Exotic, titillating, mysterious – all these words capture the way that most in the Western world view belly dancing. What would surprise many is that fact that some form of belly dancing is present in virtually all cultures, it is simply that the Middle Eastern form has taken over the collective consciousness of the art.
So what is Belly Dancing?
Belly dancing is dance where instead of hands and feet comprising the movement, the torso moves while limbs remain relatively still. Strictly speaking, it would probably be more accurate to refer to it as “hip dancing”. By varying the pace and magnitude of torso movements, a belly dancer can imply an entire story without speaking a word. These movements can broadly be classed into three types.
The first type is the “beat”, or staccato movement. This is the mainstay of belly dancing and what most people picture when the subject arises. The beat moves consist of overt, quick movements of the hips from side to side or front to back. The regular beat moves establish a rhythm much like a drum does for a band.
The second type is the fluid or sinuous movement. These movements tell the majority of the story within the framework established by the beat moves. In a band, these movements would be much like the keyboard, setting a varied tune to the rhythm of the drum.
The final type of movement is the vibration or shimmy movement. These movements act as punctuation within the melody created by the fluid moves. Continuing the band analogy, these moves would be somewhat like cymbals or castanets. Indeed, it is not uncommon for belly dancers to wear miniature cymbals or castanets on their fingers to accentuate this effect.
The precise posture for belly dancing varies from culture to culture, but the universal commonalities are a straight spine and slightly bent knees. This posture prevents excess fatigue due to the constant torso motion. Those who take belly dancing lessons are often surprised to discover how fatiguing such a low impact activity can actually be. To combat this fatigue, many avid belly dancers turn to exercises like Yoga or Pilates to strengthen the core and make it more flexible.
Belly dancing is an almost unique art form that allows a dancer to lead an audience through an emotional roller coaster without a single word. By learning to put the moves together and strengthening the torso, a belly dancer can literally sing a silent song.
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