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Health Benefits of Belly Dance
We know for certain that belly dancing is fun, boost our self esteem, helps builds friendships but it also has many health benefits. Below are a few great articles that describe the impact on belly dancing on your physical health. Including Alzheimers and Dementia prevention.
9 Reasons Every Woman Should Take Up BellyDancing
Have you given up on your New Year’s resolutions yet? You will not be alone. Should you be one of the many who decided to get fit this year and are already making excuses as to why you cannot go to the gym, I have the perfect solution— belly dancing.
Hold up. Hear me through before you skip over this article. If you had mentioned belly dancing to me a few years ago when I was a personal trainer, I would have guffawed rudely. How wrong I would have been.
For women (or men) lacking in self-confidence, going through menopause, who want to shape up but detest gyms and running, or who need motivation and require a huge injection of self-esteem, this is undoubtedly the best activity you can take up. No joke, gentlemen can also benefit from this and they do not have to shake their booty like Shakira.
Belly dancing is becoming increasing popular with women in their 50s and 60s. Fitness, friendship and visibility are among the many reasons they are signing up to classes. And, they are not just noticing an improvement in physical health. Those going through menopause have seen a marked improvement in symptoms associated with the “change”, from a reduction in hot flashes to resurgence of self-confidence. All the organs affected by the hormonal changes of menopause are strengthened by increased blood circulation, thus many report an easier transit through this stage of their lives.
Fleur Estelle, whose belly-dancing academy in London is renowned, holds 36 classes a week in eight different locations. Fleur has made several appearances on television, been in a Bollywood-themed episode of BBC drama Hustle and was featured sword balancing in a music video for Kasabian. She has also performed with her company for Princess Eugenie and members of the United Arab Emirates and Jordanian royal families. I was therefore honored to participate in one of her classes to discover more about this activity.
Suffice it to say, I have endued some hard-core kickboxing, spinning, and boxercise classes in my time as an exercise-fiend but never before have I worked all my muscle groups so seemingly little with such huge rewards.
First impressions — the participants were amazingly friendly and encouraging. I am not usually accustomed to such comradery and excitement at the start of a class. Once the class began, it was impossible to not want to shake and wiggle with gusto. Fleur’s enthusiasm spread like contagion. She would be able to make Donald Trump shimmy and enjoy doing it. Moves were explained then the music began. Like a marionette being worked by unseen hands, I jigged into life and found it remarkably easy to follow Fleur and her entourage. It is less difficult than performing a grape vine followed by a box step to a modern fast beat. Somehow your natural reaction is to shake those hips, or shoulders.
Half an hour later and I felt like a new woman. I was no longer a menopausal 50-something-year-old. I was a beautiful 30-year-old who was no longer embarrassed by her wobbly belly — a girl can dream.
The following day, my stomach ached as if I had performed three hundred crunches but I felt taller, leaner, more poised and elegant. Dare I say it? I felt more feminine and sexy. It appeared I had caught the belly dancing bug.
Those who have been practicing it are effusive in their praise. I spoke to several groups of women all of whom were convinced belly dancing had improved their self-confidence, physical health and even sexuality:
“I think the major benefit has to be the confidence boost it has given me.”
“I am a children’s emergency nurse and the best way for me to wind down is belly dancing, it takes me an hour to get to class but I make an effort to travel that far because I love it so much.” Beena Dodia
“I love belly dancing as it is fantastic exercise (super-charged if you do Tribal Fusion) and one of the best forms of stress relief I can think of. If I’m in a bad mood, half an hour of dancing can snap me out of it easily.” Annabella Krol
“Belly dancing is quite possibly one of the best things that have ever, ever happened to me! The first time I belly danced (that was over 6 years ago!), I walked out of the class sashaying my hips, feeling all woman.” Roshni Dominc
Lana summed it all up with her reasons to take up belly dancing:
• Really good exercise (better than any gym session!) but at the same time, it’s so feminine.
• The costumes — sparkly and gorgeous colors.
• For the most part, it is low impact, which works well for me as I have foot injuries so can’t do many other types of exercise.
• So many different variations on belly dancing — props, fusions with other forms of dancing, styles (Persian, Egyptian, Turkish) — there is always something new to discover.
• Helps me to de-stress from the day job.
• A lovely supportive environment in classes and rehearsals — everyone is willing everyone else to do well.
• Performing is an amazing adrenaline rush.
• A much more defined waist — belly dancing really tones your obliques.
• Some awesome party moves — everyone loves a shimmy!
• Lots of really good friends.
• More body confidence.
• Generally more confidence in how I present myself — I get feedback now on the presence I have when I give presentations at work.
One thing is for certain, should you take up belly dancing you will not regret it. Men who have taken a class have been less effusive in their praise but confessed to me that they too felt better for doing the class and even secretly practiced moves at home.
Who does not want to feel younger, fulfilled, healthy and sexier? I am now off to the kitchen to shake my coin belt at my man. What about you?
The Health Benefits of Belly Dancing
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. There is a wealth of health benefits awaiting those who practice this form of dance.
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.
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.
Preparation for childbirth
The movements of raks sharki make an excellent prenatal exercise regimen that strengthens the muscles used during the childbirth process. The toned abdominal muscles and natural hip tucks, which are similar to the "pelvic rocking" taught during prenatal classes, teach the expectant mother how to move her pelvis. For women who desire natural childbirth, this form of exercise through dance, with its emphasis on muscle control not only facilitates natural childbirth, but also makes an excellent post-natal exercise that helps encourage abdominal tone. 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, if done very gradually.
In this day and age of almost continuous stress, the subtle rhythms of raks sharki and the traditional movements are calming. The repetitive movements of the dance and the concentration needed to do them can help a mind filled with daily stress to "let go" for a while and relax. It's hard to worry about deadlines at work when you are thinking about getting that next drop just right, or while making sure that you are in time with the music.
One effect of stress is that our bodies tense up, causing contractions or spasms in muscle groups, such as those in the neck, shoulders, or back. When a muscle is contracted, lactic acid builds up, causing the "soreness" or pain that occurs. Blood flow to the affected muscles decreases as well.
Raks sharki, on the other hand, gently stretches and uses these vulnerable muscle groups, and as they are utilized, blood flow increases and lactic acid is flushed away. Stressed muscles relax as they are gently exercised, relieving the "clenched" muscles often seen in our society. The body becomes supple and limber, and practitioners frequently report that pain diminishes in the back and neck areas.
Raks sharki is a fun, healthy way to exercise. It can be a creative outlet that conditions, tones, and allows a woman to tune into the natural movements of her body. It can refresh, relax, and/or exhilarate. So why wait? Find out where classes are held locally, or visit Bhuz.com to look up a class and join in this centuries old dance!
Advisory: Many doctors have suggested belly dancing classes as part of rehabilitation from injury; it is, however, important to check with your own medical provider before starting any new form of exercise, especially if you are over 40, pregnant or have medical problems. Most injuries related to "overdoing" for the beginner can be avoided by warming the muscles first and by remembering to do some basic stretching afterward. Listen to your body's signals. Raks sharki, or belly dance, is a wonderful and gentle way to begin to condition your body.
Belly-Dance is good for you
Many people are surprised to learn that Middle-Eastern Dance, commonly known as "belly-dance," involves much more than the belly! In fact, belly-dance can benefit many parts of the body. Here are some of the health benefits of Middle-Eastern Dance:
Exercising the carrying muscles without impact. A belly-dancer uses quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes to hold steady as performing hip movements or travels smoothly across the floor. However, even though its a great lower-body workout, the amount of impact to knees and ankles is minimal. Impact is measured not only by how hard our feet strike the ground, but by how much stress is placed on our joints. Using this measure, most of Middle-Eastern dance is considered non-impact; some tribal and folk dances are low-impact.
Building the back muscles evenly. Belly-dancers use their torsos a lot-much more than ballet, modern or tap dancers. Only jazz dancers come close to our use of rib movements and undulations. These movements, coupled with shoulder movements, exercise the back muscles, and they exercise the muscles evenly. Strong back muscles prevent back injuries, and they promote good posture as well.
Exercising the arms. New belly-dance students are always surprised by much they have to use their arm muscles. Belly-dancers have to hold their arms up for long periods of time, and it actually takes quite a lot of strength to perform arm movements slowly and gracefully.
Aiding digestion. It's true! Exercising the abdominal area, not just by rolling the belly, but also by swaying the torso, helps food move along the digestive system. Any form of exercise will have this effect to some degree, but belly-dance is especially good for this purpose.
Dancing makes you smarter
Use It or Lose It:
For centuries, dance manuals and other writings have lauded the health benefits of dancing, usually as physical exercise. More recently we've seen research on further health benefits of dancing, such as stress reduction and increased serotonin level, with its sense of well-being.
Most recently we've heard of another benefit: Frequent dancing apparently makes us smarter.
A major study added to the growing evidence that stimulating one's mind by dancing can ward off Alzheimer's disease and other dementia, much as physical exercise can keep the body fit. Dancing also increases cognitive acuity at all ages.
You may have heard about the New England Journal of Medicine report on the effects of recreational activities on mental acuity in aging. Here it is in a nutshell.
The 21-year study of senior citizens, 75 and older, was led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, funded by the National Institute on Aging, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Their method for objectively measuring mental acuity in aging was to monitor rates of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
The study wanted to see if any physical or cognitive recreational activities influenced mental acuity. They discovered that some activities had a significant beneficial effect. Other activities had none.
They studied cognitive activities such as reading books, writing for pleasure, doing crossword puzzles, playing cards and playing musical instruments. And they studied physical activities like playing tennis or golf, swimming, bicycling, dancing, walking for exercise and doing housework.
One of the surprises of the study was that almost none of the physical activities appeared to offer any protection against dementia. There can be cardiovascular benefits of course, but the focus of this study was the mind.
There was one important exception: the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing.
Reading - 35% reduced risk of dementia
Bicycling and swimming - 0%
Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week - 47%
Playing golf - 0%
Dancing frequently - 76%. That was the greatest risk reduction of any activity studied, cognitive or physical.
What could cause these significant cognitive benefits?
In a study, neurologist Dr. Robert Katzman proposed that these persons are more resistant to the effects of dementia as a result of having greater cognitive reserve and increased complexity of neuronal synapses. Like education, participation in mentally engaging activities lowers the risk of dementia by improving these neural qualities.
As Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Coyle explains in an accompanying commentary: "The cerebral cortex and hippo campus, which are critical to these activities, are remarkably plastic, and they rewire themselves based upon their use."
Our brain constantly rewires its neural pathways, as needed. If it doesn't need to, then it won't.
Aging and memory
When brain cells die and synapses weaken with aging, our nouns go first, like names of people, because there's only one neural pathway connecting to that stored information. If the single neural connection to that name fades, we lose access to it. As people age, some of them learn to parallel process, to come up with synonyms to go around these roadblocks.
The key here is Dr. Katzman's emphasis on the complexity of our neuronal synapses. More is better. Do whatever you can to create new neural paths. The opposite of this is taking the same old well-worn path over and over again, with habitual patterns of thinking and living.
When I was studying the creative process as a grad student at Stanford, I came across the perfect analogy to this:
The more stepping stones there are across the creek,
the easier it is to cross in your own style.
The focus of that aphorism was creative thinking, to find as many alternative paths as possible to a creative solution. But as we age, parallel processing becomes more critical. Now it's no longer a matter of style, it's a matter of survival — getting across the creek at all. Randomly dying brain cells are like stepping stones being removed one by one. Those who had only one well-worn path of stones are completely blocked when some are removed. But those who spent their lives trying different mental routes each time, creating a myriad of possible paths, still have several paths left.
As the study shows, we need to keep as many of those paths active as we can, while also generating new paths, to maintain the complexity of our neuronal connections.
In other words: Intelligence — use it or lose it.
What exactly do we mean by "intelligence"?
You'll probably agree that intelligence isn't just a numerical measurement, with a number of 100 plus or minus assigned to it. But what is it?
To answer this question, we go back to the most elemental questions possible. Why do animals have a brain? To survive? No, plants don't have a brain and they survive. To live longer? No, many trees outlive us.
As neuroscience educator Robert Sylwester notes, mobility is central to everything that is cognitive, whether it is physical motion or the mental movement of information. Plants have to endure whatever comes along, including predators eating them. Animals, on the other hand, can travel to seek food, shelter, mates, and to move away from unfavorable conditions. Since we can move, we need a cognitive system that can comprehend sensory input and intelligently make choices.
Semantics will differ for each of us, but according to many, if the stimulus-response relationship of a situation is automatic, we don't think of the response as requiring our intelligence. We don't use the word "intelligent" to describe a banana slug, even though it has a rudimentary brain. But when the brain evaluates several viable responses and chooses one (a real choice, not just following habits), the cognitive process is considered to be intelligent.
As Jean Piaget put it, intelligence is what we use when we don't already know what to do.
We immediately ask two questions:
Why is dancing better than other activities for improving mental capabilities?
Does this mean all kinds of dancing, or is one kind of dancing better than another?
That's where this particular study falls short. It doesn't answer these questions as a stand-alone study. Fortunately, it isn't a stand-alone study. It's one of many studies, over decades, which have shown that we increase our mental capacity by exercising our cognitive processes. Intelligence: Use it or lose it. And it's the other studies which fill in the gaps in this one. Looking at all of these studies together lets us understand the bigger picture.
The essence of intelligence is making decisions. The best advice, when it comes to improving your mental acuity, is to involve yourself in activities which require split-second rapid-fire decision making, as opposed to rote memory (retracing the same well-worn paths), or just working on your physical style.
One way to do that is to learn something new. Not just dancing, but anything new. Don't worry about the probability that you'll never use it in the future. Take a class to challenge your mind. It will stimulate the connectivity of your brain by generating the need for new pathways. Difficult classes are better for you, as they will create a greater need for new neural pathways.
Then take a dance class, which can be even more effective. Dancing integrates several brain functions at once — kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional — further increasing your neural connectivity.
What kind of dancing?
Do all kinds of dancing lead to increased mental acuity? No, not all forms of dancing will produce the same benefit, especially if they only work on style, or merely retrace the same memorized paths. Making as many split-second decisions as possible, is the key to maintaining our cognitive abilities. Remember: intelligence is what we use when we don't already know what to do.
We wish that 25 years ago the Albert Einstein College of Medicine thought of doing side-by-side comparisons of different kinds of dancing, to find out which was better. But we can figure it out by looking at who they studied: senior citizens 75 and older, beginning in 1980. Those who danced in that particular population were former Roaring Twenties dancers (back in 1980) and then former Swing Era dancers (today), so the kind of dancing most of them continued to do in retirement was what they began when they were young: freestyle social dancing -- basic foxtrot, waltz, swing, and maybe some rumba and cha cha.
I've been watching senior citizens dance all of my life, from my parents (who met at a Tommy Dorsey dance), to retirement communities, to the Roseland Ballroom in New York. I almost never see memorized sequences or patterns on the dance floor. I mostly see easygoing, fairly simple social dancing — freestyle lead and follow. But freestyle social dancing isn't that simple! It requires a lot of split-second decision-making, in both the Lead and Follow roles. Read more about the differences between the three different kinds of ballroom dancing here, to gain a better understanding of the role of decision-making in social or ballroom dance.
At this point, I want to clarify that I'm not demonizing memorized sequence dancing, or style-focused pattern-based ballroom dancing. Although they don't have much influence on cognitive reserve, there are stress-reduction benefits of any kind of dancing, cardiovascular benefits of physical exercise, and even further benefits of feeling connected to a community of dancers. So all dancing is good.
But when it comes to preserving (and improving) our mental acuity, then some forms are significantly better than others. While all dancing requires some intelligence, I encourage you to use your full intelligence when dancing, in both the Lead and Follow roles. The more decision-making we can bring into our dancing, the better.
Who benefits more, women or men?
In social dancing, the Follow role automatically gains a benefit, by making hundreds of split-second decisions as to what to do next, sometimes unconsciously so. As I mentioned on this page, women don't "follow", they interpret the signals their partners are giving them, and this requires intelligence and decision-making, which is active, not passive.
This benefit is greatly enhanced by dancing with different partners, not always with the same fellow. With different dance partners, you have to adjust much more and be aware of more variables. This is great for staying smarter longer.
But men, you can also match her degree of decision-making if you choose to do so.
1) Really pay attention to your partner and what works best for her. Notice what is comfortable for her, where she is already going, which signals are successful with her and which aren't, and constantly adapt your dancing to these observations. That's rapid-fire split-second decision making.
2) Don't lead the same old patterns the same way each time. Challenge yourself to try new things each time you dance. Make more decisions more often. Intelligence: use it or lose it.
The huge side-benefit is that your partners will have much more fun dancing with you when you are attentive to their dancing and constantly adjusting for their comfort and continuity of motion. And as a result, you'll have more fun too.
Those who fully utilize their intelligence in dancing, at all levels, love the way it feels. Spontaneous leading and following both involve entering a flow state. Both leading and following benefit from a highly active attention to possibilities.
That's the most succinct definition I know for intelligent dancing: a highly active attention to possibilities. And I think it's wonderful that both the Lead and Follow role share this same ideal.
The best Leads appreciate the many options that the Follow must consider every second, and respect and appreciate the Follow's input into the collaboration of partner dancing. The Follow is finely attuned to the here-and-now in relaxed responsiveness, and so is the Lead.
Once this highly active attention to possibilities, flexibility, and alert tranquility are perfected in the art of dance partnering, dancers find it even more beneficial in their other relationships, and in everyday life.
The study made another important suggestion: do it often. Seniors who did crossword puzzles four days a week had a measurably lower risk of dementia than those who did the puzzles once a week. If you can't take classes or go out dancing four times a week, then dance as much as you can. More is better.
And do it now, the sooner the better. It's essential to start building your cognitive reserve now. Some day you'll need as many of those stepping stones across the creek as possible. Don't wait — start building them now.
Richard Powers Stanford Syllabi
Carol E Wyer
A.C.E. American Council on Exercise
Alzheimer Foundation of America