Belly dancing was one of the first forms of exercise. Belly dance is found all over the Near East, including Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Greece, and Turkey.
Belly dance (also known as Middle Eastern dance, Danse Orientale, Raqs Sharki, Ciftetelli, Rakkase, Danse du Ventre) is a celebration of a woman’s body. It is a unique style of world dance that intertwines improvisation originating from ancient folk and gypsy movements with trained professional choreography originating in the harems.
There is no definite origin of belly dance, but one can see traditional associations with many fertility rituals of the ancient world and the dances in the ancient Indian temples. The fertility rituals were meant to celebrate the reproductive aspects of life, both human and in nature. The movements developed into being used by female only groups for strengthening muscles and spirit for birthing. In this sense, the dance was seen as a private, sacred art. The undulating movements strengthen muscles and breathing techniques, making it easier to control your body.
The common people and travelling gypsy groups later performed belly dance movements on the street (the higher class did not dance in public). Eventually this moved into the harems, where beautiful slaves and dancing-girls learned to entertain their host. With harem girls began sophisticated dance and music training, incorporating choreography and “props”, and the dance was also taught to the higher-class female family members, who also lived and were educated in the harems.
So, it’s kinda weird that it was researchers in Brazil who found that, after beginning a belly dance program, FM sufferers reported reduced pain and improved functional capacity, quality of life and self-image.
Researchers studied 80 women with FM (the rest were doing the Samba! Lol!) who were randomly assigned to either a dance group or control group. The dance group participated in 1-hour belly dance classes twice a week for 16 weeks, with movements involving the upper limbs, scapular girdle, trunk and hips. A masked physiotherapist evaluated pain assessment, functional capacity, quality of life, depression, anxiety and self-image at the beginning, 16 weeks and 32 weeks.
The dancing FMers significantly improved from baseline to 32 weeks in pain, emotional aspects and mental health scales.
Health benefits of Belly Dancing (not just for FM sufferers)
Belly dancing requires tremendous relaxation and concentration, as you must focus on isolating various parts of your body. The flowing movements of belly dance help to calm and soothe the mind. The repetitive movements of the dance and the concentration needed to do them can help a mind filled with daily stress to “let go” for a while and relax. It’s hard to worry about deadlines at work when you are thinking about getting that next drop just right, or while making sure that you are in time with the music.
One effect of stress is that our bodies tense up, causing contractions or spasms in muscle groups, such as those in the neck, shoulders, or back. Belly dance, on the other hand, gently stretches and uses these vulnerable muscle groups, and as they are utilized, blood flow increases and lactic acid is flushed away. Stressed muscles relax as they are gently exercised, relieving the “clenched” muscles often seen in FM sufferers. The body becomes supple and limber, and practitioners frequently report that pain diminishes in the back and neck areas.
- Fitness and Muscle Building
Belly dancing is vigorous and will make you break a sweat. The fast movements of the hips and shoulders are enough to really get your heart pumping, offering tremendous cardiovascular benefits. When performed as exercise, belly dancing can be compared to any other aerobic workout.
Belly dancing is also a wonderful way to strengthen the major muscles of your body. When performed correctly, belly dancing can also stretch and release tension in the back. Because it is a low-impact form of exercise, belly dancing won’t jolt or jar your body.
Belly dancing can have a positive impact on your weight, improving your self-image. If performed regularly, belly dancing can actually encourage weight loss, as it burns calories as well as increases your metabolic rate. According to Dr. Carolle Jean-Murat, M.D., belly dance can burn up to 300 calories per hour. This estimate will vary, of course, depending on the intensity of your dancing.
Belly dancers come in a variety of body types and sizes. Belly dancing will make you more aware of your posture, grace, body language and facial expressions, all helping to improve your self-image. If you attend a belly dancing class, you will probably see several different sizes of bodies, all just as beautiful as the others.
Belly dancing can be very beneficial to the health of your internal organs. It is sometimes said that belly dancing was developed as a way to prepare the body for childbirth. Since belly dancing centres around controlling the muscles of the abdomen, it may make carrying and delivering a baby easier on your body. For women who desire natural childbirth, this form of exercise through dance, with its emphasis on muscle control not only facilitates natural childbirth, but also makes an excellent post-natal exercise that helps encourage abdominal tone.
Also, many women notice that belly dancing helps to relieve menstrual cramping.
Belly dance seems like a fun, healthy way to exercise. As we are continually being told, exercise is important in the treatment of FM. The Brazilian researchers concluded, “Patient education regarding how to initiate and continue exercise is crucial to the success of treatment. … Belly dance leads to improvement in pain, sleep pattern, functional capacity and self-image in patients with fibromyalgia. [It is] a safe, effective therapeutic strategy for women with fibromyalgia.” It can be a creative outlet that conditions, tones, and allows a woman to tune into the natural movements of her body. It can refresh, relax, and/or exhilarate. So why wait?
Caution: Many doctors have suggested belly dancing classes as part of rehabilitation from injury; it is, however, important to check with your own medical provider before starting any new form of exercise.