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Belly dancing: the sacred art (and workout!).

If you longed for a physical fitness, regime that would be more fun than push-ups and sit-ups, more gentle on the body than running, and more accessible and inviting to you right now in the shape you are in than--say--going to a health-club full of already pumped up and slimmed down bodies, don't despair: there is an option for you. Bellydance is an incredibly fun and surprisingly intensive workout, engaging core muscles while encouraging whole-body strength and flexibility. As bellydance is essentially creative and non-competetive, it allows for personal style and embellishment, making it very accessible to people of all ages, sizes, and health conditions. The objective in the dance is to internalize the music you are moving with and let that unfold through articulated movements in whatever way feels most satisfying to you, the dancer. It's not about pain: it's about pleasure. If something gives us pleasure we will tend to do it more often; if that something happens to be a good workout disguised as a good time, surely the results over time will be improved health and vigor!

Historically, bellydance has had physical, social, and spiritual applications in cultures around the world. As a women's dance, it has been passed down through the generations as a birthing aid. In its practical contexts, bellydance supports the maintenance of a strong abdomen, an erect spine, and a steady sense of inner balance, all valuable to women in enduring the tasks of carrying children, laundry, water, and market goods without strain. In gender-divisive societies such as Islamic countries, bellydance generally provides the same practicalities but also serves as a social dance offering catharsis of inhibitions, shared only in private quarters among women. The dance is generally considered taboo for mixed company.

In larger celebrations, however, it was traditionally public dancers who might incite participatory dancing among the crowds, especially the men. These numinous public dance appearances at weddings, circumcisions, funerals, and holiday celebrations are vestigial from earlier days of temple dancers and ritual hierodules. In the context of sacred bellydance, the dancer's sensual movements were imbued with meaning derived from stories of creation and fertility, goddesses or of human consorts to powerful and benevolent gods. These stories were ritually danced out as a means of impregnating human consciousness with the experience of Divine communion.

Fundamentally, bellydance is a composite dance of circles and figure eights, pelvic motion, rhythmic step patterns, isolated muscle control, and codified gestures coupled with costuming that rattles, jingles, or shakes. Numerous dance traditions around the world fit this description, including hula, samba, Cherokee jingle dancing, as well as dances from throughout the East and the Middle-East. There is no one history of the dance: there are many histories of many relative dances. Some of these have endured, some have disappeared, and many have been subjected to cultural and artistic fusion to become what we consider bellydance today.

Bellydance first appeared in America on the exotic shores of take Michigan for the 1893 Chicago World Fair. The fair was celebrating 400 years since Columbus had allegedly "discovered the New World" and indexed the "progress" made since then. Live replicas of Old-World villages from around the globe comprised the booths in the fair's Midway Plaisance as a pageant of human civilization from primitive technology to modern.

Along with contrasting technological development from culture to culture, certain booths specializing in entertainment were points of extreme contrast to Victorian mores of that time. They featured "hootchie-cootchie" and "muscle" dancers who created an uproar. These bellydancers from French colonies of North Africa inadvertently stole the show from the notable inventions of Thomas Edison and from the world's first and largest Ferris Wheel. Visitors came in hordes to see for themselves what licentiousness corrupted the prestigious fair. The dance theaters were doing far greater business than any other concessions at the lair: so, other booths began to produce their own faux-foreign dancers to simulate the already slightly Americanized version of the real thing. Competition for business at the World Fair became a matter of dancing girls and what they did or didn't do; educational and humanistic intentions for the exhibits went by the wayside. The press feasted on the scandalous element of the World Fair, delivering a misconstrued and misrepresented perspective on bellydance to the American public. Fascination with Oriental eroticism was quickly popularized through the growing trend of themed amusement parks and the new medium of Film. Thus, American fantasy gave birth to its own version of bellydance.

With respect to this history, bellydance can be approached from a variety of angles. It can be a sacred ritual dance with mythical implications. It can be a dance for health and vitality, shared among women (or women and men) in their own safe spaces. It can be an entertaining celebration dance in a secular context, purely for shaking loose any social constrictions. It can be an anthropological survey of cross-cultural artistic expression or an inadvertent co-opting of a generalized "Eastern" culture. You might or might not know why you feels drawn to bellydance or what you might achieve by doing it, but having an understanding of the dance's many manifestations is helpful in navigating your experience towards satisfying results.

On the first level of exploring bellydance, you will find that it requires the pulsating contraction of core muscles and the lengthening and relaxing of other muscles, especially around the hips and .across the chest. Parts of our bodies previously unexplored or long atrophied are awakened and engaged as life energy is rippled through, breathed into, and nurtured back to awareness. The hips loosen, the back straightens, the chest opens, and the legs learn to support and absorb the load we carry. Careful attention to each isolated movement stimulates the body-mind connection and invites us to look deeper into our incredible anatomies. Squeezing at the perenium to initiate an upward undulation triggers a series of electric and muscular responses: the contraction wants to continue upward. One might relate this surge of energy to Kundalini or to primal instincts. In either case, one will recognize the experience as being both very physical and very ecstatic (ec-stasis: beyond the body).

Bellydance provides an opportunity to confront the places in our bodies where we have held on too tightly or too long to some tension and consider what those obstacles mean in our own personal myths. A downward moving undulation is a letting go; it begins with a dive of the heart. For each isolated dance move, you can assign personal meaning or recite a mantra that helps facilitate flow through places of previous resistance. Training the body to move through those stuck places can be a tool for embodying a new outlook on your life and your self. In this way, bellydance can encompass the fullness of body, mind, and spirit.

Because all the moves have their origin somewhere along the core--the perenium, gluteus muscles, and abdomen--the trunk of the body develops strength, tone, and flexibility, which, combined, also enhance one's ability for deeper breathing and greater weight bearing. Whether this core strengthening is noticeable on the surface appearance or not, my experience has been that it is noticeable in the core of a person's being. As we learn to think of ourselves as our own greatest dance partners and providers of pleasure, there is a sense of personal acceptance that strengthens our souls. This is the captivating power and magic of the bellydance: inner. satisfaction.

Brandi Hubiak teaches and performs "Transformational Bellydance" locally and throughout the east coast under the dance name Mizilca. Contact her via her website:

Further Reading:

A Trade Like Any Other, by Karin van Nierwkerk Grandmother's Secrets, by Rosina Fawzia Al-Rawi Looking for Little Egypt, by Donna Carlton Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance, by Iris Stewart Serpent of the Nile, by Wendy Buenaventura The Serpent and the Wove, by Jalaja Bonheim

RELATED ARTICLE: Some easy moves to try.

Here are some basic isolations that divide the body into horizontal and vertical planes and axis lines. All of these lines of movement are relative to the central axis running vertically through the body. The primary segments of the body are the head, chest, and pelvis. Each of these segments can slide from side to side, crossing the central axis, while being careful to keep the horizontal plane clearly delineated (no tilting or turning). The movement can also follow an orbital path with the central axis intersecting the center of the circle drawn by the head, chest, or hips. An individual circle at any of these planes could also be divided into two circles to create a continuous "figure-8" flow of movement. It is especially important in all circular and figure-8 movements that the pelvis is level and the tailbone tucked at all times. Any part of the body not intentionally involved in the move should remain in line with the central axis as a point of contrast to the isolated movement. You can enhance your awareness of the central axis by imagining that its line extends from the base of the spine to the center of the earth and from the crown of the head to a star.

Adding a shimmy is a fun and invigorating accentuation to your dance. Shimmies consist of alternate lifts and drops, caused by contracting and releasing the muscles surrounding the pelvis, especially the gluteus muscles. Try this at different tempos to the beat of the music--half time, in time, double time, triplets--accelerating to a steady vibration, at which point it can no longer be counted.

Above all, always focus on relaxing into the stillness of the central axis while allowing the rest of the dance to flow around it in a natural response to the music with which you are moving.

RELATED ARTICLE: Dancing Earth, Sun, Moon, and Venus.

Throughout time, the heavenly bodies that support life--Earth, Sun, Moon, and Venus--have been admired and remembered in stories of magnificent goddesses who take some sort of primal material and weave the world out of it through an ecstatic dance of creation. Gala (Earth) produces from herself a lover with whom to dance and create the universe. Demeter (Earth) creates for herself a daughter with whom to dance and create the seasons and the harvest. Artemis (Moon) runs and dances, wild and free among animals and a wild woman pack to create and preserve the wildness of the natural world. Aphrodite (Venus) dances a dance of seduction and draws all opposites together and all prime material to herself, using it to create beauty. Ariadne (Venus/Moon) experiences heartbreak and dances to console her spirit, then finds the love of her life in that Spirit, so sets out as a dancing priestess across the land to free the women of the world who had forgotten passion. Inanna (Venus) dances between worlds, indestructible. Amaterasu (Sun) is reminded to shine by the lascivious dances of Uzume. Shakti literally embodies the fine and elusive dance of Shiva Nataraj.

Dance awakens our inherent sense of power, passion, and creativity. It gives us the opportunity to put ourselves back together and to birth our newest manifestations of Being. As you dance, remember this noble lineage if dancers who have brought you this gift. Allow your mundane self to slip away as your body becomes invigorated with the life force flowing through you. Seduce the Godhead and become pregnant with yourself, preparing to give birth to a new self! What powers are waiting to be employed? What has prevented them from doing so? What do you need to shift within yourself to facilitate that change and allow your energy to flow in a new way? How can you dance that into being?
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Article Details
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Author:Hubiak, Brandi
Publication:New Life Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2006
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