Gilded Serpent presents...

Bellydance in Utero

Keti and Child

by Keti Sharif
posted May 5, 2010

Belly dancing is a wonderful experience for the pregnant woman, because it yields tremendous physical and emotional benefits. I endorse dance for all my pregnant students because it definitely keeps you limber as your baby grows and your body ripens and changes, providing a lovely connection with your unborn child. Belly dancing was an important part of my life during my pregnancy, but of course, with the ever-expanding belly, my dance practice changed direction as my pregnancy progressed, and it changed again after the birth last year of my daughter Serafina. I’m sharing my experiences so that other new mums might be able to use these tips before and after giving birth, and apply them to their own dance lifestyles.

When pregnant, I practiced Belly dance moves each day in preparation for giving birth, mainly focusing on the circular, soothing and stretching movements but avoiding shimmies and moves that were contra-indicated by midwives and sports professionals.

Being a first time mother at 39, I wanted to be certain to do everything properly. In many ways I was extra cautious, having updated my sports training certificate in Perinatal Fitness just a year prior to my pregnancy. Studying the American-run AAFA Perinatal Fitness course in Cairo was an eye-opening intensive, complete with emergency first aid for expectant mothers. With safety precautions in place, I was alternating dancing and practicing yoga daily but kept it slow and easy at the same time.

The dance was an integral part of my life throughout my entire pregnancy experience. I was teaching Belly dance workshops until my eighth month and remember teaching an energetic two-hour workshop at the Nile Group Festival in Cairo with an 8-month rounded belly! It was an Astro-Belly "Birth and Beyond" class, modified for pregnancy and post-partem, with dance teachers from around the world, including three pregnant Belly dancers, joining in to learn more. Participants were amazed that I could dance so energetically, considering the size of my belly, but daily practice and looser ligaments made it easy. In fact, my stamina surprised even me, but surely, it was the daily dance exercises that helped.

During my pregnancy, I hosted many workshops and seminars in Cairo, including several intensive week-longs with Farida Fahmy and Mahmoud Reda. Hosting workshops was a great way for me to learn during that time, because dancers can learn from stepping aside and watching, listening and taking notes when they are unable to dance for any reason. The workshops were wonderful to host, and it was awesome being around the legends of dance and such lovely ladies from around the world. As Farida taught, I handled the music and cds for her lessons. My baby kicked vigorously each time the music started, especially to the Muwashahat music (classical Andalusian style), and even today, it seems to be the music that Serafina loves most! She bounces excitedly to all the Arabic rhythms she had heard in utero as well. She becomes lively and jiggles with the tabla rhythms, and seems to prefer them to regular Western music–or even nursery rhymes.

Serafina was quite overdue, and as any expectant mother knows, those last days of waiting are challenging! I used this time to prepare some essential oils and a "birthing cd" of all my favourite Belly dance tracks for the occasion. Indeed, they came in handy! I burned beautiful oils and danced right through my labour, and did the entire A-Z routines…  It was comforting to have a drill to go through, and it really kept my mind and body balanced as labour progressed. When each contraction came on, I simply squatted deeply into the contraction and let the wave of pain pass over, throughout my body, then got up and kept dancing. I believe that the dancing movements helped keep me strong, both physically and emotionally and helped the labour along.

The entire labour was much easier than I had expected, and quite a powerful experience. We did encounter a problem with the birth though; after several hours, the doctor’s ultrasound showed my baby’s arm to be caught up in the umbilical cord, so therefore, she was unable to descend. Within half an hour of the discovery, Seraphina was delivered by cesarean section; my beautiful, chubby little girl was born!

I left the hospital after just two days, instead of the obligatory 5-8 days post op, because the cesarean healed so quickly. The nurses were asking many questions about Belly dancing and believed my strong pelvic floor and healthy back was a result of the dance. The main midwife’s last words were, "You can go home; you’re as fit as a fiddle!" At home, for the first few weeks, I did very gentle hip circles and stretches. The uterus takes six weeks to reach pre-pregnancy proportions, so I believe it’s best for a new mother to take it easy. It is not a time for crash diets and fitness regimes (like the Hollywood actresses push themselves through for the sake of the camera). It is a time to nurture your body, your baby and focus on the beauty of life that came from within. I resumed yoga and dance six weeks after delivery, and slowly progressed to full powered shimmies and fitness after four months. My back and pelvic floor are both still strong and took very little maintenance to return to full pre-pregnancy strength.

As baby gets older, although your time becomes more limited, you can still practice Belly dancing. Class time may be less, but baby enjoys the music and dancing at home. If you have a few friends with children who wish to join you, allocate turns for a "baby sitter" during class; although children like it so much, they often become a part of the fun class!

If you go to class, check if there are teachers that run "Mother and Child" classes, or alternatively, get a baby sitter or family member to look after baby the same time every week so you can continue your hobby. The Internet becomes a great source of learning when your baby keeps you at home. I allocate a half hour timeslot each day (when little Serafina sleeps) to get my emails done, and use the time to surf the web.

As children get older, children’s Bellydance and Folkloric dance classes are such fun to teach, and they are a great way to clean the studio too, because, at the end of the class, you can ask them to collect sequins off the floor, and they can keep the sparkling treasures that they find!

  • Maha Moussa has written a beautiful book called "Dance of the Womb", and I recommend it highly. To all the Belly dance moms out there I say, "Continue dancing and sharing information about the wonderful, empowering benefits of Belly dancing for birth and beyond!"
  • Author’s bio on Gilded Serpent

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