here has recently been an explosion in fitness options with the surging popularity of new exercise formats such as Zumba ®, Birkram or hot yoga, barefoot running and even pole dancing. But how about trying something older? Much older. We cannot accurately say exactly when or where belly dance originated. However we do know that it was introduced to America during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair by dancers from the Middle East. The dancers did not call it belly dance; their promoter did to make it sound more intriguing to the passersby. In the 1970s, our country saw a resurgence of interest in the dance form on the west coast. Popularity grew into the vibrant belly dance culture we see in the United States today. And belly dance is currently very popular here in Baltimore. Traditionally, belly dance is performed primarily by women and is structured specifically to showcase the female form. This makes it a great option for women of every shape, size and level of health. The shimmies and hip bumps are gentle on the joints but still provide a great workout. As Lora Marion, a Title 1 Intervention Teacher in Hagerstown and a belly dancer of five years tells B Woman, “I have osteoarthritis in my spine…and I’m over 40. When I dance, I have much less pain. Belly dancing strengthens the muscles surrounding and supporting the damaged…parts of my body.” Jessica Masten Tye teaches and performs under her stage name of Halima in Westminster, MD. A mother of two, full time office and order fulfillment manager as well as a dancer for 12 years, Tye feels that dancing is “empowering for women.” She lists the benefits of the dance form, “[belly dance] strengthens the core and supports everything including posture. Not to mention how fun it is! It’s not like running on the treadmill at the gym.” Almost all of the movements in belly dance forms are made to work with the body, rather than contort it into unhealthy shapes. Some of the terminology you might hear in a class includes locks, rotations, undulations or rolls and shimmies. For example, during a pelvic lock, the student would move the pelvis to the front, right, back and left, stopping quickly between each part of the movement. Whereas
in a pelvic rotation, the movement would be performed in the same direction while smoothing out the hip movements into a circle. Another movement a prospective student could expect to learn is the shimmy. These can be used while standing still or moving across the floor. Shimmies can be applied to the hips or shoulders and performed in time to music to accentuate the student’s dance. And because belly dance was made to suit the female body, the shimmy appears to the outsider as a simple bounce of the hips sped up in time to music. The beauty of the shimmy is in how it will make the rest of the body move and ripple as well. When B Woman asked Mariza Matel, a project analyst and belly dance teacher from Baltimore, what she would say to someone interested in trying belly dance, she responded, “Belly dance is a great form of exercise for almost anybody! It is a dance form with many different styles that appeal to all different kinds of people and fitness levels. Regardless of what stylization you choose, belly dance is often low impact and focuses on internal/core muscles while encouraging good posture, muscular control and awareness which anybody can benefit from!” Matel has been dancing for almost 10 years and teaching in the Baltimore area for about three. She adds, “In addition to strengthening abs, legs,glutes and arms there is also the cardio element from moving your entire body. But it never feels like “exercise” because the movements are so varied and fun!” As with any form of exercise, it is important to discuss any concerns you may have with a doctor. Though most forms of belly dance are low impact, the exercise can become very demanding during certain moves, thus providing a great overall workout. Many teachers provide free introductory classes so one can try belly dance before buying a full session of classes. And though not every teacher will encourage her students to perform publicly, many will offer the class opportunities to do so once they reach a certain level of proficiency. For your 2014 New Year’s resolution, shake up your exercise routine and give something new a whirl. Even if that something new is actually very old. You might be very glad you did. ■
Kristin L. Beno lives, works and dances in the Baltimore metro area. You can read more from her at www. hungryformotherhood.com where she blogs about infertility, pregnancy, birth, motherhood and the occasional cupcake recipe. You can check out articles by dancers about their professional careers at http://marizadance.com/ Halima can be contacted for dancing gigs or lessons at firstname.lastname@example.org.