Gilded Serpent presents...
Belly Dance Secrets for
Fitness and Rejuvenation

by Keti Sharif

Belly Dance for Fitness Is on the Rise!
Why has Belly dance steadily gained popularity as the new fitness solution for busy women? The most important factor in sustaining an exercise program is the 'fun factor'; Belly dancing comes with great music, exciting moves, noisy coin belts and its own special dress code. When one considers safety, the emphasis on posture, core stability, and mastery of technique makes Belly dancing a low impact workout that tones and conditions the body, in keeping with a very modern approach to fitness!

The Three Sporting Ss:
The 3 Sporting Ss of the 21st century are strength, stamina and suppleness. Personal trainers encourage women to take several classes a week: a yoga or Pilates, aerobics or cardio and then some light weight training for muscle tone. However, Belly dancing offers the three Ss in one glittering package. Slow sinewy movements improve suppleness and postural alignment. Constant, repetitive moves build muscle strength and definition, with the body often using forces of resistance to create the move. To obtain a great cardio workout, shimmies, energetic accents and vibrating moves boost oxygen to the muscles, and more importantly, burn fat, and continue burning it.

Why Do Some Women Who Belly dance Become Fit While Others Don't?
The secret of harnessing the magic of Belly dancing is to learn how to sustain certain elements to create a powerful workout effect. It is important to understand that two categories exist:  'Dance for expression/art' and 'Dance for fitness'. Keeping the two separate will make it easier to construct a workout. Repetition is important, and so is a solid, steady beat to drive the movement for 'Dance for fitness'.

It is paramount to do the movements correctly, making sure they generate from one’s core, (the containment of energy generated in the lower abdominal and pelvic muscles). This action must be conscious; one needs awareness in order to access core strength to support the lower back, lengthen the spine and maintain optimum postural alignment. I have seen many dancers unable to execute correct technique because their entire postural alignment is out of balance. It is a teacher's role to correct her student's posture from the beginning and teach how to dance from the core. Movements that begin from a strong core or center of the body will improve the posture, help rebalance the endocrine (hormonal) system and will make other muscles function in fully supported and balanced action. Correct posture is essential for those who suffer from any form of back problems. The truth is that many women around the world are dancing in a free-form way that can stress the lower back because they are not using muscles correctly. Posture is paramount!  Luckily, an instructor can teach it, and a student can learn and incorporate it within weeks.

How Can Belly Dancing Tone Muscles and Give Definition? For suppleness, the sinewy moves that are randomly used in Taqsim movements and dance articulation, must be repeated, sustained and done methodically as a focused taqsim workout - using a variety of upper, mid and lower body taqsim movements - for at least 30 minutes for real toning benefits to take place. The music should be slow and meditative, at approximately 80 beats per minute. The moves that create muscular definition are: snake arms, undulations, belly rolls, shoulder rolls, hip circles, figure eights and slow traveling steps. Floor work can be included, and since Belly dancing doesn't stretch the legs muscles enough, it would be wise to include some leg toning exercises. Yoga is good to incorporate into the dancer's weekly training and one can combine Yoga poses with Belly dance isolations.

How Can Belly Dancing Make Dancers Stronger?
Lifting arms high over the head engages muscles and is a form of resistance that will tone your biceps and triceps. For increasing strength, one must do it regularly, so there should be a drill or repetitive factor. The dancer should push arms up higher than normal to create a successful workout. Thigh muscles powering accents, shimmies and hip moves will creating a tension and resistance too. Because the grounded nature of Belly dance causes thigh muscles to continuously contract to sustain hip movements, it is also a natural leg strengthener. However, it is a good idea to balance this with some muscle lengthening exercises such as: kicks, leg stretches and lifts against a ballet bar, wall or even on a chair. The aim is to get the leg high and use its own weight as resistance to work the muscles. The belly rolling moves will improve the strength of the abdominal muscles, and thus, support the lower back.

Does Belly Dancing Burn Fat?
The good news is that regular cardio workouts at least four times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes of sustained vigorous, low impact exercise will alter the body's BMI (basic metabolic index). In other words, dance, shimmy, do traveling moves and step to 120-130 BPM and the body must burn fat. The music here is important, and it should be fast and steady. The arrangement of songs should build up, peak, and slow down only at the end. Remember: posture, core strength and repetition. A reasonable sweat is a sure sign of fat burning. The body does get used to certain exercises, so try to vary the movements used every few weeks.

How BPMs Affect the Hormonal System:
At 130 BPMs (beats per minute) the body's hormonal systems activate (the feeling of excitability) and at this level of activation, the hormones begin to re-balance themselves, including dopamine and seratonin levels (the feel good hormones). 130BPM is often the tempo of the faster Egyptian pop, drums, Fellahin, and Turkish Chiftetelli music.

Belly Dance Improves Digestion and Assists Weight Loss
With regular abdominal work in your Belly dance, the digestive system is activated and strengthened through wave-like contractions of the muscles, which offer a kind of 'internal massage'. Shimmies also activate and stimulate the digestive process. Interestingly, psychoacoustics specialists have found that 130+ BPM tempos improve the speed at which the body digests food, by releasing digestive hormones, adrenalin, and thyroxin. With regular fast dancing, circulation improves, and therefore, so does digestion. The entire body's cells are better nourished and the blood supply increases, resulting in an overall sense of “well-being” and increased energy levels.

"I have the Belly for it! Why does Weight stay around my Belly?”
WEIGHT GAIN through the middle of the body is the first sign of metabolic imbalance of insulin in the body. Unfortunately, it often accompanies the ageing process, and usually starts at around age 30! Chinese medicine and Taoist exercises use the BEAR exercise to improve pancreatic function, by walking with the belly protruding to create a rubbing or massaging effect on the pancreas. It is very similar to the abdominal movements used in Belly dance. Belly dance exercises that massage the pancreas are the abdominal exercises, including the hip circles, pelvic rolls and undulations. Raising the arms actually helps lymph nodes under the armpit clear excess toxic waste from one’s body. Did you know that orchestra conductors usually outlive the band? It's true! Lifting your arms is healthy and detoxifies. Rolling the belly and hips regulates the sex hormones produced by the gonads, which in Chinese medicine rule the entire endocrine system.

How to LOSE WEIGHT and Re-balance Insulin Levels

  • Avoid sugar and flour products which raise insulin levels dramatically
  • Avoid large meals and have 6 small meals throughout the day
  • Have a fresh vegetable juice daily in the morning
  • Do the 3-4 Belly dance workouts a week
  • Do other creative artistic or sporting activities you enjoy 3 times a week. Chinese herbalists say pancreatic dysfunction occurs when life is too “serious!”

Glowing Skin with Belly Dance:
Belly dance workouts can improve circulation, and hence, improve skin tone and radiance. You can buy a loofah and use it after workouts when showering in order to remove dead skin cells and improve circulation to fight cellulite. Shimmies reduce cellulite around the bottom by breaking up the adipose tissue and freeing the brown fat that creates the cellulite “pockets.” So, shimmy regularly!

Emotional Re-balancing Through Dance
Dance is an expressive, dynamic form of kinesthetic art that requires a special kind of mastery that relies on awareness, movement, balance and spatial geometry. Although dance presents itself as a physical art, it brings out emotive response through the body's articulation of the music. On an emotional level it is liberating, uplifting and helps the dancer experience instinctive rhythmic patterns and feelings. Since its days as an ancient fertility rite, Belly dancing directly supports sexual and sensual function of a woman's body. It improves all aspects of her life: fitness and hormonal re-balancing, confidence and communication, sensual expression, and dynamic living.

Happy dancing to you all!

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