My Holistic approach towards Belly Dance by Sara McDonald

What is BellyDance and why does this dance style offer so many unknown health benefits to women around the world?

Belly Dance is a beautiful dance form, having its roots in ancient cultures. Many dance experts say that belly dancing is one of the oldest forms of dance. Throughout history, this ritualised way of expressing movements has usually been shared with other women like many other ancient dances. They were used as a medium of gathering women in a circle to celebrate their fertility, life, joy, grief, marriage and childbirth.

“Probably the greatest misconception about belly dancing is that it is intended to entertain men”.[1]

This misconception may be created by the lack of solid proof that Belly Dance wasn’t initially used to entertain men. The well-known belly dancer and researcher, Shira states in one of her articles that part of this argument may come because of the “seductive” costumes that some belly dancers wear and also from men who believe that belly dancing originated as a tool of seduction, only to justify their erotic fantasies about women dancing for their pleasure. “Such a man typically enjoys thinking of himself as the master of a harem”[1]

Who embarks into the journey of Belly Dance sooner or later realises that there is no truth in that, although there is no guarantee that some teachers may not use the name of this dance in a malicious way. This is a personal choice but nothing to do with the dance. Anything in life you can use for the “good” or “bad”. In this case, you can preserve its beauty and essence or you can take advantage of it and misuse it.

Now connecting this Belly Dance with health, how can we create a healthy  and holistic approach towards Belly Dance? First we need to come to an understanding of what health actually means. Health for many people means “lack of illness”, to others it may mean a “level of metabolic efficiency of our living organism that keeps us alive”. Depending on your view about true health you can create integration between health and belly dance. If refined foods, soft drinks and sugar are considered healthy to you, then your approach will probably reflect that in your movements, shape and perspective. If you believe that health means living in optimum wellbeing where your foods are easily digested and offer lots of nutrients (fuel) to keep your body hydrated, flowing and in balance; again all it will be reflected in your way of thinking, in your practice and in your dance.

In my personal view, Belly Dance is an extension of your Health – your body, mind, and emotions; because it reflects what you eat, what you think and how you feel.

Belly Dance in itself offers many benefits to women’s’ overall health; emotional, psychological, physical and mental benefits. Depending on the teacher a belly dance class can be considered a workout in itself, and can also be used to support women to connect with the sense of sisterhood that is been lost in our Modern society. Practicing certain exercises in a group, in a circle format, can only help the class to get the sense of belonging, of friendship, of self-importance; I am already detailing some benefits of Belly Dance here.

For women lacking in self- confidence, self –esteem, self- hatred, experiencing painful periods, back problems, who want to shape up but detest other kinds of exercise like gym or yoga, who wants to prepare the body to have an easier birth, and to recover after giving birth or even those needing motivation and inspiration in life; this is without a doubt a great practice to experience.

To me, Belly Dance is an injection of fun, self- esteem, passion and wellbeing.

My approach to Belly Dance doesn’t focus only on the physical aspect of this beautiful art form; I integrate traditional Belly Dancing with other modalities such as breathing, self-abdominal massage, conditioning, Yoga, Restorative exercises and Pilates etc. I also relate our ways of learning or thinking about belly dance with our daily life. To give an example, modern days offers far too many options to people all the time, and it results by creating people that give up on things very easily as they need a lot of excitement, an extra push and even distraction in order to keep up with an activity or any other project that they may have.

I look and see my students as growing warriors. Not because they may be strong, a fighter or anything like that, but only because I believe that women carry the power for change and transformation.

When a woman is transformed and empowered, the energy in her house will change – we are the centre and the core of our family. When the energy in the house changes because she is happier, the husband and children will be affected by this great benefit. Again, this is a personal approach that I have come up with, because I integrate health and spirituality in my practices and my students will always go as far as I go, which means because I am constantly investing my time and energy to perfect my approach to my body and my overall heath. I constantly practice self- enquiry so I can reach my greatest potential.

And because I love exercising I will always bring new ways of creating and performing a movement to class and as well as a routine and a drill that can be manifested with different qualities. Therefore we will work on shaping our body by stretching and strengthening our muscles and mind, by conditioning our core and our intentions, by improving our posture and polishing the presentation of our body physically and emotionally, by working on a healthy spine to keep us upright and with an open heart towards my development as a dancer and as a woman. All can be very subtle. We don’t really shake our booty like Shakira in a regular Belly Dance class, but we may play by fusing rhythms and styles if we want to have extra fun.

It’s all about perspective! Over time you may experience a big change in your body, in your emotions and your mind, by starting to look at yourself differently. Your hormones may benefit from it as well as your pelvic floor muscles, your hips, joins, blood circulation, digestion, back problems, excess weight, and all your abdominal organs; your lungs because you may learn different ways of breathing, your brain while you are improving your coordination and balance and of course you may experience many other benefits that weren’t mentioned above.

I often get feedback from students after class, sometimes via email or sometimes via phone texts. Almost all of them will say: “Sara, I feel great after class”, “I am a new woman now after having a very stressful day at home/work – with the dancing it’s all gone”, “my flexibility is improving”, “I love the fun in class”, “I feel more feminine and sexy”, “I feel taller, leaner and more poised and elegant over the course of few classes”, and so on.

Would you dare to change your views on this amazing dance form? The misconception that Belly Dance is a sexy dance was introduced by someone who never really thought about preserving the magic and integrity of this dance form; and had never thought about how society would then start to reject it.

You can use Belly Dance to perform in a wedding and other ceremonies and you may even use it in a cabaret style also – let’s say dancing in a Turkish restaurant? But you can still preserve its essence. You can still keep it as a sacred and powerful tool for women to empower themselves.

Would society want empowered women? How would that look like? By empowered women I am not referring or praising any other principles of feminism as I am not feminist at all. I actually mean, giving women the power to know themselves, to understand the phase that their bodies go through from menarche to menopause. Understanding that dance may be used as their “pill” for health and that they don’t need to immerse themselves into a road of fake hormones to balance what is natural part of their body’s change. By empowering women, they may choose to have natural pregnancies because they know the importance of being active, fit, happy and healthier during pregnancy and consequently they may choose to give birth naturally (vaginally), because they feel the CAN DO IT.

Women today look down quite often, which signals that they may need some support. Belly Dance often offers the benefit of enhancing creative expression, comfortable with her own femininity, improvement of sex drive, toning the body, stress reduction and a sense of more value and appreciation for culture and history as well as experiencing the live principles taught by the model role in class which is the teacher.

You might be caught by the belly dancing bug, which you may never regret.

The role of the teacher goes beyond the class format or stage performance; it is pretty much related to the role of that woman in life. Quite often we see dancers and teachers sharing their personal lives with their students but forgetting that they are somehow an influence to them and that they need to keep certain integrity with themselves in order to keep their students looking up and for something that they may give.

If we integrate a healthy approach towards dance in classes, by presenting yourself in an elegant and poised way, naturally the magical tool that lives in Belly dance, can only be life changing and can only help developing posture towards life that will always be with you – when you sit, when you walk, when you dance also when you deal with life challenges, with people and with the world. Belly Dance complements health as much as Health complements Belly Dance.

                                                        Doorway to freedom

Copyright by Sara’ Belly Dance.

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