by Michelle Alexander (MiaNaja)
There are many articles about the benefits of belly dancing and Middle Eastern and North African dance in general on the Web. I got involved in belly dancing as a way to ease back pain and lose weight. I was seeing a Rolfer and after one of my sessions, I felt it was time I added exercise to my regimen. Seeing two brochures on the table in the waiting room, I asked her advice. Which one? Belly dancing or Yoga? She recommended belly dancing saying, “Since belly dancing strengthens your abdominals, it will strengthen your back, yoga might aggravate your condition.”
So off to class I went. Luckily, I had a wonderful teacher named Nefret, who was
encouraging and playful and had the class doing improvisations and moving freely as I
learned the wonderful, sensual art of belly dancing. I have since moved on to
other teachers, certification programs and even winning competitions! I have
become a dance teacher myself and now direct two troupes. I have also become
certified in SharQui ™ the ONLY fitness certified belly dancing program and became a
fitness instructor through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA).
Belly dancing, also known as Middle Eastern/North African dance, is low impact. It is good for women of all shapes and sizes. Unlike other dance forms, it does not require leaping, hyperextension of joints, or abrupt movements. Fusion may incorporate ballet, modern dance, hip hop or other forms into belly dancing, but Raks Sharki (translated from Arabic meaning Oriental dance) uses movements natural to a woman’s body. But don’t think there is not an aerobic component. You can easily break a sweat shimmying in place for 5-10 minutes.
According to Shira, belly dance instructor and author of Healing Through Oriental Dance, belly dance can promote good health by promoting better circulation, facilitating weight loss, reducing blood pressure, and improving joint health.
Morocco, a noted belly dancer, writer and expert in the art and culture of the dance for over 40 years, wrote an article, "Belly Dancing and Childbirth”, published first in 1964 in "Sexology" and numerous other magazines and papers over the years. Committed to the preservation of Raks Sharki, she writes:
“Oriental dancing, as the Arabs themselves call it, is one of the oldest forms of dance, originating with pre-Biblical religious rites worshiping motherhood and two of its movements (the only two actually done with the abdominal muscles) have as their practical side the preparation of females for the stresses of childbirth. Thus it is also, in a way, the oldest form of natural childbirth instruction."
According to Farab Firdoz, a dancer from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, this use of the dance was still performed in the less Westernized parts of her country in the 1950s, around the bedside of a woman in childbirth, by a circle of her fellow tribeswomen. In this ritualistic form men are not allowed to watch it. The purpose here is to hypnotize the woman in labor into an imitation of the movements with her own body. This greatly facilitates the birth and reduces pain from womb contractions. It helps the mother to move with, instead of against ,the contractions.” (Go to www.casbahdance.com to read the article in its entirety.)
However, contrary to information that is often promoted on the Web and the radio by certain teachers who offer workshops on sexual performance/healing linked to belly dancing, there is no medical evidence or published research that supports the idea that belly dancing cures fibroid tumors, increases fertility or heals the uterus. (I had fibroids grow for nine years while teaching and performing as a belly dancer and eventually had a hysterectomy.) But because of the years of dancing, I was released from the hospital early
and healed faster.
Belly dancing can be a fun way to get in shape and maintain health, but how do you get started? First, you have to get a good teacher.
Choosing a Teacher
When selecting an instructor be aware that the right teacher can help you reach your goals, and the wrong one can hinder your progress. Here are some suggestions on how to select an instructor:
If you have a friend who dances and you like how they look and dance, ask for a referral to good teachers. Make sure to explain what you are looking for. Shira.net has an abundance of listings, also look for meetups and belly dancing Association websites. Some have Yahoo groups as well. Ask to observe a class or take a sample class. Many teachers offer the first class free. Some health clubs offer the SharQui ™ Belly dancing workout, or classes, so look there also.
A good teacher will:
If you can't find a local teacher who suits the above criteria, you can still learn to dance through video and other resources online such as online classes offered by dancers like Amaya of New Mexico, Suhaila Salimpour and Dalia Carella.
You can also attend workshops that encourage new dancers to attend and go to retreats like Amaya’s Wise Woman retreat which combines dance instruction with relaxing travel to New Mexico and only has about 15-20 participants which provides more close instruction.
A Word of Caution
Avoid these movements if you are taking dance classes for healing or have certain physical limitations:
MiaNaja is the the Director of MiaNaja Productions and creative director of the Award winning MiaNaja Oriental Danse
Ensemble and the Raks Divas. An award winning performer, national workshop instructor, competition Judge,
choreographer and event producer, MiaNaja enjoys collaborating with other instructors and exploring new aspects of the dance while preserving its culture.