I have been a student of Bellydance for several years. I have found that often, when others have asked me to teach them Bellydance, they have a mistaken impression that it is something that happens spontaneously, and there is no work involved in learning this dance form.
Unfortunately these prospective students are cheating themselves by holding onto this notion, because that attitude closes off the possibility of gaining greater health and appreciation for the body through studying the dance. The steps involved in learning Bellydance are challenging and rigorous, but there are many benefits to the body and mind each time you repeat or practice this series of isolated movements.
The overall appearance of a trained Bellydancer, whether dancing to choreography or improvising, is that she is magically flowing to the music, easily and sensually, or with sharp and precise movements that seem effortless and yes, well, sexy. Her sequined costume glints under lights, and the rhythms of Arabic music combined with the defined hypnotic movements can create a powerful performance.
A new student can begin to benefit from taking a class immediately, and the effects of the exercise accumulate with consistent effort. Here is a basic list of parts of the body strengthened by Bellydance movements:
HEAD SLIDE: Moving the head from side to side stretches the lateral muscles of the neck and gently strengthens the muscles around the cervical vertebrae.
CHEST/UPPER BODY: Rib slides, rib circles, chest "pops" and shoulder-shimmys utilize the muscles of the rib cage (between the rib bones), the pectorals (across the chest), and work the muscles in the upper back.
ARMS: Holding the arms in the Arabic dance arm positions, the basic position being out to the sides with the hands held in a gentle arc, increases the tensile strength in the arms and encourages good posture. Arabic dance has a standard range of arm and leg/foot positions, just as in Ballet.
ABDOMEN: Of course, Bellydance strengthens the abdominal muscle band, a strong system of muscles that extends from beneath the ribcage, connects to the back muscles, and continues to the hips. Working these muscles has a great effect on the posture and alignment of the body. Undulations, camels and some hip movements work the awesome abdominals.
on how the abdominal system works:
HIPS/PELVIS: Researchers have said that women in North Africa and the Mid-east used hip movements that transferred into traditional dance, as exercise for childbirth. The hip movements in Bellydance isolate the pelvic floor, tighten the gluteals (butt), and strengthen the upper legs and thighs.
The hip shimmy- which incorporates the legs and knees, and hip lifts, hip drops, and pelvic circles (also called umi
), hip figure-eights (including "snake hips") and the maya
, which is a snaky downward hip movement emanating from the lateral obliques, are some hippy trademarks in the dance.
POSTURE: The basic "Bellydance stance" consists of a gently lifted head, relaxed shoulders, extended spine with tucked coccyx (tailbone), and a lifted ribcage and upright torso. The body weight falls into the pelvic girdle which naturally supports the weight of the upper body. With knees slightly bent, the legs are positioned naturally under the body to support the weight and upper-body movements.
From this posture, the legs and the feet can support the body weight evenly. The feet can be placed in a few key foot positions (again similar to the way ballet is learned), in executing the movements while supporting the weight as it shifts while dancing, or in travelling steps. Bellydance movements can be done on flat feet or in releve (on the balls of the foot).
Overall, continually attending a structured Bellydance class is a good form of exercise. The grounded, isometric movements utilize muscles located deep within the body's muscle structure for quick and effective toning. It improves posture and can complement other fitness activities or the study of other dance forms. Other benefits of Bellydance include stress relief, enhanced self-esteem, opening the energy centers of the body (the chakras and meridians), a cardiovascular workout, and psychological benefits like bonding with other students. It also offers the chance to become aware of the cultural expressions and musicality from Egypt, other parts of North Africa and various parts of the Middle East.
Note: The practice of Bellydance, unlike Ballet and other high-impact exercises and dance forms, has a low risk of injury or trauma to the body. In fact, with proper alignment and execution there is almost no risk of injury from doing Bellydance movements.