When we think about belly dancing, we may imagine a seductive dance with ornate, skimpy clothing. But this is an ancient and culture-rich form of dance – both sensual and a poised form of art. It empowers women, giving them the confidence to embrace their bodies, and developing our strength and fitness all at the same time.
No, you don’t have to show your stomach or wear a hip scarf, coin belt, or any of the other cliché items we associate the practice with. Sure, belly dancing is traditionally a performance art, but it is also so much more than that. It is something that you can practise for no one but yourself, to dance your way into a heightened state of self-awareness, self-worth, and ultimately, self-love.
How can belly dancing help you love yourself?
In a world of body-type-pigeon-holing, obsession with perfection, belly dancing can be a breath of fresh air. With unrealistic body goals, health shaming, and photoshopped images sabotaging our perceptions of what a beautiful body must look like, we are in desperate need of a reboot.
Although belly dancing is a form of exercise, and you may well experience slimming or strengthening side-effects as with any other, there is no end body goal here. Founded on a celebration of the female form in all of its shapes and sizes, belly dancing pros are certainly not one-size-fits-all. Since the culture it came from historically favoured more voluptuousness, you are not only not shamed for any extra curves, but these can actually accentuate your movements.
On top of that, when you belly dance, you learn to find beauty not only with how a body is shaped standing still, but more so in the shapes which it is able to contort itself into. As a result, with every new abdominal muscle you manage to isolate, you develop a new sense of respect for your body and what it is capable of. You begin to regard it as more of an instrument that you can play, and less of a static image to be passively scrutinised.
As discussed previously, belly dancing is historically inclusive when it comes to body shapes. It celebrates strength, self-ownership, and the taking up of space, rather than encouraging women to shrink into themselves, believing that the smaller and daintier the better. Overall, it rapidly affects the way you feel in your body, from your how you hold yourself to your core strength – giving you a sense of increased control and composure. This can have a transformative effect on your sense of self and how your project yourself outside of the dance studio too.
Suggested read: Communicating Love: What Are The Love Languages?
Core strength & fertility
The original motivation behind this type of dance was to encourage and celebrate fertility. In fact, belly dancing has been used in oriental cultures to prepare women’s bodies for childbirth for hundreds – maybe thousands – of years. It is the strengthening and lengthening of the pelvic floor muscles – an added bonus of practising this form of dance – which are responsible for this.
Pregnancy not on your radar? Well, this pelvic strengthening can also help to improve gynaecological health overall, reduce abdominal cramping, and facilitate digestion.
Muscle toning & Slimming
Although I must reiterate that this is not the main goal, belly dancing is an unassuming calorie-burner. And since it targets your obliques and waistline, it has a noticeable toning and slimming effect of these areas. You will use and develop muscles you never even knew you had – but with the goal of learning a new and impressive skill, rather than only doing it to change how your body looks.
As such, although originally part of the dance’s charm was to showcase every curve and wobble, with continued practice, you will actually rapidly lose fat around your waist and stomach, and develop muscle. This is because you will start to regularly use muscles which not even sit-ups usually reach. On top of this, the shimmying – a key component of any oriental choreography meaning prolonged and controlled shaking of a certain area of the body – is not only an impressive movement, but literally melts any excess fat away, and shakes off your anxieties all at once.
Meditation & mindfulness
As explored previously, meditation isn’t all lotus-position-eyes-closed. Some forms of exercise can also refocus the mind, and quieten the back-chatter of thoughts many of us experience day-to-day. Oriental dances are especially powerful in this respect as they combine the slow, soft poses that we benefit from in yoga or tai chi with a more rhythmic quality to get your heart pumping and lure you into a trance-like state – similar to when you get lost in your head while out on a jog.
As with any exercise, it’s a great form of escapism from your daily worries and responsibilities – but combined with the self-love and self-ownership which the dance encapsulates, you will finish a practice with an unmatched sense of optimism, confidence, and readiness to take on whatever might come your way.
Belly Dancing & Self Love: the bottom line
As you will hopefully now understand better, belly dancing has a whole host of mental and physical benefits. It’s so much more than the garish accessories and fetishization we tend to be misled with.
There is something inherently enticing about Middle Eastern culture (not that this half-Persian over here is biased!) From the haunting music to the simultaneously lavish and nonchalant vibe. For many of us, both watching the dance and listening to the music are powerful mood-boosters. This only intensifies for the dancer herself!
So if you’re looking for a new form of exercise which is both mentally and physically challenging, which both invigorates and calms you, and which is literally based on the celebration of femininity in all of its many forms, then why not give belly dancing a chance?
Have you ever tried a belly dancing class? Let us know what you thought in the comments below!