Jan 8, 2013

Belly Dancing for Beginners

I have been belly dancing at home with DVDs for years, on and off. Let me just say, right now, that using DVDs at home and taking an actual class with an instructor IS SO VERY DIFFERENT. And BETTER, of course. If you have a real interest it behooves you to have someone to critique you so that you can learn and improve (and not hurt yourself). Taking a class also throws you into one of the greatest communities of people that I have ever come across. Dancing brings joy and belly dancers are full of it!

So, here I am coming up on my first ever performance in a couple of weeks and I thought I would share some information that I found useful for all of the potentials out there. It's pretty basic, but good to know.

Ten Tips for Belly Dance Students By Shemiran Ibarhim © 2007

1. Breathe & feel the moment
Breathe through the movement; keep your attention in your feet, your belly, your pelvis and your breath. Stay in the moment by living in your belly and pelvis, feeling your feet on the ground and sensing your breath flow past your nostrils and your lips.

2. Relax your lips
Part your lips sensually. Don’t clench your jaw or your mouth, stay loose. This will also help you to breathe out of your mouth and in through your nose, allowing for a bigger exhalation through the mouth and a deeper inhalation – refilling and re-energising your every move. Also, keep your tongue connected to the roof of your mouth; according to ancient Taoism, this keeps your energy flowing up and down your body. Try it especially when you are feeling blocked.

3. Let go of tension
Think loosey goosey! Watch yourself in your body; are you tensing up all the time? If you’re not having fun in class you’re missing the whole point. If you stress in your mind you will tense up in your body. Make joy your first focus and some magic will then happen with your movement; it will flow easier and feel better. Beautiful Belly Dance not only looks good, it feels good.

4. Watch your mind
Start challenging your negative self-talk. This is a key to open up a door to your true feminine beauty. Read the Emotional Aspects of Learning Belly Dance to help you on your learning journey.

5. Dance without ambition or competition
As Rosina-Fawzia Al-Rawi says in her illuminating and heart warming book Belly Dancing; Unlock the secret power of an ancient dance; “Dance without ambition or competition”. Judgment of self and others is such a joy killer. If these thoughts come up for you, pay no attention and shift your focus onto better things, like how it feels to have your feet on the ground, are you holding your posture up correctly, or simply listen to the music and lose yourself in it.

6. Create community
Make friends, don’t isolate yourself in class. Get to know like-spirited women from your community. This will bring bigger meaning to your dance.

7. Dress up
Buy some affordable jewellery to compliment your hip scarf, or a flowing gypsy skirt and any other additions that will add colour and spice and increase your interest. Costuming is a big part of the Belly Dance experience. Feel like a little girl again! Please note that if you wear skirts to tuck them into your waistband so that your teacher can still see your knees and feet; the base of all your movements!

8. Really learn the feet, they are your foundation
Don’t brush over the feet as unimportant. They are your very foundation on top of which your hips and whole body depend, like the base of a pyramid holding up the entire structure. Feel the earth with your feet, live in your feet.

9. Ask questions
Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your teacher, it always serves everyone. And remember, you are a paying customer!

10. Soak in Arabic music
Get into the music, buy CD’s and listen to them all week. As a beginner, start with slower rhythms, then graduate to the faster tracks.While we know for certain that belly dancing is fun, it has other favourable side effects as well. Below are two articles that describe the impact on belly dancing on your physical health.

The Health Benefits of Belly Dancing by Sheri Waldrop

Raks Sharki, also called belly dance, is a form of dance that many are familiar with. But few understand the effects it has on the human body. The graceful hip drops, rolls, and pivots of this dance form utilize muscle groups in the abdomen, pelvis, trunk, spine, and neck, working with the body instead of against it. Unlike ballet, which can potentially alter and deform the skeleton, or other dance forms that work against rather than with the body's physical inclinations, raks sharki is based on movements that come naturally to the female form. There is a wealth of health benefits awaiting those who practice this form of dance.

Improved posture and muscle toning -

Our spinal column contains more bones and ligaments than any other part of the body. Its 33 vertebrae are stacked together in a column joined together by cartilage and ligaments, and almost every movement of the torso depends upon its flexibility and function. Muscle groups that attach to the ligaments and vertebrae create movement in the trunk and pelvis areas. Raks sharki tones these muscles and maintains flexibility in a safe and effective manner.

During the dance, the movements of hip drops, circles, figure eights, and shimmies put the joints and ligaments in the lower back and hip through a full range of gentle, repetitive motion. This movement helps increase the flow of synovial fluid (nature's lubricant) in these joints. When movements are done properly, the pelvis is tipped forward, or tucked somewhat; a neutral position that can help prevent lower back problems. Raks sharki can help relieve stress to the back, counteracting the almost constant compression of the disks that occurs from sitting and a sedentary lifestyle.

These toned muscles improve posture and help prevent back pain that can be caused by the unnatural curving forward of the spine that occurs when muscle groups are weak (lordosis). Small muscle groups deep in the back that are normally under-exercised are used and strengthened. The muscles surrounding the hip, the largest joint in the body, are used and exercised during hip drops, and figure eights, enhancing flexibility and suppleness. Improved hip flexibility can lead to improved balance when walking as well.

Arms and Shoulders are exercised when doing lifts, circles, or the rippling motions of snake arms, toning muscle. This toning effect is often evident early on, since holding the arms aloft are an important element of the dance, even for beginners.

Because a woman is on her feet, moving during the dance, it is considered a weight-bearing exercise. Weight-bearing exercise can prevent osteoporosis and strengthen bones, and the overall toning can lead to an improved self-image, as the dancer becomes more balanced and poised. Raks sharki is considered a low-impact exercise, meaning the risk of injury is minimal when movements are done correctly. The benefits of belly dance can be enjoyed by women of all ages; men and children are participating in the dance as well, and reaping the same benefits.

Weight loss -

According to Dr. Carolle Jean-Murat, M.D., raks sharki can burn up to 300 calories per hour. This estimate will vary, of course, depending on the intensity of your dancing. Combined with a healthy diet that involves sensible eating, raks sharki can without a doubt be part of a sound weight loss program.

Many dance classes take place only once or twice a week. For even better results and enhanced cardiovascular benefits, try combining the flexibility and muscle strengthening of raks sharki with an aerobic routine, such as swimming or bike riding, on the days you don't have class. Your entire body will feel the benefits as the aerobic exercise works large muscle groups, and the dance enhances strength and coordination of small muscle groups in the trunk, hips, and arms. Also, many exercise physiologists recommend doing just such a routine: alternating one form of exercise with another, for maximum benefits.

Preparation for childbirth -

The movements of raks sharki make an excellent prenatal exercise regimen that strengthens the muscles used during the childbirth process. The toned abdominal muscles and natural hip tucks, which are similar to the "pelvic rocking" taught during prenatal classes, teach the expectant mother how to move her pelvis. For women who desire natural childbirth, this form of exercise through dance, with its emphasis on muscle control not only facilitates natural childbirth, but also makes an excellent post-natal exercise that helps encourage abdominal tone. During those first weeks after giving birth, when caution is needed while healing from the birth process, these movements work the muscles gently and effectively, if done very gradually.

Stress reduction-

In this day and age of almost continuous stress, the subtle rhythms of raks sharki and the traditional movements are calming. The repetitive movements of the dance and the concentration needed to do them can help a mind filled with daily stress to "let go" for a while and relax. It's hard to worry about deadlines at work when you are thinking about getting that next drop just right, or while making sure that you are in time with the music.

One effect of stress is that our bodies tense up, causing contractions or spasms in muscle groups, such as those in the neck, shoulders, or back. When a muscle is contracted, lactic acid builds up, causing the "soreness" or pain that occurs. Blood flow to the affected muscles decreases as well.

Raks sharki, on the other hand, gently stretches and uses these vulnerable muscle groups, and as they are utilized, blood flow increases and lactic acid is flushed away. Stressed muscles relax as they are gently exercised, relieving the "clenched" muscles often seen in our society. The body becomes supple and limber, and practitioners frequently report that pain diminishes in the back and neck areas.

Raks sharki is a fun, healthy way to exercise. It can be a creative outlet that conditions, tones, and allows a woman to tune into the natural movements of her body. It can refresh, relax, and/or exhilarate. So why wait? Find out where classes are held locally, or visit to look up a class and join in this centuries old dance!

Advisory: Many doctors have suggested belly dancing classes as part of rehabilitation from injury; it is, however, important to check with your own medical provider before starting any new form of exercise, especially if you are over 40, pregnant or have medical problems. Most injuries related to "overdoing" for the beginner can be avoided by warming the muscles first and by remembering to do some basic stretching afterward. Listen to your body's signals. Raks sharki, or belly dance, is a wonderful and gentle way to begin to condition your body.

Belly-Dance is good for you by Angelique

Many people are surprised to learn that Middle-Eastern Dance, commonly known as "belly-dance," involves much more than the belly! In fact, belly-dance can benefit many parts of the body. Here are some of the health benefits of Middle-Eastern Dance:

Exercising the carrying muscles without impact. A belly-dancer uses her quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes to hold her steady as she performs hip movements or travels smoothly across the floor. However, even though she gets a great lower-body workout, the amount of impact to her knees and ankles is minimal. Impact is measured not only by how hard our feet strike the ground, but by how much stress is placed on our joints. Using this measure, most of Middle-Eastern dance is considered non-impact; some tribal and folk dances are low-impact.

Building the back muscles evenly. Belly-dancers use their torsos a lot-much more than ballet, modern or tap dancers. Only jazz dancers come close to our use of rib movements and undulations. These movements, coupled with shoulder movements, exercise the back muscles, and they exercise the muscles evenly. Strong back muscles prevent back injuries, and they promote good posture as well.

Exercising the arms. New belly-dance students are always surprised by much they have to use their arm muscles. Belly-dancers have to hold their arms up for long periods of time, and it actually takes quite a lot of strength to perform arm movements slowly and gracefully.

Aiding digestion. It's true! Exercising the abdominal area, not just by rolling the belly, but also by swaying the torso, helps food move along the digestive system. Any form of exercise will have this effect to some degree, but belly-dance is especially good for this purpose.

There you go friends! Some awesome information if you have ever considered getting into belly dance! It's fun and good for you. What else do you need to know? ;)

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