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 Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks

Belly Dance Your Way to Health: This Ancient Art is Accessible and Fun

Dec 01, 2012 01:44AM ● By By Carla Saylor


Dance is a time-honored means of creative expression. Formal or informal, amateur or professional, it is a way to express joy, love or even sadness. Dance usually has deep cultural roots and is often highlighted in celebrations of weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and other special occasions.

Steeped in a rich history, belly dancing is as diverse as the people that practice it. Many societies including Greece, The Middle East and North Africa, claim to have invented belly dancing, but its origin is shrouded in mystery. Variations include Egyptian, Turkish and African styles.

One hallmark of belly dance is a slow, sinewy undulation in the abdominal area, combined with a faster hip shimmy to display a contrasting effect. With a series of arm, leg and hip movements, performed to a beat, an exotically elaborate choreography emerges. Dancers wear costumes that accentuate the navel, and long, flowing skirts, scarves and headdresses. Jewelry that rattles completes the ensemble with dramatic flair.

Like other forms of dance, this ancient practice can help support physical, mental, social and spiritual health. Rhythmically moving the body releases physical and mental tension, promoting relaxation. Connecting to untapped creativity and expressing it through dance helps nurture a sense of well-being; stress levels drop and energy rebounds.

Belly dance also requires mental concentration and offers physical challenges. An expert instructor can work with students of varied abilities and experience levels to provide each with the guidance and inspiration they need. Warm-ups and cool-downs are essential to avoid injury.

As a weight-bearing exercise, belly dance can tone and strengthen the body, increase flexibility and safely improve bone density. “The lack of jumping circumvents joint strain,” explains Lancaster belly dance instructor Zan Asha. Moving the body in natural ways and engaging it from head to toe can reduce musculoskeletal restrictions, improve range of motion and support spinal mobility. Lower back tension, created by sedentary habits such as sitting in front of a computer, recedes as muscles lengthen. estimates that belly dancing can burn 300 or more calories in an hour, helping dancers maintain a healthy weight. The practice also strengthens and tones core muscles and may improve digestive function. Like other forms of exercise, dancing stimulates lymphatic flow, which helps release toxins and metabolic waste from the body’s tissues, possibly boosting immunity.

Socially, dancing provides opportunities to bond with others; as dancers mingle, friendships often form. Spiritually, it can quiet thoughts and foster a peaceful mindfulness.

American Tribal Style Belly Dance (ATS), created in 1971 by Carolena Nericcio, in San Francisco, is a unique style that blends many Middle Eastern techniques. Its appearance exerted an immediate and dramatic impact on the art of belly dance, attracting devotees from around the globe. ATS is performed in a group format with a leader that uses subtle cues to signal a change in direction, tempo or sequence. Each “tribe”, or dance troupe, develops its own trademark cues and combinations synthesized from other forms of belly dance. The results can be either improvisational or a pre-organized sequence, according to the intent of the tribe.

“Belly dance is extremely accessible and fun for all,” comments Asha, who is also a dancer and theater director in New York City. “It’s wonderful for self-esteem, because women come out of their shells when they realize they can do this form of dance. As they express themselves, they recognize that they are beautiful in their own bodies.” With increased self-confidence in body, mind and spirit, dancers live life fully and gracefully.

Carla Saylor, a nationally certified and licensed massage therapist, owns Mandarin Rose Spa, located at 25 S. Queen St. (Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square, 5th floor). She is a student of Tribal Ethnic Fusion belly dance.