Belly dance is an ancient dance, but it has not yet entered the mainstream psyche of the fitness industry. While salsa, hip-hop, ballet, and even pole dancing are popular enough to have exercise studios in strip malls all over the country, belly dance still retains an underground, mystical aura. However, that is probably about to change. The belly dance world has it’s superstars who have perfected their art with the same devotion as any other dance and gained a strong following of students all over the globe. Online classes, access to local instructors, and large events contribute to a growing group of belly dancers who practice and use it for fitness on a regular basis.
This dance form is different from other types of dance exercise. It is decidedly feminine and every movement is tailored for the female body. Rather than coercing women to engage in awkward and difficult movements such as sit-ups, belly dance allows women to move naturally within the female physique. Dances are based in comfortable “home postures” and from these natural positions emphasis is then placed on awareness, strengthening, and coordination of individual muscles. The focus is obviously on abdominal muscles, but attention is also given to side obliques, chest, neck muscles, glutes, and arms. Movements are encouraged to be strong yet fluid. A large part of belly dance training is becoming aware of and controlling precise muscles.
Although there is little emphasis on cardio training in belly dance, many instructors expect students to exert themselves enough to create a sweat. The real physical benefits come from the beautiful movements that are specific to this dance form. Undulations focus on moving every abdominal muscle either up to down, or down to up, thus creating stomach muscle tone. Maya Hips and Figure Eights build beautiful waists by training side oblique muscles. Snake Arm movements train arms to move gracefully and with attention to arm muscles most women don’t even realize they possess. Shimmies are an advanced movement relying on exquisitely loose hips coupled with rapid knee movements. These moves are a few of the basics of belly dance, but there are many others for a student to learn. All of them create strong muscle definition, body control, and enable a vigorous workout.
There are several different belly dance styles and the potential student can research which one an instructor teaches before they choose a class. The style most people think of when they consider belly dance is Classic Egyptian. These are the big, luscious, movements like wide hip circles and rolling chest and belly moves. Shimmies are also usually incorporated into the Classic Egyptian style. Drums feature prominently in the music of this dance. Costumes are traditional long skirts, bras, and colorful embellishment.
Tribal Fusion is a modern style of belly dance that is quickly gaining popularity. The focus is on fluid strength, intricate movements, and flexibility. Movements consist of back bends, highly detailed and strong muscle movements, and serpentine moves. Costumes are gothic inspired, often dark, and usually more formfitting than Classic Egyptian in order to enable the audience to see the intricate movements of the dancer’s body.
There are many other types of belly dance, but most are similar to either Classic Egyptian or Tribal Fusion. Becoming familiar with these two styles is a good way to learn of others.
Most belly dance classes require little in gear or preparation. Authentic practice clothes consist of fitted yoga pants with an attached skirt just long enough to cover the back side. Tops are usually halter or something that allows midriff exposure. It’s important to be able to view the belly while learning the dance moves. These items can usually be found online and are often labeled simply “belly dance pants” with accompanying tops. However, a basic pair of yoga pants and sports top will work well in most class settings.
This beautiful dance is perfect for almost any female body and any shape. The adherence to the natural curves and build of the female form encourages a work out with little stress yet strong enough to get the heart pumping and lose pounds. The muscle tone resulting from a belly dance routine is strong and undeniably feminine. It is a fantastic way for women to lose weight and build the body they wish to have.