE – Usually done to emphasize drum beats and rhythms in the music. These movements include hip drops, lifts, side hits or thrusts and twists, rib cage lifts and drops and shoulder accents.
- FLUID, FLOWING, and UNDULATING – For the more lyrical and melodic parts of the music. Using both horizontal and vertical planes, hips and rib cage are moved in figure 8’s, circles, and snaky undulations along with snake arms, hands and belly rolls.
- SHIMMIES -These are vibratory movements generally done from the hips, but can also be done with the shoulders or a full body vibration layered over a fluid movement. (Here is one of my favorite videos illustrating this type of movement perfectly—> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YamDoDK71Ds)
Beyond the traditional country dances, belly dancers also categorize two basic styles that we refer to as Cabaret or Tribal. Cabaret is what most people think of when they picture a belly dancer. Shiny beads and coins on top and the belt around a gauzy slit skirt and finger cymbals. Most Cabaret dancers are solo performers, but they will also dance in troupes. Tribal belly dance usually refers to a western creation that came out of California in the 80’s called American Tribal Style. It was originally designed to be danced in a troupe or ‘tribe’ although there are now many solo artists of this style. The costuming is distinctly different. They usually dance in full skirts with fringe, tassels, and big clunky jewelry and decoration. Their dance movements, like their costuming is much more ‘earthy’ and grounded than the Cabaret dancer.
Your Dancing Body
As much as moving your body is important for fitness and health, so are feeding it, hydrating it and giving it healing therapy. The benefits mentioned above will be greater when you also eat healthy and avoid sugar and processed food. (Weight loss can’t happen just by exercise alone.)
A good fitness routine also needs to have counteractive stretches and movement to help avoid repetitive movement injuries and round out the work out. Yoga is a good example of a companion class to add to your belly dance routine.
Just as athletes need to keep tuned up with maintenance care to the body so do dancers. A good Chiropractor and/or massage therapist can help keep you limber and in alignment.
What Makes it so Fun!
The belly dance is not just about dancing and exercise. It also has so many other fun beneficial aspects of it that keep dancers doing it for years.
- The Music: Classic belly dance is usually performed to Middle Eastern or Oriental music which is exotic to our ears, but with the modern western dancers and fusion styles I have seen it performed to all genres.
- The Costumes: From sparkles, beads, coins and glitz, to full skirts, fringe, tassels, jewelry, flowers – the accessories can be endless. Open to lots of creative and crafty inspiration!
- Friends and Community: Life long friendships are formed and enriched in classes as well as festivals and retreats.
- Toys and Props: Dancers have fun exploring and practicing new skills to add variety to their dance using a wide variety of props and instruments. It’s no longer just veils and finger cymbals, there are fans with veils, swords, poi with veils (‘voi’), drums, wings, and more.
- Performing: Not every dance student becomes a performer and is certainly not a requirement or expectation when you take a class, but the chance to have an outlet for creative self-expression can be enticing for many. If being a solo dancer is too intimidating many dancers find the ‘safety in numbers’ and join troupes or tribes.
If you’re brand new to belly dance, I recommend you find a live class with a trained instructor that is guiding you through proper posture and body alignment for a good solid foundation before attempting a video. Check local Parks and rec, Community Colleges, or Y’s. There are many countless videos to buy, but be choosy. Not all videos or teachers are of equal or safe value. Many teachers post to YouTube now that you can find free mini lessons or check out a teachers performance or mini class before buying a DVD. Review, review, review. Check out their website or find their video to see what they do and if you like their style. Remember the topic here was making your workout fun. If the teacher or the style doesn’t appeal to you, you’re wasting your time and you won’t stick with it.
Get up and Go. Move. Dance. Have Fun!
Life offers us many ways to take care of our bodies. It is up to us to make the choice to move it, feed it, or neglect it.
Dance in all its forms should be considered as a legitimate exercise for your mind, body, and spirit!
*Comments and questions are welcome! Thanks for dropping in and Shimmy On!*