Egyptian women used belly dancing as an internal massage; preparing the female body for childbirth.
Today, it’s seen as one of the trendiest exotic exercises to hit the gym. Combining a cardiovascular workout with mental relaxation, a typical one-hour class will strengthen and shape the body.
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Belly dancer Arina Djakova, from the London Dance Academy, tells Metro how to turn the dance into a full body workout, from the shoulder shimmy to the snake arms.
FULL BODY WORKOUT: “The entire body is being engaged, it’s truly a full body workout,” exclaims belly dancer Djakova. “Each and every muscle is worked on in isolation and the end result is a feminine body, with everything in the right place — not too skinny and with the most wonderful hips and waistline.”
LEGS: The dance moves and holding positions help you tone and engage your leg muscles. “As you hold one particular pose on one hip, you are maintaining this because of the extra weight you are applying on the opposite side. This is what allows you to build up strength and resistance,” says Djakova.
STOMACH: This is really the crunch of the exercise — being able to perfect a belly roll, which requires you to roll your belly up and down without engaging any muscle other than your abdominals. You are individually using three parts of your abdominals as you roll up then down: the top, the middle and the bottom.
HIPS: One of the moves the body finds most natural in belly dancing is the figure of eight, which is a complete rotation of the hips. “Most people do the figure of eight every time they go out dancing without even realizing it,” explains Djakova. “Every time you do the figure, you are emphasising and enhancing the beauty and natural curb of your waist.”
ARMS: The ‘snake arm’ is when you lift the arm up and down from your shoulder and elbow. The effort required to lift the arm in the air without support helps tone this particularly difficult area.
NECK & SHOULDER: The shoulder shimmy, a backwards and forwards shaking movement, simultaneously works the shoulders and the hips. It’s a cardiovascular exercise requiring deep breathing and that will make you break out into sweat. Your entire upper body, from the shoulders, to your neck over to your diaphragm is in motion — it’s an incredible way of releasing energy.
POSTURE: Grace and posture is a key factor to the perfect belly dance. Postures are similar to those used in yoga and Pilates, whereby keeping in line with your spine will relieve tension from the lower back while building up strength.
MIND: “It’s a low impact and relaxing exercise,” says Djakova. “Moves are fluid, the mind relaxes and this helps improve self image and body confidence as you become more engaged with every single muscle. As you observe the swirling and swaying of your body, you become more in touch with it as a whole.”