Introduction to belly dancing
There are two forms of belly dancing popular worldwide. Raqs Baladi dancing is a social activity performed during festivals or other celebratory occasions. It is most popular in African and Asian nations. In contrast, the style more prevalent in the Western world is called Raqs Sharqi and offers a very dramatic and expressive belly dancing workout.
Belly dancing technique is defined by its focus on circular motions and flexibility in the shoulders and hips. It is infamous for belly dancers rolling their belly muscles, and even balancing props like swords and baskets in various unpredictable positions.
Fitness benefits of belly dancing
Toning up flabby muscles - Bad posture in everyday life can lead to certain muscles becoming disused over time, and turning into unwanted fat. Thankfully, belly dance can help your body rediscover these lost muscles by toning up your belly (abdominal muscles or obliques), the legs, lower back, as well as the arms.
Getting an exercise ‘high’ - Belly dancing offers a great form of aerobic exercise, with natural endorphins entering the body and boosting the mind, to give the dancer an exercise high. Belly dancing is great for blowing away mental cobwebs, whilst giving its dancers a happier outlook on life.
Building up bones and joints - Belly dance is a great exercise for building the body’s bones and joints. It can help prevent osteoporosis, as it requires body weight to be shifted from leg to leg – working out a range of different bones and joints in the process. Belly dancing is also a low impact form of exercise as the muscles used such as the pelvis, spine and abdomen, work with the body- rather than against it.
Styles of belly dancing
Belly dancing is made up of two key styles which are both hugely popular across the world. These are:
Raqs Sharqi belly dancing - Raq Sharqi is the most common form of belly dance in the Western world. It requires overall body movement, with the focus placed squarely on the pelvic area and hips. This is a solo form of belly dancing, which sees the participant improvise to the rhythm of exotic Middle Eastern music. Dancers are expected to express the emotions contained within this music through their movements. It’s a difficult dance to fully master but can be a highly rewarding experience.
Raqs Baladi belly dancing - This is a more traditional style of belly dancing that forms the basis of many Raqs Sharqi techniques. Raqs Baladi is traditionally performed in Middle Eastern countries and frequently proves a popular performance dance at carnivals and weddings. Here the emphasis is less on the sultry seduction of the Raqs Sharqi form, and more on joyous celebration, with dancers making much greater use of arm and hand expressions.
What to expect from your first class
Beginner belly dance classes will generally offer a range of moves and core routines in a friendly and sociable environment. New people start classes all the time so teachers will be only too aware of beginners’ needs and initial misgivings. When it comes to belly dance clothing, bare feet or soft shoes are fine to wear, but definitely avoid wearing a pair of cheap casual trainers.
Key belly dancing tips
Belly dancing is a performance-based dance and therefore requires a degree of initial self-confidence to keep you motivated in the early days. However, you don’t have to be a fully fledged diva to enjoy the various health and fitness benefits that belly dancing can provide. Early lessons will be welcoming and straight-forward, with instructors gradually coaxing you out of your shell. True, you may have to stray slightly from your comfort zone, but it’ll be worth a few early nerves in the long run.