Belly Dance Technical Forum

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Last addition: December 2008

I have been building up my back through easy exercise. I am hoping now to find something to further my healing journey. Will belly dancing help to develop my stomach muscles along with my lower and upper back.
— submitted by Carolyn

Dear Carolyn,

First of all, it is very important to understand the proper alignment of your body for belly dance. When done correctly, belly dance is good for your back. Done incorrectly, it can play havoc. I know I learned incorrectly and after a year of performing and not being able to walk, I had to relearn everything! It helped me be a good teacher! Basic alignment is explained in detail on the Instructional program Absolute Beginning Belly Dance with Delilah, on DVD or video. We’ve included diagrams and even more information on the companion WEB CLUB 101.

Making sure you engage your buttocks while dancing is important to relieve lower back stress. Tighten those checks more consciously!

Next, yes, having strong stomach muscles is very important for all movement and proper back support. Many people think veil work is a hand and wrist thing, but even good veil work comes from the belly. Knowing how to move your belly empowers your life! Everyone should be doing belly yoga at an early age. The yogis call it the immortal exercise, the key to lasting health and vitality. If young girls learned belly rolls, and then practiced them every day, I’m convinced women wouldn’t have so many female problems and hysterectomies. Ignorance and neglect of our own bodies create the disease. Men actually have an easier time. Perhaps because they are less hung up physically. For example, men know they don’t have to wear shirts in public, but girls are taught to cover up. That simple psychological darkness makes it difficult for us, as women, to know and understand ourselves.

Reminder:

Sitting at computers all day is not helping our abdominal strength whatsoever!

— Delilah


What's the purpose of warming up and cooling down? I know it is very important, I just don't exactly understand why.
— submitted by Gina

Good question Gina.

Often times, belly dancers are lax about taking this seriously. When you go to a hafla and you see dancers on stage for 5-7 minutes, I seriously doubt many of them have warmed up effectively. You really don’t get to that peek performance levels without a good warm up. There is often no place to really do much of a warm up. In my club years I did a ritual warm up in the dressing room that facilitated the first 3 parts of the warm up mentioned below. Then, the first part of my 5-7 part routine continued in acceleration, but I never considered myself really pumped until after the veil section where all the best and most extended dynamic stretching would take place (part 2 of my routine and about 6-11 minutes into it). At that point, I could really shimmy, move fast, do strong floor work, back bends, a Turkish drop, and drum solos. I could never do those things in the first 7 minutes of a performance. My 9/8 finale — and friendly reprise through the audience — was a slowing down, cooling process. Then I would enter the cramped dressing room, wiggle out of my wet costume and sweat profusely into a towel. I’d pace back and forth and stretch out a bit and drink a lot of water which the waitress was always good to bring me. I did not feel like eating anything for at least an hour, but a nice cold beer with lemon tasted mighty good . . . probably very bad advise. Ahh, but those were the days and that’s what I did.

A good warm up is important so you don’t injure yourself while doing more strenuous activities. Everyone should do a gentle warm up when first getting up in the morning. The most important aspect in a warm up is to proceed gradually and mindfully. Remember, it’s called a “warm up” because you are increasing your internal core and muscle temperature, allowing the muscles and tendons to soften and be more elastic.

WARM UP

1. Mind and Breath

Begin all warm ups by engaging your mind with your breath. Let go of the mind chatter and turn your mind’s eye toward actively focusing on your every movement. Breathing deeply and completely into the full lungs (the back and lower parts of the lungs are important and rarely opened by the average American, say the tai chi experts). This allows for a rich mix of oxygen to move into the bloodstream and service our bodies by replenishing, and carrying away waste products. As our activity increases, our heart will beat faster to meet the demands.These processes will be accelerated. By conscious engagement of mind and breath, we strengthen our efficiency.

2. Gradual Increase of Bodily Awareness

Make general and gradual increases in movement of all the muscle groups. Example: Walking, loose shakes and swings of extremities, twists, reaches and pulls, easy jog, skips. . .

3. Balanced Stretch of all Groups

Stretch all muscle groups for 5-10 minutes. This relaxes and lengthens muscle tissue. Don’t bounce, jar or be distracted by such things as soap operas, radio dramas, homework, lectures or news reports while warming and stretching. Your exercise time should be mindfully engaged, or why bother?

4. Prepare for Goals

Move on to sports related activities. Hip circles, figure eights, swivels, rib cage and shoulder rolls, deep belly rolls, shimmys, knee bends and strengthening and balance exercises, sit ups, back bends.

5. Increase ability

Dynamic stretching is a gradual increase to a faster, stronger, deeper and more emotional range of movement. Veil work, traveling, spins, twists, pinwheel turns are all dynamic belly dance movements. Be sure and raise the arms over the heart to increase heart rate. Don’t forget to breathe!

COOL DOWN

A cool down is just as important in avoiding injury and post exercise pain and soreness. During exercise, your body undergoes stress to muscle fibers, tendons and ligaments. The process involves breaking down muscles to allow lengthening and strengthening. Fats are burned as fuel and the body releases, filters and carries away waste products. The cool down is designed to repair as well as to ease and distribute the lactic acids that build up in the bloodstream. Too much lactic acid in the muscles is called “blood pooling” and is responsible for the next day’s muscle soreness.

1. 10-15 minute reduction of activity

Reduce gradually with a simple version of the workout you have been practicing, reducing your heart rate back to normal.

2. General Stretch

Hit all the muscle groups and counter stretch any areas you worked especially hard.

3. Refuel.

Take slow, deep breaths and drink lots of water and eat easily digestible foods.

— Delilah

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