Recently I have started taking belly dance classes (and I love it <3 ). And I decided to write a take to discuss the form, benefits and history of belly dance.
Unlike other dance forms that focus mostly on the arms and legs, belly dance focuses mainly on the hips as well as the abdominal region with only an "auxiliary focus on the arm movements. Basically, there are three kinds of movements in the dance: Shimmies, undulations and percussive movements.
Shimmies are rapid back and fourth movements that resemble vibrations. These are often "layered" on other kinds of movements.
Undulations are more gradual movements and are often done when the music is more "fluid".
Percussive movements are a sudden singular movement in response to a sound.
1. Great for Pregnancy and Labor
No really, that's what it was originally for. a lot of people think that belly dancing started out as a seductive dance performed by slave girls in the Harems of the Middle East to entertain their Sheikh. But nothing could be further from the truth. Part of the reason people think belly dancing started out as a seductive dance is because there is a lot of movement associated with the hips. But this wasn't to seduce anyone, it was to strengthen the hips (and the rest of the abdomen) to prepare for pregnancy and belly dance (or Raqs Sharqi) was often referred to as womb dancing. While a lot of people view belly dance as an exotic dance, it's really a folk dance and would be more suited for a baby shower than something like a bachelor party. The hip movements can also rock babies in the womb and help get the child in position for a much easier birth for a much better maternal experience.
2. It's great for your back & posture
The muscles of the back become very well developed from being used so often. The undulations of the spine help slide the vertebrate back in place if they become miss-aligned (I've felt my back pop during undulations). It also makes the spine way more flexible and combined with the increased strength of the back muscles it becomes more resilient to traumatic injury and issues such as scoliosis. Undulations and chest moves are great for posture as well.
3. Great For the Abdomen
Belly dancing is great for the abdominal muscles and getting them toned. It's also a great way to give your internal organs a massage which aids in digestion and gets the fluids in your abdomen moving.
4. Way Better Breathing
As stated before, belly dance originated to prepare a woman's body for pregnancy and labor and because her uterus becomes so big during pregnancy, the lugs start to get pushed upwards. Belly dance comes with a lot of chest movements like the chest lifts and shimmies that help open up the ribcage. While designed to aid in breathing during pregnancy, these moves can help improve breathing at any point in your life.
5. Alleviates Period Cramps
Did period cramps ever drive you crazy? Well gentle moves involved in belly dancing such as hip rolls can stretch out the muscles in the uterus and get fluids moving in them, helping them to relax.
6. Low Impact Exercise
While cardiovascular exercise like running has huge physiological benefits, it also has an impact associated with it that can cause damage to the joints over the years. This is especially true in women because in order to be wide enough to pass a baby, our hips had to sacrifice some of their load bearing capacity. Belly dancing is an intensive workout but doesn't involve any impacts, giving you the cardiovascular benefit of running with virtually none of the joint stress.
7. Awesome Way To Better Your Coordination
Belly dance focuses on first developing movements in isolation and then learning to combine them to create a mesmerizing display of body mechanics. This is a big part of what I mentioned about "layering" moves on top of one each other such as putting shimmies on percussive movements or undulations. While it's true that virtually all dance styles will help you develop your coordination, virtually all involve weird footwork which means that while developing the coordination you have the risk of falling and hurting yourself. But with belly dance you can have your cake and eat it too :)
8. Work your Self-Confidence
Self confidence and exercise usually go hand in hand because it gives you a more attractive physique. But with belly dance, there's more to it than that. When girls learn to belly dance they become amazed by what their body can do aesthetically in terms of the way it moves. Instead of being constantly embarrassed about that little bit of fat on their belly or hips (which is perfectly normal and healthy for a woman to have) they learn to love the way it jiggles when they shimmy. And not only that, they learn to use their body as a way to express themselves instead of being pre-occupied with how others view it. A common question I see asked is why are belly dancers fat? And my response is that's what normal women look like!!! Our perception has just been skewed by all of these images of skin and bone models. Belly dance has just given those women the confidence to show their average body in an extraordinary way.
9. Deeply Empowering
Belly dancing can also be very empowering to women. But not only can it help women engaged in belly dance to build self confidence, it can also help other women who have body issues. Many have heard of an approach companies are taking where they feature average looking women to advertise for underwear. But while it's one thing to see average women in underwear to counterbalance the impact of super skinny underwear models, it's another thing to see a woman who has a normal body with those extra bits of fat yet in the way she's dressed in a beautiful costume and the way she moves looks every bit as beautiful and mesmerizing as the models you see on TV. Many women often approach belly dancing being somewhat skeptical because of the (false) seductive connotations attached to it but are immediately transfixed by the new sense of appreciation it gives them for their body.
10. Feel a Sense of Sisterhood
One thing that I was so pleasantly surprised about was how inclusive and welcoming all the girls in my belly dance class were. We had women of all walks of life in the class from every race, age and social group. All body types were welcome and everyone was so supportive of each other and we bonded so quickly. The only way I could think to describe it is a sisterhood. Belly dance is a dance by women, for women and in the Middle East, girls dance as a celebration of womanhood..
11. Those Gorgeous Costumes!!!
Need I say anything else? Those costumes are so sparkly and gorgeous!!! Who wouldn't want them? How could you not dance in those and feel beautiful? Things like hip scarves and coins are great for accentuating the movements. There are also accessories you can add such as fan veills and finger cymbals. Also, if you're into arts and crafts you can design your own <3
12. Feel So Graceful & Elegant
Belly dance is great for connecting with your more sensual size. The different movements just feel so natural. It feels just like the way that you're body's supposed to move. Sorry I can't put more words to this one, it's just something you have to feel to experience.
13. Reconnect with your Femininity
Most of the moves in belly dance accentuate the more feminine parts of your form. Pretty much all of the shimmies, undulations and percussive movements involve the curvy parts of your body and it all makes you feel so feminine and beautiful. I've seen the benefits of this first hand. Breast cancer runs very strong in my family and my sister is a survivor. While she was first and foremost happy to be alive, having her breasts removed (even though she got them partially reconstructed) made her feel like less of a woman. But I did take her to my belly dance classes and it helped her feel feminine again. Now she performs at a retreat for women who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer to help those women through their struggles.
14. So Much Fun
I think this one is pretty self evident #GirlsJustWannaHaveFun
15. Feel Like a Goddess
There's been a lot of uin-based information that has been spread about the history of belly dancing. A common claim I've heard is that it was originally used to worship the mother goddess and that it is the oldest dance form. In reality there isn't any evidence to back these claims. But to me it doesn't matter if belly dancing was used to worship a goddess or not. What matters to me is that when you dance in this beautiful mesmerizing costume performing such graceful and elegant moves, you sure as heck fell like one <3 :) It's also a great way to learn about Middle Eastern Culture and Traditions.
If any of you have thought about belly dancing, then grab a hip scarf and head for the nearest studio!!!
Happy International Women's Day Ladies!!! <3 <3 <3