by Maggie Zeibak
Q. What kind of crowds do belly dancers hang out in?
A. Hip circles!
There are a lot of bold-faced lies told when we start talking about exercising. Excuses come in creative bushel-loads. Giant fibs and cock-and-bull stories abound especially when the teller flatly hates and despises conventional sports that might render a health benefit. Rusting stair-steppers and rarely used gym memberships attest to the fact that most people can’t find an exercise that they truly enjoy.
Physical activity need not be vigorous or sweaty but we all know deep, deep down that we need to be more active. Rediscovery of an ancient form of exercise, belly dancing, is sweeping the nation in a cult-like fashion. Women are loving it and loving the results of a resculpted body.
Contrary to belief, belly dancing is not a dance of seduction but a folk dance performed on happy occasions such as births and weddings. It is a social dance with roots in many cultures. The Arabic name is “ruqs sharqi” which means ‘dance of the East/Orient’. Journeying into yesteryear when women lived separately in a household, the women would entertain other women visitors and dance for them. Mothers of eligible young men would soon get to know the young marriageable women of the community. No veils, tassels or sequins were worn, just everyday clothes. It was left for Hollywood, in all its wisdom, to embellish the “baladi dance” and add navel jewelry along with the skimpy costumes.
Western dances are based on patterns or steps but belly dancing is performed in continuous, fluid movements. The secret is in moving the torso not the legs. Swaying hips and stomach undulations are balanced with delicate hand movements providing a graceful appearance. That sounds easy, you say, just suck in your gut and stick up your hands. Nah-uh. The process of isolating the diaphragm from the pelvic muscles needs practice. Daily repetitions can be done easily and just about anywhere you go. Three sets of muscles in your abdomen dictate the Belly Roll movement, the diaphragm, pelvic and obliques. Herein lies your exercise.
A big part of the fitness workout is the Shimmy. Everyone likes to shimmy; even the word says it all. Sliding hips from side-to-side without engaging other parts of the body is a challenge but the results are worth it. Working opposing muscle groups strengthens the body in controlled moves and changes in posture and flexibility are felt almost immediately.
Professional belly dancer, Enheduanna teaches a class for the city of San Clemente instructing around 10-15 students in a 5-week course. A seven-year resident in the community she came to Southern California from Rhode Island for the opportunity to participate in “the hub” for belly dancers.
“As a little girl I saw a belly dancer in a movie and knew that was what I wanted to do. Even when I took jazz and ballet I always seemed to work in a few belly dance movements. I’ve continued to study and have been dancing professionally for 10 years. I come from a family of performers, my grandmother was a singer, my uncle a comedian but I’m the first dancer.
In my classes I use Folkloric, Pop and Classical music to start the changes in breathing and posture. Students notice the subtle way that they make hand movements and become more graceful, all the while continuing to understand the ethnic form of dance. Most are delighted to experience something so feminine as their self-confidence and expertise increases yet they know they are working hard on their bodies.
This is a sport that appeals to a broad range of women including teens, working professionals, Moms and retirees. Compared to kick-boxing or going to the gym, this is entirely different. It is soft, but strong, as we focus a lot on internal strength and controlling our muscles. Women enjoy being together in a fun and supportive atmosphere and many friendships have evolved through all the hard work of spins, turns, nimble footwork and hip-drops.
Next time you watch a belly dancer,” Enheduanna continued, “look at the beautiful movements, connect to the music and appreciate an old form of dance that has survived many years. Really ‘open your eyes’ to something new.”
Enheduanna recently returned from Egypt after studying with professional teachers and is anxious to perform her new skills. The belly dancing community reaches globally with large followings in Spain, Italy, Japan, Australia and Canada and many festivals and workshops are held overseas. Opportunities to perform at bridal showers, restaurants and birthday parties usually find more women who are interested in a challenging exercise that keeps boredom at bay.
Tuning up your day with a wholesome approach to a workout seems to be a new avenue to explore. Without a doubt, many women have already discovered the benefits. Why not you?
Shimmy on down to the City of San Clemente, Beaches, Parks and Recreation at 100 N. Calle Seville 361-8264 to enroll in classes. Bargain fees are $50 for 5 weeks or call Enheduanna at 842-5989 or www.pinkgypsy.com/enheduanna