The Health Benefits of Belly Dancing


Raks Sharki, also called belly dance, is a form of dance that affects not just the belly but the entire body, physically and mentally. The graceful hip drops, rolls, and pivots of this dance form utilize muscle groups in the abdomen, pelvis, torso, spine, arms and neck, working with the body instead of against it. Raks sharki/belly dance is based on movements that come naturally to the female form. There is a wealth of health benefits awaiting those who practice this form of dance.

Improved posture and muscle toning

The movements helps increase circulation. When movements are done properly, the pelvis is tipped forward, or tucked somewhat; a neutral position that can help prevent lower back problems. Bellydancing can help relieve stress to the back, counteracting the almost constant compression of the disks that occurs from sitting and a sedentary lifestyle. Small muscle groups deep in the back that are normally under-exercised are used and strengthened. The muscles surrounding the hip, the largest joint in the body, are used and exercised during hip drops, and figure eights, enhancing flexibility and suppleness. Improved hip flexibility can lead to improved balance when walking as well.

Arms and Shoulders are exercised when doing lifts, circles, or the rippling motions of snake arms, toning muscle. This toning effect is often evident early on, since holding the arms aloft are an important element of the dance, even for beginners. Because a woman is on her feet, moving during the dance, it is considered a weight-bearing exercise. Weight-bearing exercise can prevent osteoporosis and strengthen bones, and the overall toning can lead to an improved self-image, as the dancer becomes more balanced and poised.

It is a dance form that is healthy for women of all ages to perform, with an emphasis on using abdominal muscles, hip moves, and chest moves. It is firm and earthy, with bare feet connected to the ground. It is a dance characterized by smooth, flowing, complex, and sensual movements of the torso, alternated with shaking and shimmy type moves. In traditional Raks Sharki the knee is never lifted higher than the hip.

The dancer’s great skill lies in the ability to isolate and move different parts of the body separately, such as the hips, upper and lower stomach, chest and head. With the arms held out and up, the dancer can easily work her shoulders and body against the muscle resistence of her own arms. Good armwork is one of the great distinguishing marks between good dancers and poor ones.

The classic body position for Raks Sharki includes a balanced and upright posture with knees slightly bent and feet apart no farther than hip distance. The knees must be bent in order for the hips to work. Good posture is extremely important. If dancing causes the lower back to hurt, then the dancer is using bad posture.

Weight loss

Some doctors report that raks sharki/belly dance can burn up to 500 calories per hour. This estimate will vary, of course, depending on the intensity of your dancing. Combined with a healthy diet that involves sensible eating, bellydancing can be part of a sound weight loss program. Many dance classes take place only once or twice a week. For even better results and enhanced cardiovascular benefits, try combining the flexibility and muscle strengthening of raks sharki with an aerobic routine, such as swimming or bike riding, on the days you don’t have class.

Preparation for childbirth

The movements of raks sharki/belly dance make an excellent prenatal and post-natal exercise regimen that strengthens the muscles used during the childbirth process. The toned abdominal muscles and natural hip tucks, which are similar to the “pelvic rocking” taught during prenatal classes, teach the expectant mother how to move her pelvis. An excellent post-natal exercise that helps encourage abdominal tone during those first weeks after giving birth. While healing from the birth process, these movements work the muscles gently and effectively, if done very gradually.

Stress reduction

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. When a muscle is contracted, lactic acid builds up, causing the “soreness” or pain that occurs. Blood flow to the affected muscles decreases as well.

Raks sharki, 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 our society. The body becomes supple and limber, and practitioners frequently report that pain diminishes in the back and neck areas.

Increased self awareness/self esteem

The origin of Raks sharki/belly dance celebrates the feminine spirit. It was originally created and performed by women for the enjoyment of women. In Near and Middle eastern cultures, the dance is taught to young girls by their mothers and other female relatives as a part of daily life and performed as a family celebration for a young girls’ passage into womanhood. The dance influences positive self image development and encourages us to appreciate who we are and focuses on presenting the inner beauty of all women. The results are increased self confidence and self esteem. While dancing, we relax and enjoy moving our bodies naturally to the dance rhythms, which is why women of all ages, shapes and backgrounds enjoy belly dancing. Raks sharki is a fun, healthy way to exercise. 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? CONTACT DEE WATKINS (313) 303-7321 and find out where classes are held locally.

About futurewave

Certified AAFA & NETA Fitness Exercise Instructor/Trainer, CPR/AED. Licensed to teach ZUMBA specialty classes, RIPPED - One Stop Body Shop, SILVERSNEAKERS, ENHANCED FITNESS. Middle Eastern Bellydance Instructor/Performer since 1999. email
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