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Belly dancing can improve your health while enhancing your confidence and self esteem!
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By Sheri Waldrop

Raks Sharki, also called belly dance, is a form of dance that many are familiar with.  But few understand the effects it has on the human body.   The graceful hip drops, rolls, and pivots of this dance form utilize muscle groups in the abdomen, pelvis, trunk, spine, and neck, working with the body instead of against it.  Unlike ballet, which can potentially alter and deform the skeleton, or other dance forms that work against rather than with the body’s physical inclinations, raks sharki is based on movements that come naturally to the female form.

Improved posture and muscle toning

Our spinal column contains more bones and ligaments than any other part of the body.  Its 33 vertebrae are stacked together in a column joined together by cartilage and ligaments, and almost every movement of the torso depends upon its flexibility and function. Muscle groups that attach to the ligaments and vertebrae create movement in the trunk and pelvis areas.  Raks sharki tones these muscles and maintains flexibility in a safe and effective manner.

During the dance, the movements of hip drops, circles, figure eights, and shimmies put the joints and ligaments in the lower back and hip through a full range of gentle, repetitive motion.  This movement helps increase the flow of synovial fluid (nature’s lubricant) in these joints.  When movements are done properly, the pelvis is tipped forward, or tucked somewhat; a neutral position that can help prevent lower back problems.  Raks sharki can help relieve stress to the back, counteracting the almost constant compression of the disks that occurs from sitting and a sedentary lifestyle.

These toned muscles improve posture and help prevent back pain that can be caused by the unnatural curving forward of the spine that occurs when muscle groups are weak (lordosis).  Small muscle groups deep in the back that are normally under-exercised are used and strengthened.  The muscles surrounding the hip, the largest joint in the body, are used and exercised during hip drops, and figure eights, enhancing flexibility and suppleness.  Improved hip flexibility can lead to improved balance when walking as well.

Arms and Shoulders are exercised when doing lifts, circles, or the rippling motions of snake arms, toning muscle.  This toning effect is often evident early on, since holding the arms aloft are an important element of the dance, even for beginners.  Because a woman is on her feet, moving during the dance, it is considered a weight-bearing exercise. 


Weight-bearing exercise can prevent osteoporosis and strengthen bones, and the overall toning can lead to an improved self-image, as the dancer becomes more balanced and poised.  Raks sharki is considered a low-impact exercise, meaning the risk of injury is minimal when movements are done correctly.  The benefits of belly dance can be enjoyed by women of all ages; men and children are participating in the dance as well, and reaping the same benefits.

Weight Loss

According to Dr. Carolle Jean-Murat, M.D., raks sharki can burn up to 300 calories per hour.  This estimate will vary, of course, depending on the intensity of your dancing.   Combined with a healthy diet that involves sensible eating, raks sharki can without a doubt be part of a sound weight loss program.

Many dance classes take place only once or twice a week.  For even better results and enhanced cardiovascular benefits, try combining the flexibility and muscle strengthening of raks sharki with an aerobic routine, such as swimming or bike riding, on the days you don’t have class.  Your entire body will feel the benefits as the aerobic exercise works large muscle groups, and the dance enhances strength and coordination of small muscle groups in the trunk, hips, and arms.  Also, many exercise physiologists recommend doing just such a routine: alternating one form of exercise with another, for maximum benefits.

Body Image, Confidence and Self-Esteem

In our daily lives, women are constantly bombarded with images of the “perfect body,” which inevitably means a very thin body. Women who do not fit this mold naturally are given the message that they are not fit, and many become discouraged with the effort trying to achieve the usually unrealistic goal of attaining a model-thin look. 


Bellydance, on the contrary, celebrates the diversity of women’s bodies.  It’s actually desirable if you have a little more to shake around!  Because the dance looks beautiful on all bodies, the resulting benefits to women’s self-esteem are immeasurable.  And women can gain confidence and pride in focusing on what their body can DO, rather than just on what it looks like.  Of course, the men that participate in Middle Eastern dance (there are a few!) can derive confidence-building benefits as well.

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Traditionally used to prepare for the journey of childbirth and motherhood, ‘Raks Sharki’ commonly known in the US as Bellydance, is excellent prenatal exercise for strengthening the muscles used during the childbirth process.  This empowering and spiritual dance can be traced through centuries of women in traditional communities sharing and supporting one another in all of life’s experiences.  Movements similar to the “pelvic rocking”, taught during prenatal classes teach the expectant mother how to relax and freely move her pelvis.  The rich and hypnotic music transports the dancer to another reality of joy and celebration of the feminine in all her myriad forms.  For women who desire natural childbirth, this form of dance, with its emphasis on muscle control not only facilitates natural childbirth, but also makes an excellent post-natal exercise that restores tone of vaginal walls and abdominals.  During those first weeks after giving birth, when caution is needed while healing from the birth process, these movements work the muscles gently and effectively.

The ancient and sacred movements of belly dance are some of the oldest known movements for labor and birth.  In fact belly dance is believed to be the original childbirth preparation exercise.  Many of the exercises and techniques are useful for helping to relieve common discomforts of pregnancy and labor, and to regain muscle tone and strength in the post-partum period.  This insightful, introspective class promotes self-esteem and body awareness allowing women to focus on the goddess within.   Class is open to healthy women in all stages of pregnancy and new motherhood, as well as mothers, sisters, and other female support people.  Do something fun for yourself during this special time!

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