Monday, 11 May 2009

Belly Dance as a Means of Dance Therapy

Published: February 03, 2007
Writer: Nadia De Leon

The Healing Powers of Middle Eastern Dance

The concept that Belly Dance can be healing, that it is a fine form of exercise and that it fosters the general well being of women, is and has been widely accepted, since its origins in the Middle East all the way to contemporary dance studios in the
U.S. This fact is easily confirmed through many lines in books about the history and sociology of Middle-Eastern Dance, as well as by the vast number of websites that talk about Belly Dance as a healing tool for today's women.

There is not a single book completely dedicated to Belly Dance's therapeutic qualities, in fact there are not many books generally dealing with Belly Dance at all. Nevertheless, there are plenty of the materials on the Internet with anecdotic information in the form of journals or casual articles. These sources talk about personal experiences of how practicing Belly Dance brings many physiological and psychological benefits. The scope of all these sources only goes as far as Belly Dance's healing powers, but it does not address Belly Dance utilized as Dance Therapy. By this I mean that although Belly Dance is used widely as a form of informal therapy, I have not been able to find material regarding its use in a strict format of physical or psychotherapy, by a therapist, much less following the parameters and foundations of professional Dance/Movement Therapy. Even so, I did find enough material to confirm many aspects of said "healing powers" of Belly Dance, which I explore in detail below.

Physiological Benefits

Because Belly Dance is an aerobic exercise, practicing it regularly burns calories, helping dancers regulate body weight, and improves cardiovascular fitness, which in turn prevents respiratory complications, as well as heart disease. Belly Dance is a strength-and-conditioning exercise for many muscles, such as the quadriceps and hamstrings, and all the muscles of the shoulder, arm and wrist involved in arm movements. Belly Dance especially strengthens the muscles of the torso: the abdominal, pelvic, lumbar and gluteus muscles, which in turn improve the dancer's posture. It is well known that good posture is the first step for a chain of many physiological benefits for the human body. Because Belly dance improves both cardiovascular fitness and posture, it also develops appropriate circulation and regulates breathing, which in turn augments the oxygen levels in the blood, and prevents circulation and digestion complications.

The stretching and strengthening of all the muscles involved in Belly Dance, as well as the cardiovascular work out, help relieve muscle tension. Mastering the complex and layered isolation movements of Belly Dance constitutes an intense training of neuromuscular paths, which in turn improves the dancer's coordination. There are many testimonials that affirm that the frequent practice of Belly Dance eases and prevents menstrual pains, as well as strengthening the muscles and improving the fitness endurance of women in preparation for giving birth.[1][2] Finally, I must refer to the very interesting testimonial of a woman who found Belly Dance to be the best therapy to help her deal with Hypothyroidism helping her feel "fully alive and healthy" [3], as well as a Belly Dancer who was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and found the dance helpful to her physical condition[4].

Psychological Benefits Because Dance/Movement Therapy is a form of psychotherapy, I focused my research on the inherent psychological benefits of Belly Dance. Many of the psychological benefits of practicing Belly Dance often are both cause and consequence of the holistic approach of Belly Dance's philosophy, theory and techniques. Belly Dance is an art that blurs the solid and somehow arbitrary lines that Western culture and society places between mind and body. Belly Dance helps the women who practice it to experience harmony by overcoming the polarity of thinking about themselves as fragmented pieces of spirit versus flesh, and thoughts versus emotions, by seeing themselves as "whole women". Interestingly enough, the science of Dance Therapy also shares this holistic approach, by blurring the lines between mind/language and body/movement, by uplifting movement as a valid form of expression, and by showing that not only neurological maturation, experiences and learning cause change in movement behavior, but that change in movement behavior can also change the psyche. Consequently, practicing Belly Dance, and the whole of its movement vocabulary, so foreign and novel for Western women, "rewires" women into a state of all-encompassing emotional well being. It connects the core of their identities in womanhood, in loving their bodies, and in being comfortable with their femininity and sensuality. And it does all this collectively, with a group of other women who shower acceptance on each other.

In my opinion the first and foremost benefit of the practice of Belly Dance is the fact that it cultivates a positive body image and boosts self-esteem.[5] From that fact stem many other psychological benefits. The positive body image built through Belly Dance is based on the acceptance of the image of ourselves in the mirror, on the courage to dance in front of other people, and on the milestone of revealing our bellies. This is all possible because Belly Dance is a dance that reveres the female body in all shapes and sizes.[6] The personal appreciation of self-identity and enhancement of self-esteem has roots in the Dance/Movement Therapy concept that asserts that people must be comfortable in their bodies in order to move their bodies. I found that many Belly Dance instructors, who are not therapists, unknowingly and instinctively apply the Dance/Movement Therapy method called Body-Ego Technique, a predominantly nonverbal educational and therapeutic approach to establishing, reestablishing and/or maintaining body image and self-identity by learning and experiencing a variety of goal-directed physical movement patterns.[7]

Another important psychological benefit of Belly Dance, often underappreciated, is stress relief. The benefit of practicing Belly Dance periodically may lay in the simple fact of dedicating some time to ourselves. Belly Dance is an exercise and art particularly suitable to fulfill the role of a space and time to look for inner peace and harmony, such as that of meditation, and other currently popular options such as yoga and taiji. Many women who practice Belly Dance affirm that after a class they feel completely cleansed, with renewed energy and patience, grounded, and that Belly Dance class is the one time in which they can leave all their worries outside the door and rejoice in an activity they personally enjoy. This particularly helpful in today's Western society were women are expected to rise to the expectations of professional success without undermining their roles as nurturers, wives and mothers. Stress is the cause of many psychological and physiological afflictions women suffer today, and Belly Dance's value to counterbalance life's stress cannot be overestimated.

In my research I found articles, quotes, and anecdotes of women who experienced Belly Dance as emotional healing while recovering from breast cancer or uterine cancer. I found it fascinating because all these women from the U.S. to Australia, who had very different personal experiences with cancer, all shared something in common: they had undergone either mastectomy or hysterectomy surgeries.[8] There is some information regarding dance therapy being used all over the world to enhance the recovery of cancer survivors in plenty of oncology centers and hospitals all over the world.[9] Nevertheless, something distinct stands out: when the type of dance being used for this healing therapy is Belly Dance, the survivors/dancers are almost always women who went through a surgery that makes them feel "less of a woman", a surgery that undermines their personal feelings of femininity and their identity as women. No wonder these women choose Belly Dance over other dance forms to help them heal from such experiences!

Belly Dance is also used as a means of therapy for eating disorders. The reason for this is very obvious: most people suffering from eating disorders have a distorted body image with which they are not satisfied. As explained above, Belly Dance is an optimal art and exercise to build a positive body image and befriend our own bodies. Additionally, Belly Dance is not an art form that venerates slim bodies, or demands uncommon extraordinary abilities from the dancers' bodies. It is a dance that not only values, but also needs and longs for curves. It is a dance built with movements that come naturally to women, and that run smoothly through the human body. I have not been able to find information on Belly Dance utilized as the main therapy form for the treatment of eating disorders. Nevertheless, there is plenty of information about women who found Belly Dance helpful in healing from and overcoming anorexia and bulimia.[10]

Like many other enjoyable forms of exercise, Belly Dance is an exceptionally useful therapy to help treat depression.[11] The release of endorphins affects the brain chemistry, improving the dancer's mood. Practicing Belly Dance also heightens creativity, lowers stress, and helps regulate metabolism and sleep patterns, all factors that affect clinical depression.[12] Belly Dance is practiced in a comfortable non-threatening environment. A proficient Belly Dance instructor is supportive and puts little pressure on her students. All of this results in student's feelings of fulfillment and improvement of self- confidence.

The last topic I would like to address is the usefulness of Belly Dance as a healing process for survivors of sexual abuse. Belly Dance teaches women how to embody their sexuality, how to overcome shame, and how to love, celebrate and be proud of their bodies. Belly Dance is a reaffirmation of the beauty and sacredness of love, sex, passion, pleasure and fertility. Additionally, Belly Dance, as any other art form, can be a way to express anger and other inner feelings.[13] Although it may take years for the healing process to occur, Belly Dancing has helped many women resolve their issues with sexuality and their own bodies.[14]

Belly Dance is a valid means of therapy through movement. It obviously has the power to touch women's emotional core, and generate change, evolutions and revolutions in our psyche by connecting us to a higher archetype of femininity. Getting in touch with this inner power through Belly Dance starts a healing domino effect that runs like the fertile overflow of a river, gently running through the dancer's body, mind and spirit, flooding them with well being and strength.

[1] Vargas Dinicu, Carolina (Morocco), Belly Dancing and Childbirth, Sexology Magazine, 1964.

[2] Vargas Dinicu, Carolina (Morocco), Giving to Light- Dancing the baby into the world, Habibi, Winter 1996, Vol. 15, No. 1.

[3] Stricklin, Pat. "Belly Dance to Inspire Healing" Column #4, Belly Dancing as Healing Dance, June 2002,, as of October, 2005.

[4] Amy. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Belly Dance., as of November, 2005.

[5] Stricklin, Pat. Belly Dancing and Cultural Influences on Body Image., as of November, 2005.

[6] Delilah. Reviving Ophelia Through Belly Dancing " Can belly dance offer young women a more positive self image?", as of November, 2005.

[7] Salkin, Jeri, Body Ego Technique; an educational and therapeutic approach to body image and self identity, Charles C. Tomage Publisher, Illinois, U.S.A., 1973.

[8] McAghon, Monica. "Danse Orientale for Mastectomy Recovery". Healing Dance Testimonials,, as of October 2005.

[9] Clay, Jean. "Danse Orientale aided my recovery and renewed my joy for the gift of life". Healing Dance Testimonials,, as of October 2005.

[10] Izzo, Kim; Marsh, Cere, Belly Dance- Overcoming Bulimia, Filmakers Library, NY, 22 min. video.

[11] Lafata, Lorraine. "Belly Dancing as a Healing Dance", 2000, as of October, 2005.

[12] Lara (Clinical Psychologist), Psychological Benefits of Belly Dancing,, as of November, 2005.

[13] Maria, Anna "Embodied Sexuality & Female Power" Column #3, Belly Dancing as Healing Dance, March 2002,, as of October, 2005.

[14] Lipschitz, Lucy. How Middle-Eastern Dance gave me recovery., as of November, 2005.

Source: Associated Content

How Can Belly Dance Benefit You?

Published: January 08, 2009
By: A. Writer

Belly dancing is a great way to strengthen your body while you learn an amazing dance form that has been around for hundreds of years. Many people are afraid to take up belly dance for a variety of reasons. Some people think they are bad dancers, other
people think they don't have the right body for it, and still more people are afraid of the negative associations attached to belly dancers.

The truth is that belly dancing has an undeserved bad reputation. Over the years, Hollywood has portrayed belly dancers as adult entertainers, similar to strippers. In many period movies, belly dancers are portrayed as exotic sex slaves, contrasted to repressed women in black veils.

In reality, belly dancing consists of tribal dance forms from all over the Middle East, and further. It originates from dance forms the Roma gypsies brought from India and took with them everywhere they traveled. It was generally a communal dance form used in celebration, rather than a solo performer.

In the past century, the West has co-opted belly dance and transformed the art into something completely different. More recently, some belly dancers have been working to take back the dance form and have control over the way they are portrayed. Fat Chance Belly Dance is one such dance company. Some people try to restore the original moves and costumes of the tribal dance, while others try to expand it. There is even a large underground movement of Goth belly dancers.

Besides the rich and interesting history, there are many reasons to take up belly dancing. It is great for your internal muscles strength. The muscle isolations practiced in belly dance will help you strengthen your core, which can help you have better digestion and even lessen the pain of childbirth.

Belly dance is one of the few dance forms that is great for women with any body type. While ballet requires a slender figure, belly dance is wonderful for women with curves. There is no benefit to having any particular body type, since belly dance is all about the internal strength in your body.

You will probably not develop six pack abs and a perfectly svelte body through belly dance. But you will gain internal strength, have fun, and participate in a cultural dance that has a rich history. To find some classes, look at your local gyms, nearby colleges, and dance studios. If there are no classes or teachers in your area, check online for one of the many instructional belly dance DVDs.

Source: Associated Content

An Introduction to Belly Dance

Published: February 03, 2007
Writer: Nadia De Leon

Authentic Belly Dance is not the deceptive immoral dance of seduction that western Hollywood-influenced stereotypes would have us believe. Belly Dance has been misrepresented by cabaret dancers and incorrectly portrayed to the public by the media. In reality, Belly Dance is a natural, earthly, beneficial, enjoyable and completely ethical dance that honors women and femininity. The proper term for this dance, which can both be a highly disciplined art as well as a form of casual exercise and entertainment, is Oriental Dance. The first American teachers disliked the word "belly dance" because of its wrong sexual connotation and focus on the women's torsos and not on their dancing technique. In her article Roots the well-known and respected teacher Morocco (Carolina Vargas Dinicu), who has more than thirty years studying, performing and teaching Belly Dance, states: "To use the disgusting misnomer 'belly dance' is not only incorrect, it is an insult equivalent to calling Flamenco 'cockroach killing'"[1]. Nowadays, the term Belly Dance has been accepted by many teachers and reclaimed by new dancers because the body part where the movements are focused is, indeed, the belly. And this has nothing to do with a seductive goal; in fact, it has to do with fertility.

Many dance scholars support a theory that places Belly Dance as the oldest dance in the history of humanity, stating that it originated as a fertility ritual thousands of years ago. They use as evidence for their theory 17,000 years-old rock engravings found in southern Italy, Greece and Egypt, as well as famous fertility goddesses/ women sculptures such as the Venus of Willendorf. Furthermore, some dance researchers, such as dancer, writer and editor Daniella Gioseffi in her book Earth Dancing, claim that Belly Dancing was originally a ritual form for the Mother Earth Goddess in primal matriarchal or polytheistic societies where the dance honored femininity and was passed down from mothers to daughters.

Another important theory about the origin of Belly Dance is the one based on its childbirth facilitation and training capabilities. Several dancers including the famed dance ethnologist La Meri, who traveled extensively throughout the Middle East for research and training purposes in the '20s and '30s, claim to have witnessed rituals in which a woman in labor is surrounded by other women who perform Belly Dancing in a sort of hypnotizing ritual for moral support.

Belly Dancing arrived to America as an imported cabaret spectacle referred to as Danse du ventre, which originated in the Middle East during the colonization of Africa by European countries. Referring to this degradation process, the Armenian dancer

Armen Ohanian states in her book The Dancer of Shamahka:

Thus in Cairo one evening I saw, with sick incredulous eyes, one of our most sacred dances degraded into a bestiality horrible and revolting. It is our poem of the mystery and pain of motherhood, which all true Asiatic men watch with reverence and humility, in the far corners of Asia where the destructive breath of the Occident has not yet penetrated. In this olden Asia, which has kept the dance in its primitive purity, it represents maternity, the mysterious conception of life, the suffering and the joy with which a new soul is brought in the world. Could any man born of woman contemplate this most holy subject, expressed in an art so pure and so ritualistic as our eastern dance, with less than profound reverence? Such is our Asiatic veneration of motherhood, that there are countries and tribes whose most sacred oath is sworn upon the stomach, because it is from this sacred cup that humanity has issued. But the spirit of the Occident had touched this holy dance, and it became the horrible 'danse du ventre' I heard the lean Europeans chuckling, I saw lascivious smiles upon even the lips of Asiatics, and I fled.

Even today in some Middle Eastern regions that remain unaffected by the influence of Western ways of thinking, women dance in a circle around a mother in labor to induce her to repeat the movements and to give her the psychological support showed in the live-giving gift in every woman's destiny. In the informal and familial settings of some Muslim societies, women still gather by themselves in a separate location to dance to the rhythms of the drums, have fun and interact. This traditional form of Belly Dance is called Raks-sharki. Nevertheless, in most of the Middle East the rise of Political Islam has led to more puritanical attitudes in general. Dancers who appear in public, dancing in front of men who are not family to them contradict orthodox Islamic values. As a result, the widely held notion that professional dancers are prostitutes is being reinforced through the Arab countries, from Afghanistan to Morocco. In Egypt the rise of Political Islam is creating a backlash against Belly Dance. By law, in the country that names itself as the place where Belly Dance was born, these dancers cannot dance in television, and police monitors live performances to ensure that the dancer's skirt ends below the knee and that the navel is covered, even if only with transparent material.[2]

These attitudes might sound opposite to our values of freedom and free will, but they are actually understandable given Arab religious and cultural values. Therefore, what I find strange is that here in the U.S. dancing Belly Dance could be a cause to suffer the weight of many prejudices. Dance should be respected as a universal language that allows us to better understand the cultures of others. The fact is, it is impossible to even try understanding cultures different to ours, or widen our concepts in general, if we do not start with an open mind that does not judge dances by the amount of clothes wore by the dancers instead of the cultural meaning attached to them. Once again, the dancer Morocco states this indignation in wonderful words in her article Roots:

When I first came into Oriental dance (...), I was drawn by the beauty of its music and movements and gave no thought to the possibility that it might be misinterpreted by ignorant or misinformed viewers. Innocent that I was, I assumed that the grace of a skilled dancer was sufficient to prove the beauty and legitimacy of this ancient art form. How wrong I was! I've lost count of the times that an erroneous and degrading value judgment of my morality and worthiness was made, based on (...) previous performances of those who, in every profession, cater to the lowest common denominator.[3]

The truth is that Belly dance does not only have many physiological benefits (including good posture, muscular strength, coordination, cardiovascular fitness, eases menstrual pains, improves circulation and digestion, and releases tension), it also has several psychological benefits. Most importantly, it improves self-image and confidence, which is a very important benefit, especially for young women. Belly Dance lets us get in contact with our body and accept it as it is. Belly Dance makes any thin or overweight woman enjoy feminine dancing. This acceptance of ourselves in front of the mirror image as much as in front of other people is more easily achieved in an "only girls" atmosphere. That's why many Belly Dance teachers, including myself, don't even aloud men in their studios. Second, Belly Dance also develops teamwork and a deep feeling of sisterhood among the members of a "dancing troupe". Tribal Belly Dance is danced in couples or larger groups where dance is improvised by the "cue-er", who is the woman on the front left corner. This title is shared because of the rotation of positions, resulting in a group dynamic in which the higher level of team work is reached with the synchronicity of the dancers.

Belly Dance can be a way of life, or something a woman does "just for kicks every other Friday night", but it is always beneficial to the women who practice it. Belly Dance has a way of seducing us, women, into the quest for the light of our own feminine identity, as well as constructing a place of belonging for that identity, in history, in society, regardless of the time, place and culture we come from. Belly Dance invokes and evokes the universal energy of womanhood from the astral collective consciousness into our striking present, into our sweat and skin, the tips of our fingers, and the rhythm of our hearts beating life.

[1] Vargas Dinicu, Carolina (Morocco), Roots, Habibi Vol.5 No.12

[2] Nieuwkerk, Karin van, A trade like any other: female singers and dancers in Egypt, Austin : University of Texas Press, 1995.

[3] Vargas Dinicu, Carolina (Morocco), Roots, Habibi Vol.5 No.12

Source: Associated Content