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Archive for November, 2011

Never miss a chance to pause life for a moment and be thankful for all that you have. I know many will be doing just this when they reconnect with family members and celebrate the holidays in the coming weeks.

But don’t neglect the little day to day opportunities to check in with yourself, either. For me belly dancing can be an interlude to the typical chaos in my life, and I feel fortunate that I’m able to set aside a few hours a week to focusing on what my body needs. I’m also grateful that belly dance has introduced me to many beautiful, wise, and inspiring women I would never have known, and now I can call them my friends.

Join us on Monday, November 28th for a little bellydancing festivities on “Dance off the Turkey Day”.  This is a chance to celebrate all that our bodies can do, and to be thankful for the benefits of dancing during a physically and mentally exhausting time of year. Classes for students will be held as regularly scheduled, with Bellyrobics (7:30 to 8:00pm) open to any and all participants. We’ll be at the Marlborough House studio on 9 Ling St. as usual. Free giveaways to all participants and a few surprises, too!

So what is on your belly dance thanksgiving list? What are you grateful to have or be?

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Photograph by Chris Willis

There’s a reason that dance is found in every culture. Modern science has only begun to examine the physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual benefits that have held intuitive value in human society throughout all history. In short, dancing makes you a better human being in body, mind, and soul.

The General Benefits of Dance

You probably know that dance, like many aerobic activities, is great for burning calories and toning muscles. Unlike a standard gym equipment workout, however, practitioners also work on balance, coordination, and flexibility. These forms of conditioning are essential to creating better body awareness, improving posture, and preventing injury. This powerful fitness combination is an effective booster for heart health, immune system response, hormone regulation, and blood circulation. That is why…

  • Dancers have brighter, clearer skin. A benefit of better circulation and enhanced oxygen to skin cells. Maximize your skin’s potential by drinking lots of water especially before, during, and after dance class. Slough off dead skin cells regularly in the shower with a loofah and gentle exfoliant.
  • Dancers sleep better. Whole-body health and wellness is associated with an increased ability to follow natural cycles. For the best sleep, try for at least a half hour of dance or other physical activity every day. Do not dance just before bedtime, though.

Dance is mentally stimulating, as well. Having to synchronize the movements of different muscle groups improves motor skills. The aesthetics of the art are tied to spatial geometry, and the practitioner must be aware of and learn to create shapes and lines with their bodies. This is why it’s hard to be bored in dance class, and it’s also why…

  • Dancers have good memory. Mental alertness and functioning is stimulated during a time when increased oxygen is being delivered to brain cells. Be sure to challenge yourself both physically and mentally with your dance practice and change up your routine as often as you can. If you normally improvise, try creating a choreography (and vice versa). Take apart your go-to combinations and create some new ones.

Dance is a well recognized form of psychotherapy used primarily for its ability to promote healthy body image, positive social interactions, and confidence. It is also a notable form of stress relief and management. These benefits are especially important to the modern woman, who is bombarded by unrealistic standards of female beauty by mainstream media. Moms are the new unsung superheros of today, expected to fulfill roles both within and without the domestic sphere. Many women are drawn to dance for its social and emotional benefits, and it’s also why…

  • Dancers make better decisions. Stress is linked to procrastination and impulsiveness, both of which can lead to making poor choices. A person of healthy mind is better able to weigh the facts and consequences, and is more likely to give up immediate satisfaction for long-term benefit. For dancers this is especially true with body-related decisions such as wearing a seat belt, choosing not to smoke, and practicing safe sex.

Did you know… that there are ‘dancer’ genes? A study published in the American Journal by psychologist Richard P. Ebstein and colleagues revealed that dancers consistently differed from the general public at two key gene locations. Interestingly enough, these genes had little to do with physical ability. Instead they were associated with a personality that tends to communicate through symbolism, and to attach a ceremonial or spiritual connection to this communication.

The Unique Benefits of Belly Dance

Within the spheres of different dances there are unique benefits. Belly dance emphasizes fine articulation of the core, pelvis, and gluteal muscle groups. These are stimulated in several ways. Movements like shimmies utilize a rapid contraction and release mechanism, while circles and eights tend to elongate and strengthen muscles simultaneously. This is why..

  • Belly dancers digest better. We move muscles of the abdominal and pelvis region which massages deeper internal organs. The result is better intestine and colon health. Remember, though, to leave at least an hour or two after eating before you practice. Having food content in the stomach while dancing can make one nauseous!
  • Belly dancers have less intense menstrual cramps. Strengthening of pelvic muscle groups and improvements in blood circulation help prevent cramps over time. However, practicing belly dance can also relieve cramps when they occur. It’s even recommend by the Kotex brand.
  • Belly dancers experience less back pain. Back pain is now reported by over 80% of adults, and the numbers continue to increase as our lives become increasingly sedentary. Relief can be found, however, by strengthening the deep core muscles that cushion and support the spine. This is why it is especially important to always practice with good posture, otherwise dancing may instead aggravate an existing back condition.
  • Belly dancers experience easier child-birth. Belly dance has been used in Arabic cultures to condition women for child birth for hundreds of years. Studies now confirm that belly dance, through its strengthening and lengthening of the pelvic floor muscles, is in fact great pre and post natal exercise. Increased blood circulation to these regions also delivers more oxygen to the developing fetus. Women who are pregnant, or who plan to become pregnant, should consult their doctor first to make sure belly dance as a prenatal exercise is appropriate for their body.

Questions for YOU!

What benefits were you hoping to gain when you started practicing belly dance?

What benefits did you actually notice when you started belly dancing?

Disclaimer: So you might have noticed that I made a few generalizations in this article. It’s important to remember that the benefits of ‘movement therapy’ can only be experienced with a commitment to regular, continued practice. While most people will certainly experience some of these benefits, they are not likely to experience them all. This guide is meant to alert you to many of the potential benefits of belly dancing, allowing you to create a practice that serves your needs best.

References and Further Information:

  1. al Musa, M. (2011). Birth preparation using belly dance. Women and Birth, 24, S29-S30.
  2. Belly dancing can help beat back pain. (Aug2010).Dance Dynamic, 11.
  3. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2006, February 13). Are Dancers Genetically Different Than The Rest Of Us? Yes, Says Hebrew University Researcher. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 6, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2006/02/060213183707.htm
  4. Moore, C. (Spring2005). BELLY DANCE & BIRTH. Midwifery Today, (73), 28-29.
  5. Moreside, J. M., Vera-Garcia, F. J., & McGill, S. M. (2008). Neuromuscular independence of abdominal wall muscles as demonstrated by middle-eastern style dancers. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 18(4), 527-537.
  6. Orecklin, M. (2002). SHAKIN’ ALL OVER. Time, 160(18), 56.
  7. Shephard, R. J., & Balady, G. J. (1999). Exercise as Cardiovascular Therapy. Circulation, 99(7), 963 -972. doi:10.1161/01.CIR.99.7.963

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Photograph by: D. Sharon Pruitt

So you probably had lots of good reasons for becoming interested in belly dance… it’s graceful, beautiful, and powerful. It’s great for burning calories and toning muscles. It teaches coordination and body awareness. It’s fun and exciting.

But I think we all have to admit that somewhere, deep down inside maybe, we were all pulled in at least a little by the glitter, the glitz, and the BLING!

So here’s your comprehensive guide to the most popular belly dance accessory, the hip scarf. Everything you need to know from buying to tying one (and keeping it up through those shimmies!).

Hip Scarf History

Coined scarves as a belly dance accessory were invented in the States sometime in the early seventies. They are not folkloric, but are instead a modern costuming element. Cabaret dancers generally wear scarves with coins, beads, and/or fringe. We’ll mostly be covering these in this guide rather than the wraps adorned with fringe, tassels, shells, brooches or talismans, feathers, and synthetic flowers that Tribal dancers often wear.

Selecting a Good Hip Scarf

  • Coins are sewn on with abandon! They should be plentiful and dense, sounding like a rain stick when you shimmy your hips.
  • Coins are relatively thick and heavy, not aluminum foil thin.
  • Seams are edged twice, threads holding coins are thick or doubled. The reason coins fall off prematurely is that their sharp edges can wear the threads out. Make sure they’ll hold up.
  • The fabric is of a decent weight and quality. Chiffon often lasts longer than velvet, which tends to stretch out.
  • Color is of course your choice and preference (but black or white tend to get boring).
  • Shape is also your preference, but rectangular ones tend to make hips look curvier and triangular ones less so.

Tying and Keeping it on

  • Hold the hip scarf at your waist from the top edge. Gather the fabric from the bottom up to the top. Tie in a double knot. Push the hip scarf down to you hips (tying at the waist and not the hips will keep it on through those shimmies).
  • You can tie it on the side or in the center, but most people prefer it over the right or left hip.
  • Layering a fringe scarf underneath your coin scarf provides even more color, texture, and movement to your look.

Caring for your Hip Scarf

  • Always fold the scarf with coins in to protect them from snagging.
  • Repair any loose threads, and re-sew loose coins when they fall (pick them up when it happens!).
  • You shouldn’t try to wash a hip scarf. If necessary, you can mist lightly with vodka and hang to dry. This should take out any odors caused by bacteria left from sweat.

My Favorite Online Retailers for Hip Scarves

Hope you found this helpful. Let me know where YOU like to get your hip scarves.

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