Much has been written, said and salivated about belly dance. Scant few have done it justice, or given it the respect it deserves.
What most people are blissfully unaware of is that belly dance originated centuries ago, not as a form of entertainment or seduction, but as a religious act. Temple priestesses performed the dance in worship of the Mother Goddess, Isis, for her blessings of health, fertility and prosperity.
Since its origin, belly dance has been used as a form of pre-natal and post-natal exercise. The gentle movements, hip tucks and muscle isolations help strengthen the core and pelvic muscles, thereby not only relieving the daily discomfort that most expectant mothers experience, but also easing the actual labor. It even accelerates the ante-natal healing process, and helps the new mother get back in shape after the delivery. The original recipe for a ‘Yummy Mummy’!
The fitness benefits of belly dance are many. An intensive yet low-impact cardio-vascular workout, a 90-min belly dance session can burn as many calories as the same duration of aerobics or Pilates, without risking injury to joints. With regular practice over time, the dancer’s body is infused with improved flexibility, stamina, and strength. International icons like Shakira, Beyonce and Rihanna swear by belly dancing to keep their curves in the right places, and women across the globe are turning to this ancient art form for their fitness needs.
Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t only the abdominal region that’s exercised. Belly dance works every part of the body, right from the calves to the shoulders and even the knuckles! Nandita Shetty, 25, has completed 4 levels of belly dance and can’t wait to learn more. “Belly dancing has been one of the best things to happen to me”, she says. “Apart from making you feel like a goddess, it’s a brilliant workout. It’ll help you find and beautifully express your inner sensuality… along with giving you killer toned calf muscles!”
On a more holistic level, belly dance isn’t just about knotting a coin-laden scarf around your hips and shaking about. It connects deeper. It unleashes a sensuality that most women not just lock away, but are sometimes even unaware of entirely. The muscle isolations can even help relieve menstrual cramps, and the gush of feel-good endorphins leaves the dancer aglow. As they dance and witness for themselves just what their bodies are capable of, they grow to accept and love their bodies. In the words of a student who believes belly dance has transformed her, “So what if I’m 3 times Cameron Diaz’s size? I’d like to see her do what I can!”
And best of all, there’s no age limit to belly dance. Sybil D’Souza, 72, is an ardent fan of belly dancing, and the oldest and most enthusiastic student at Bellyrina Dance Academy. Says she, “I always wanted to learn the art when I was younger, but never got the chance. Now that I’ve finally joined a class, I’m in love. It has me feeling like a girl of 17 again!” On the other end of the age spectrum is Ria, 6, who “loves showing my friends all the moves I learn. I especially love to shimmy and hear all the coins in my scarf jingle”.