Don't shy from a shimmy

Belly dancing is for everybody says Payal Gupta who just hosted the fifth edition of Hipnosis, an international bellydance festival in Bangalore. Read on to know why she picks the dance form as a great fitness regime and even teaches a move or two.

Published: 28th October 2013 10:41 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th October 2013 10:41 AM   |  A+A-

Bellydancing 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 regain their ‘feminine self’ and become more comfortable with their bodies through bellydancing.

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

How it helps keep fit

The suppleness and fluidity of movement necessary for bellydancing can help relax and lubricate joints and can be helpful in cases of arthritis, particularly in the wrists and shoulders. The dance, practised 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 bellydancing. It is becoming a popular form of rehabilitation exercise, now advised by doctors and therapists.

The relaxing benefits of bellydancing include calming the mind and assisting focus that is 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 bellydance are stimulating and fun, and both slow and fast bellydancing can be useful in cases of anxiety or mild depression.

How it builds Personality

Bellydancing is  a creative, transformative energy.

As a teacher, I have seen incredible transformations in my students in terms of self confidence and personal empowerment. Some treasured quotes I have gathered from students concerning their improved self confidence and poise through bellydancing are: “I walk with more dignity,”, “After years of slouching, I have finally lifted my shoulders and walk proudly,”, “I feel like I walk like a queen now,”, “My chest and heart have opened up, I can love more.”

The strengthening effects of the earthy shimmies and grounded walking styles used in bellydance have an empowering effect too. They bring out a primal assertion in the body expression - clear and independent. Some dancers have said: “My feet are more earthed, I feel stronger,”  or that “the strength that bellydancing has given me has flowed into my personal life, “ and even “as I dance better, I communicate more clearly in relationships!” Co-ordination, symmetry and spatial awareness are elements of bellydancing that help improve confidence.

How it started

Bellydancing 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 like the  Hawaiian hula, Polynesian dance, African dance, 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, bellydance is linked with birthing, mainly due to its focus on the belly and hips. As a pre-natal exercise, bellydancing in its gentler forms strengthens the pelvic muscles and relaxes 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 help firm the pelvic muscles for labour 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.

How it has evolved

Where ever bellydance travelled to it began to reflect the local culture either through the moves or costume. Even if you don’t dress up in the entire gear, a hip scarf or belt is considered a must.

Styles of bellydance differ from region to region, from Egypt to Turkey. The shaabi is the street-style version, whereas the saidi is a classical Egyptian form. America has created its own tribal fusion bellydance and in India it has been infused with kathak and bharatanatyam.

How to do it

People feel that belly dancing is a very difficult dance form, but in reality it is nothing complicated. Also, there is a myth that it is only for women with thin waists and hips, which is also not true. Most of the moves can be performed by beginners and intermediate level dancers.

The key here is to break down each step and learn them individually. The entire move is perfected when all the steps it has been broken down to are learnt and done at one go. Once you are able to put them all together, you will have the beginnings of a belly dancing routine.


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