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  • Writer's pictureSecond Opinion Magazine

Belly Dance for Wellness

by Rita Simon, M.D.

The term “wellness” is frequently tossed around in the media, used by politicians and medical folks, and discussed in everyday conversations. But, what does wellness really mean? And what does belly dance have to do with wellness?

“Wellness” has been defined as a “multi-dimensional state of being describing the existence of positive health in an individual exemplified by the quality of life and sense of well-being.” “Holistic” wellness defines an approach that combines the dimensions of the physical, emotional/mental and spiritual aspects of the individual. “Spiritual” does not refer to anything religious, but rather to what is the very essence of one’s being or the core of self. The body, mind, and spirit are not seen as separate entities that require individual focus, but rather as intertwined to make up the whole of who we are as human being: holistic!

Being a physician, I have been well-steeped in the modern medical model that focuses on the physical aspects of wellness. As a Family Practice physician specifically, addressing the mental/emotional dimension of wellness was also deemed to be critical. My personal spiritual journey, and having been privileged to have been a small part of many others’ journeys, has impressed upon me the great need for us to recognize the spiritual dimension of wellness in order for us to truly be “whole.” So, how does belly dance fit in with all of this?

Historically, “belly dance” is a fairly new term coined for ancient dance movements created by women that can be traced as far back as 4000 BCE. These dance movements, centered in the hips, abdomen, and pelvis, were initially meant to aid in child birthing and healing for women. In the early matriarchal cultures, these were sacred dances that bespoke of the birth-death-rebirth cycle of life. As time went on, this “women’s” dance became a way for women to promote a sense of wellness, sisterhood, and community.

Modern day belly dance is an activity through which women can experience holistic wellness. Belly dance can strengthen the physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual dimensions of being for women.

Watching belly dancers, it may not appear that much is going on, but this dance is a real workout! Physically, belly dance is a cardiovascular activity. Dancing fast moves to fast music definitely gets the heart pumping and the blood circulating! Over time, the dancer’s stamina improves, as with any other vigorous physical exercise, to allow longer and longer stretches of dancing before fatiguing.

The slow dance movements require as much energy as the fast moves, but in a different way. The precision of very specific muscle groups in various parts of the body working slowly together to accomplish the desired effect creates an almost isometric type of muscle activity. This is definitely fatiguing, but feels really good!

Belly dance is a very low impact activity, so it is minimally stressful on the body’s joints. Flexibility is improved over time with a good warm-up stretching routine which precedes any dance activity.

Muscles in the upper back, shoulders and abdomen are strengthened by virtue of the dance posture, especially that required for ATS (American Tribal Style) belly dance. ATS posture is simultaneously graceful and yet creates a strong, proud attitude which requires strong abdominal muscles and an uplifted chest to pull it off well. This posture comes over time only with constant attention, lots of practice, and gradual strengthening of the involved muscle groups.

There are many ways that belly dance impacts a woman’s mental/emotional dimension. Belly dancers are women of all ages. Belly dancers are women of all sizes and shapes. Belly dancers are women from all demographic groups and professions. Belly dancers learn to see each woman they dance with as beautiful. They begin to see themselves as beautiful and worthwhile regardless of the societal messages they have received in their lives about what they “should” look like. They begin to see this beauty and integrity as inherent in all women! For so many women, this is such a gift!

Belly dancing can also be an activity where women can again find a sense of “sisterhood” and community with other women. The life of modern women is so intense, hectic and other-oriented, with jobs, children, elderly parents, etc. that there is often little time and space to just “be” a woman with other women. This freedom to just “be” can be so refreshing and joyful for many women!

The fabulous and colorful belly dance costuming, hair decorations and jewelry gives many women “permission” to let their creative sides flourish, perhaps for the first time in their lives. Women can again play ‘dress up” as they did when they were young girls. They are allowed to “play” again, which can open up a new sense of delight and wonderment in their lives.

The spiritual aspects of belly dance encompass the physical and emotional dimensions by opening women to experience the essence of themselves, the core of their being, through all dimensions of the dance. Music and movement have always been a strong, integral part of spirituality throughout the history of humanity, and are powerful avenues for spiritual awareness. Women who belly dance may experience an increased sense of personal empowerment. They may develop a stronger inner awareness of their own value and worth and become more aware of their interconnectedness with women everywhere. The spiritual/personal insights gained over time in the dance studio are then taken out of the studio with them and into their everyday lives.

Holistic wellness through belly dancing; no incongruity here! Just give it a try and see!

Rita Simon, M.D. is a retired Family Practice physician and co-owner, with Joan Schaefer, of “Sofia Spirit Studio” in Eau Claire, WI. They are certified instructors of Fat Chance Belly Dance ATS belly dance.

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