Tuesday, 18 August 2009

New Labor Moves: Belly Dancing Hits Delivery Room

Connection to Childbirth May Have Ancient Origins; A Shimmy and a Roll

Helping Jennifer Wright through labor in the delivery room of a Columbia, Mo., birthing center in February were her doctor, her husband -- and her belly-dance instructor.

With the teacher, DeeDee Farris-Folkerts, by her side reminding her of the moves, Ms. Wright stood holding her husband while doing the hip circles and pelvic rotations characteristic of the ancient Arabian dance. She had readied a compact disc with classic Egyptian music, but didn't have a chance to play it before her daughter, Aubrey, emerged.

"I danced my way through labor," says the mother of three, who had been given painkillers and labor-inducing medication during her oldest child's birth and wanted a natural alternative. Her husband, Joe Walls, says he learned that belly dancing ‘is more than just entertainment. It has a much higher purpose.’

These days, alternative techniques to ease labor run the gamut from hypnotherapy to "water births" in a large bathtub. But some women disillusioned with routine use of drugs and medical interventions during labor are turning to an unusual solution -- belly dancing. They're restoring the titillating dance of seduction -- frequent entertainment fare in night clubs and Middle Eastern restaurants -- to what they say were its origins in childbirth, while enhancing maternity wards with swirling motions and mesmerising music.

Expectant mothers can choose from an increasing array of prenatal belly-dancing classes and educational materials. The first instructional prenatal belly dance DVD in the U.S. was released 16 months ago, with a pregnant dancer named Naia leading the class.

"Most of the women who come to me have given birth before and they want something different," says Ms. Farris-Folkerts, who typically has three to eight pregnant students in her belly-dance courses.

The belly dance arrived in the U.S. in the 1890s, according to bellydance lore, when impresario Sol Bloom brought an "Algerian" village to the Chicago World's fair and introduced the dancer Little Egypt, who cavorted to improvised snake-charmer music. Incorporating elements of striptease and so-called "hootchie-cootchie" dancing, the belly dance gained its come-hither reputation.

British anthropologist Sheila Kitzinger, author of numerous books on pregnancy, says belly dancing originated as a ritual of childbirth as well as seduction. Among Bedouin Arabs, she says, girls are taught a pelvic dance during puberty to celebrate their budding sexuality and prepare for the physical marathon of childbirth.

Some belly dance moves mirror those of labor. The idea is that the pelvic gyrations help disperse the pain of contractions, orient the fetus and propel the baby into the world. In early labor, when contractions are relatively mild, the expectant mother may find comfort in dancing slowly and hypnotically, using hip circles, crescents and figure eights. As labor gets more intense, the movements may progress to a rapid rocking of the pelvis from side to side – a technique known a the shimmy – to help position the baby correctly and relax the pelvic floor. In the final phase of pushing, a full body undulation known as the camel roll can help the baby move into the birth canal.”

A New York dancer who calls herself Morocco popularised the link between dancing and childbirth in the late 1960s with a firsthand account of a birth and dance ritual near Casablanca. Two decades later, a troupe called the Goddess Dancing was formed in greater Boston to celebrate the roots of belly dancing and teach classes to pregnant women and others.

NB: This article may be incomplete as it is now archived.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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