I have long been intrigued by belly dancing. It is such a glorious practice and one I have secretly hoped to master. Knowing this about me, one of my besties back in the day and midwifery-sister, Frannie Merritt, bought me a coin scarf which I only ever jingled in private, anticipating some day I would commit to learning a few moves. I've really dove into yoga and am coming along in my practice, so as I start to focus a bit more on my core strength, I thought this might be the perfect way to work one's core back into shape!
Today, I signed up for a Belly Dancing course through OMDaily and was not in the least bit disappointed - at least in the class. I was somewhat disappointed in my performance, but I am always up for a challenge, and a challenge this will definitely be!
Many years ago, sixteen years ago actually as I remember I was pregnant with my third child, I attended a Waterbirth International conference in Chicago and as part of our dinner event, a group of professional belly dancers entertained us, and truly, if you haven't had this opportunity, put it on your date list now. What a delight!
A few years later, and yet again, another pregnancy, a midwifery assistant of mine invited a professional belly dancer to a baby shower she hosted for my fifth child. We had opportunity to take a short lesson and what fun we all had! There is just enough fitness challenge combined with dance, and class, and of course, a jingling coin skirt - what's not to love!?!
Journey to the Middle East
I've always loved exploring other cultures and belief practices, learning from the perspectives of others, and of course, traveling is a huge passion of mine, so while a bit trapped in my home through this pandemic, I thought this was the perfect time to jump into an online belly dancing course and really commit to my core. Keep in mind, I did complete a workshop on #diactasis recti this past year, which helped secure my core so that progressing into these challenges is safe and effective.
Belly dancing is said to have initiated in the Middle East and Africa, and then moving and evolving into western cultures as both a form of cultural dance and exotic entertainment. The first women to have practiced this dance were gypsies in Egypt in the 18th century, but were banished from Cairo during the 1830s. They continued to travel and share dancing throughout Europe, which we find in many art pieces. It grew quickly in popularity and established itself in the United States in the 60s and 70s, when women were opening themselves up more as free spirits.
At its introduction in the United States, the dance had quite the reputation as a sensual dance, and wester women worked hard to reinvent it as a woman-focused dance that was performed in conjunction with female celebrations such as childbirth, fertility rituations, and new-age Goddess worship. Belly dancing has always embodied both motherhood and fruitfulness, so that in some cultures, it was believed if women did not perform this dance, the human race would die.
Dance of Isolation
While belly dancing is very showy in style and even costuming, I am learning it is very much about developing a discipline for isolating movement. Jazz dancers and even those in ballet will often also learn belly dancing for enhancing this technique specifically. Today for example, my own lesson was on isolating the gluteus muscle, so while it may look as if one is shaking their hips, in fact, they are squeezing their gluteus muscle, and it was quite the workout!
Common movements are the shimmy, undulations, and hip hits - but consider that the hip hits are sharp and quick pulsations of the hips moving out from the body, which looks as if the pelvis is swinging, but it is actually the weight of the legs pulsing quickly in the alternation that creates the hip illusion.
The core muscles of a belly dancer's body executes each movement, as opposed to the use of external muscles alone. The majority of movements come from the hip and pelvic region; however, isolation of the shoulders and chest are also vital to a fluid-looking performance. This dancing practice strengthens the abdominals, thighs, calves, arms, back, buttocks, and hips. Under-exercised muscles, which are otherwise hard to tone via traditional methods, respond rapidly to belly dancing.
This dancing practice can also correct posture which is critical for core strength. Certainly it has to be one of the more enjoyable exercises for improving this area of the body, particularly during pregnancy. You can learn belly dancing for fun, entertainment, or fitness - but I encourage you to give it a try. I am forty-five years old, mother of six kids, and not in the best shape of my life, but progressing. I very much enjoyed my experience today although it was far from graceful. I'll improve and stepping outside my comfort zone is great for challenging the body in new ways, as well as your mind.