Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Gyrate Expectations

Moms-to-be give belly dancing a whirl for fitness and fun
By Lori Price of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: Sep. 9, 2008

In many ways, the belly-dancing class was exactly what you'd expect.

A professional belly dancer guided nine women in coin-fringed hip scarves through snaky, seductive motions: hip lifts, pelvic circles, a few shimmies.

Then Stefanie Masters, the instructor, made a suggestion that hinted at why this class was so different.

"If anyone is feeling (confident), you can lift your shirt up to see your belly," Masters said.

Silence. Only one woman tucked the hem of her shirt into its neckline to expose her pregnant belly.

The free class, held at Destination Maternity in Brookfield, is part of a national wave of women taking up belly dancing as a fun way to stay fit.

Hip-popping singer Shakira and increased access to world music have helped push belly dancing, which has roots in various ancient cultures, into mainstream circles. The home fitness market includes DVDs on belly dancing for pregnancy, and YouTube.com carries instructional videos on prenatal belly dancing.

Safe exercise

Belly-dance experts at area studios say some pregnant women are joining their non-prenatal classes. And they've noticed that women already in class are continuing after they become pregnant - something that once caused women to take a break from belly dancing.

Anywhere from five to 10 pregnant or postpartum women attend Masters' class each week. As a result, she and several other local teachers offer modified belly dance instruction for pregnant women: letting them dance in a chair, keeping activity at low-impact levels and eliminating spins and whirls.

Crystal Ruffin, an obstetrician / gynecologist with Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin, said as long as a woman who is experiencing a normal pregnancy doesn't do any of the jerky movements or sudden motions in belly dance, it's a safe option.

Fitness in general is important for pregnant women, several doctors said.

"Exercise during pregnancy . . . does give a woman a better sense of self and helps them not gain so much weight or body fat," said Michelle Douglas, a doctor of osteopathic medicine with Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group.

"(It) can help with a lot of musculoskeletal pains women experience when they're pregnant, such as low back pain. And it can possibly give you an easier, shorter labor and less depression.

"If your body is more fit, your body will endure more and be able to bounce back."

Pregnant women who are looking for fun fitness options - as well as ways to make pregnancy, labor, delivery and recovery easier - are finding that belly dancing's sultry tools, well, deliver.

"It just sounded like an interesting way to exercise and move your body," said Marie Ponder, who's a little more than seven months pregnant with her first child. She attended Masters' class for the first time last week.

"There is walking and going to the gym and doing elliptical work, but that doesn't sound appealing at all when you're pregnant," said Ponder, 26. "I was curious to know what this would be like."

So, how was it?

"I loved it," she said. "It's funny, because you think of being pregnant as being swollen and big and you gain weight. But it actually makes you feel in touch with your body and makes you feel sexy."

Certainly, belly dancing's sensuous side can improve the moods of pregnant women, who often feel awkward in their growing, changing bodies. But it's the dance's key components - posture, breathing and focus - that make it a natural fit for pregnancy.

Traditional moves such as pelvic circles and figure eights strengthen abdominal muscles that are used in labor and delivery. Shimmies, another well-recognized move, have even been said to induce labor, Masters said.

"It tones all of your core muscles, and you actually use a lot of those muscles and the undulations we do in belly dance during labor and delivery," said Shaia Fahrid of Shaia Fahrid Egyptian Dance Studio and Productions.

Lidia Brown, 36, who attends Masters' class and gave birth to a daughter two months ago, said belly dancing made a difference in her nine-month term, labor and delivery.

Brown, who also has a son, said she experienced extreme back pain during both pregnancies. But after she started belly dancing in the seventh month of her last pregnancy, she noticed that the stretching and posture alignment tips she picked up in the classes helped to relieve the pain.

"My back would still hurt, but when I went to class, I wouldn't have the pain anymore, even if it was just for a couple of days after the class," she said.

And all she thought about during the birth of her daughter was breathing.

"Even the nurses were saying, 'Wow, you're breathing really well,' " recalled Brown, who used no pain medication during the birth. She believes all of it - breathing, stronger core muscles, increased energy level - led to a faster delivery. She pushed for 40 minutes to deliver her daughter, she said; it took three hours of pushing to deliver her son two years ago.

A shared experience

But belly dancing classes are not all about the physical, said Masters. The classes also help women connect with their unborn child, establish relationships with each other and reduce the self-conscious feelings some pregnant women say they experience.

"We're giving them a chance to come to the class and build a community," Masters said. "When we build a community, we're allowing them to be connected, and when they feel connected, they don't feel the negativity because they're joined by others who are experiencing what they are going through."

Source: Journal Sentinel Online

No comments:

Post a Comment