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Spring has got to be the busiest time of year for bellydancers. The gigs, the workshops, and the shows can begin to take their toll on you physically and mentally if you’re not careful. Fortunately, with this arsenal of superfoods under your coined belt you have nothing to fear. Here’s my suggestions for 5 snacks that can keep up with you!

Chocolate: The before class pick-me-up

Let’s start things off right with chocolate. Dark chocolate, to be exact. Chocolate is packed with flavonoids, which can help lower blood pressure and also act as antioxidants. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, which trigger feelings of pleasure. It contains serotonin, an anti-depressant, and mild stimulants as well. It’s the perfect pick-me-up after a long day when you still gotta get to the studio!

The Snack: Try one or two squares of dark chocolate with five to eight almonds. The addition of heart-healthy nuts will provide long-lasting protein energy. Just be sure to only eat a little as both foods are high in calories. The point is to get big bang for your buck, since nobody wants to come to class and shimmy on a full stomach.

Mint Leaves: The stomach soother

Everyone’s experienced that queasy feeling in your stomach when you’ve gone a little too far with you veil spin drills. Or maybe you made the mistake of eating too soon before class. Chewing on mint promotes digestion, soothes indigestion, and reduces nausea and headache. Plus, it makes your breath minty fresh!

The Snack: You can now buy fresh mint leaves in the produce section of most grocery stores.  If you don’t want to chew on leaves, gum or breath mints with real mentha oil will work just as well. Don’t like the taste of mint? Try candied ginger for some of the same benefits.

Bananas: The post-shimmying replenishing fuel

Besides packing a healthy dose of vitamin B6 and vitamin C, bananas contain about 400 mg of potassium. Potassium is one of those important electrolytes that are often lost in workouts. It also helps prevent muscle cramping and soreness. And if that’s not enough, bananas are good for brain and bone health, too.

The Snack: Blend a banana with a cup of soy milk and one tablespoon of almond butter in a blender for a fruity nutty protein-packed treat! You can sweeten the drink with a tablespoon of honey, too.

Trail Mix: The classic in between gigs snack

So trail mix is probably not new to you, but it’s worth mentioning here because it does it’s job so well. Easy to store and take to shows and workshops, it’s also packed with antioxidants, heart healthy fats, and protein. Just be sure to eat only a little- it’s high in calories.

The Snack: I like to make my own trail mix to keep things new and exciting. There’s lots of great recipes on the internet with fresh combinations. You can go sweet, spicy, or tangy to suit your palette. Just be careful of salty, as you don’t want to dehydrate before going on stage. And watch out for sulfites and other preservatives in dried fruit.

Blueberries: Healthy daily living food

Blueberries are packed with anti-oxidants that help prevent cancer. They have also recently been linked to brain health and improved memory functioning. Plus, they retain a lot of their nutritional value even when frozen. As such, they are available for healthy snacking year round.

The Snack: I like blueberries with one of my other favorite foods- Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt has about twice as much protein as regular yogurt for just a small increase in calories. I mix blueberries into naturally sweetened (no sugar or corn syrup!) Greek yogurt and sprinkle chia seeds on top for an extra protein and anti-oxidant boost.

Happy snacking!

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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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