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This modified side plank requires lots of core strength

Technically speaking, strength is the capacity of a muscle to exert force against resistance. In belly dance we don’t hold weights (although I have a pair of zills the size of tea cup saucers that might count); the ‘resistance’ is often gravity or even the weight of our own bodies. Belly dance is therefore only light strength training, but having strength is important for maintaining good posture and for clean isolations.

What a strong belly dancer looks like: She always has good posture and alignment. Her isolations are clearly defined and she can perform them equally well slowly or quickly. Her core muscles can support movements with a large range of motion. She can easily transition from standing to floorwork.

You should work on your strength if you:

  • Have poor posture
  • Experience back pain during or after dancing
  • Want to be able to perform more advanced floorwork technique
  • Intend to perform back bends, especially transitioning to floorwork dropping through a back bend
  • Want to improve the precision and range of motion of isolations

A quick note: What’s the deal with isolations? Isolations, as I refer to them, are small, highly focused movements. These include the circles, waves, and eights of the hips, belly, torso, chest, and shoulders. Isolations are a product of coordination (your brain knowing and connecting to the right muscles at the right time), strength (those very small muscles having the power to move large sections of your body), and flexibility (those same muscles being able to stretch long enough to produce a wide range of motion). You need all three to have clean, precise isolation work.

Recognizing the Signs

1.) Your body seems to just deflate by the end of class. Your instructor is constantly reminding you to keep you chest lifted and your shoulders back. You experience lower back pain often while dancing, or perhaps even the next day.

Why: You don’t have enough core strength to support good posture and alignment, and to compensate other muscles are stepping in to do the work where they shouldn’t.

The Fix: Concentrate on good posture throughout your day, both at work and at home. Supplement your dancing with light weight training, yoga, pilates, or other core strength fitness routines (see below).

2.) You’d like to achieve greater extension with your torso movements (slides, circles, camels, back bends), but when you try to make your movements larger you feel off balance. Or, you can extend much further on one side than on the other.

Why: You don’t have enough core strength to support the movement (on either or both sides).

The Fix: Practice extending the movement to the point where you feel tension in the opposing muscle groups. Make sure you’ve maintained good posture and alignment. Hold in the extended position for ten seconds or until the muscle fatigues. Take a break and repeat.

3.) You’re working on an isolation that’s difficult for you. You vaguely feel like you can connect to the right muscle, but it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere when you ask it to move. It feels weak and heavy, like there’s an invisible wall preventing you from moving it.

Why: The muscle group you are trying to move is not strong enough to carry the weight you’ve asked it to carry (or you’re still having trouble connecting your brain to the right muscle, a coordination issue).

The Fix: The one’s the hardest to deal with, but as always practice can help. Visualize the muscle you’re trying to move, imagine it working. You might be able to place your hand on that muscle group to feel it when it contracts and releases. You might also try “isometric” (squeeze and release) contractions to help locate and strengthen.

Extra-curricular study: My favorite fitness programs to better my posture and and rev up my floorwork are yoga and TRX suspension training. Light weight lifting, core and abdominal exercises, and Pilates will work, too.

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Did you read my review of this three part series from World Dance New York? Interested in owning a copy? Here’s your chance, it’s a giveaway!

I’m giving away the entire series (Magic, Desire, Mystery) to one lucky winner. All you have to do is comment on my review below. It’s that simple!

Please note that I moderate comments before they appear on the page, so your comment may not appear immediately after you post. Contest closes Wednesday, February 15th at midnight. One comment/entry per household. Winner will be chosen at random using random.org, and notified with 24 hours by email. Winner has 24 hours to respond to the email, or a second winner will be chosen. Open to participants in the United States only.

I will not use your email address for anything else ever. Promise!

Bonus Giveaway!

Like or comment on my Facebook post about this review and you’ll be entered into the drawing for the Fantasy Belly Dance performance DVD! (See above for contest rules).

 

Update 2/16/12: Thank you to all that participated! The winners have been selected and mailed their DVDs.

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Look what I made this morning! What a great way to wish your favorite belly dancer a happy Valentine’s Day. Don’t forget to send them to your troupe mates and teacher, too!

This week only (Feb. 1st to Feb. 8th) I’m offering to send them to an email address of your choice, with your own personalized message:

*Promotion has ended. The Contact form has been removed.*

I’m also posting them, one at a time, on my Facebook page over the next few days. Like my page, then share them with you online Valentine’s, too!

There’s also a .pdf file in the “Cool Stuff!” tab so that you can print them out on your own!

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Thank you *xcutiner on DeviantART for allowing me to use the vector images.

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A review of the best dancin’ music of 2011 to suit a variety of tastes, just in time for the holidays! If you’re looking to expand your music collection check out this post as part of my ‘Best of 2011’ series.

Belly Dance Mirage

Ya Salam Orchestra

Style: Classic or vintage Egyptian Cabaret

Suitable for: Intermediate to Advanced dancers

Notes: This album has a definite vintage, sometimes even folkloric, feel to it. There’s a nice mix of routines, including a few drum solos and some traditional songs. These would make great routines for a more formal or ethnic venue.

Listen to it here

 

The King of Egyptian Tabla

Gamal Gomaa

Style: Egyptian Drum Solos

Suitable for: Low Intermediate to Advanced dancers

Notes: This is a nice collection of drum solos that stand out from the predictable, indistinct drumming that makes for great practice but might be a bit boring for the stage. Gamal Gomaa is truly a master percussionist and he fuses traditional and modern elements well.

Listen to it here

 

Boz in Oz

Jim Boz

Style: Fusion (Electronic)

Suitable for: Beginner through Advanced dancers

Notes: This album is an interestingly distinct fusion of eastern and western rhythms and elements with a definite electronic feel. It’s very powerful, and there’s a nice mix of slower and faster songs. This is perfect for Tribal or Tribaret work.

Listen to it here

 

Bellydance Superstars, Vol. 9

Various Artists

Style: Mixed (Egyptian pop, techno-arabic, fusion, sha’abi, classical, etc.)

Suitable for: Beginners to Advanced dancers

Notes: In the tradition of the Bellydance Superstars, there’s a little something for everyone here. I have to admit I think this is one of their better albums.

Listen to it here

 

Pulse of the Sphinx, Vol. 2

The Henkesh Brothers

Style: Egyptian Rhythm Drills

Suitable for: Beginners to Advanced dancers

Notes: This album is composed of 31 very short (1 to 2 minute) drum solos great for students learning their rhythms. For advanced dancers willing to edit their music, there’s the potential to string together a few tracks and integrate them into a routine.

Listen to it here

 

Let me know if you end up getting one. I’d like to hear your review! Or tell me if I missed something that should be on this list.

 

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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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I hear this question all the time:

“So will belly dance make me lose weight?”

It’s a complicated response, the answer is both yes and no.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of women are drawn to the dance by the weight loss marketing schemes adopted by many popular DVDs. The message is this: Shapely women with all the right curves belly dancing… buy this and join their ranks! So how come dancing to the video twice a week hasn’t made you lose weight? No wonder so many come to the conclusion “belly dance for weight loss just doesn’t work”.

But it does.

Belly dance is cardio and gentle strength training exercise. If you want to lose weight belly dancing, you’ll need to treat it like a proper workout regiment.

How to Belly Dance to Lose Weight:

  • Practice for at least three hours a week (that’s six half hour sessions, if you like!). The average woman will burn approximately 300 calories per hour, so this will add up to about 900 calories for the week or about 1/4 pound.
  • Make a playlist of your favorite dancing tunes. Hit play, start dancing, and don’t stop until your time is up. In a workout, you’re not necessarily practicing your technique in front of the mirror. The goal is to keep moving!
  • Traveling steps and layering your movements will burn more calories.
  • Don’t forget to use your arms! Keeping them up and switching positions means a better workout. For extra resistance, add a veil or heavy pair of finger cymbals.
  • Try a belly dance fitness or aerobics class. These are usually geared towards getting students to move and use large muscle groups. Technique classes often have a lot of down time.
  • Can you belly dance and do chores around the house? Hey if you have to vacuum, do dishes, or dust, why not add a shimmy to these activities? Workout + housework = more time to soak in the tub afterwards!
  • Try to reduce your calorie intake by about 300 calories per day. Make yourself aware of the serving sizes on the back of the packaging. Keep a food journal to keep track of your intake if necessary.
  • Supplement your belly dance workout with other exercise training. Light strength training with weights and yoga are great compliments.

What I Can Expect:

  • With a calorie reduction and regular practice, about one to two pounds of weight loss a week. Remember that weight loss over two pounds a week is not recommended by doctors.
  • Some toning in the abs, arms, and glutes, as these are the muscles used to produce the movements. Additional strength training, however, is needed to produce significant results. Belly dance is more effective as a cardio (think lose fat) rather than strength training (think tone muscles) exercise.
  • Better posture, coordination, and flexibility.

Including belly dance in your weight loss routine is a great choice. It’s fun and exciting, and can make sticking to a workout much easier. Remember that regular practice is necessary, and that the most effective plans will incorporate diet and other forms of exercise.

Some Related Myths:

  • Bellydance does NOT make your stomach stick out or make you gain weight.
  • You do NOT have to be thin, or young, or curvy, or (fill in your body image issue here) to belly dance. Women of all shapes and sizes can and do participate professionally.

What do you think? Has belly dancing helped you lose weight? Do you have some tips of your own? Please comment below!

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