Gaia - Mother to us all
Belly Dancing & Childbirth/Pregnancy
 
Many excellent resources here: www.bellydanceforbirth.com
 

Here are some articles and resources I have come across during my research on the web:

"Belly Dancing" and Childbirth By Morrocco

Birthdance: A Labor of Love By Delilah

Dance of the Great Mothers By Delilah

The Benefits of Belly Dance As a Prenatal Exercise By Sheri Waldrop, RN, BSN
- from Discover Belly Dance Journal Vol. 18, No. 2


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Belly Dancing" and Childbirth published first in 1964 in "Sexology" & numerous other magazines & papers over the years By Morocco

Danse du ventre, or belly dancing, is not at all what Western society thinks it to be, i.e. a dance of sex and seduction. This is an erroneous and ignorant belief, reinforced and perpetrated by stage and movie writers too lazy to do research. Neither is it a 'belly' dance, since much more is involved than just the stomach muscles.

Oriental dancing, as the Arabs themselves call it, is one of the oldest forms of dance, originating with pre-Biblical religious rites worshiping motherhood and having as its practical side the preparation of females for the stresses of childbirth. Thus it is the oldest form of natural childbirth instruction.

According to Farab Firdoz, a dancer from Bahrein, Saudi Arabia, the dance was still performed in the less Westernized parts of her country in the '50s, around the bedside of a woman in childbirth, by a circle of her fellow tribeswomen. In this ritualistic form men are not allowed to watch it. The purpose here is to hypnotize the woman in labor into an imitation of the movements with her own body. This greatly facilitates the birth and reduces pain from womb contractions. It helps the mother to move with instead of against the contractions.

Unfortunately, Western civilization brought a sick eroticism to the Middle East along with its technical advances. In The Dancer of Shamahka, Armen Ohanian says:

"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 faraway 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 into 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 binding 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, the ‘hoochie-koochie’. To me, a nauseating revelation of unsuspected depths of human bestiality, to others it was -- amusing. I heard the lean Europeans chuckling. I saw lascivious smiles upon even the lips of Asiatics, and I fled."

Generations of Bedouin and Berber mothers may have to bear their young not only without benefit of hospitals and modern antiseptic methods, but also without the comfort and muscular aid of what is definitely an ancient folk ritual. This is because even some Arabic people are now beginning to see sex in what is simply a gymnastic exercise for a natural function. As a result, the ritual is slowly dying out.

Other peoples, among them the Hawaiians and Maoris of New Zealand, have had their own chidlbirth preparation dances involving pelvic and abdominal muscles. The Hawaiians used to have a hula called "Ohelo", that was done in a reclining position, by both sexes, every morning. As late as 1936, the Maoris still practiced their form if this exercise.

A small subsect of the Allaoui Moslems believe that the Messiah will be born to a man, since woman is unworthy of such a high honor. Under this supposition, the men in that sect practice Oriental dancing in preparation for the honor to be awarded them someday, that of giving birth to their Deliverer.

The idea that children must be brought forth in pain is a religious one, based on the Christian concept of original sin and the penance to be exacted for it. The Bible states, "In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children". Nothing is said about undue or excruciating pain, and yet the thought of agonizing birth pangs is pounded into our heads from the earliest age of understanding. Thus, childbirth is approached with bodies & muscles tensed in fear and anticipation. Instead of relaxing and helping nature along, we put stumbling blocks in her way.

The newest idea in obstetrics today is to prepare pregnant women for the coming ordeal either through hypnotism or special training classes. They can now be ultra-modern and still give birth the "natural childbirth" way. Doctors have recently found that babies born in this manner come into the world more alert and without the common anaesthesia-induced torpor.

What hypnotism accomplishes, although temporarily, is the gradual removal through post-hypnotic suggestion of the whole mental concept of painful childbirth. The relaxed woman can now concentrate only on helping nature by moving with the contractions of labor.

This self-same thing is accomplished by the circle of dancing Arab tribes women who hypnotize the woman in labor into imitating their rolling pelvic motions. Their task is far easier though, since there is no unfounded and exaggerated fear of childirth’s pains in primitive societies.

Who would think of sending a man who has a sedentary job to run in Olympic races? Why then does Western society expect a woman, who has never used her pelvic muscles for more than just holding up her garter belt, to give birth easily, a feat more taxing for the muscles than any athletic competition?

Childbirth must be prepared for. Dormant muscles must be built up little by little, step by step. All it takes is a little work, which certainly would never harm the mother or the unborn child. Strengthening the muscles also helps in carrying the child through pregnancy and greatly reduces stretch marks on the abdomen.

Training classes, such as Education for Childbirth courses given at one of the major hospitals in New York City, try to accomplish in a few short months or weeks what should have been started in childhood: namely the shaping-up of pelvic muscles used in pregnancy and childbirth and to regain shape and muscle tone after birth.

The first lesson in the Exercise Review Sheet of that hospital says: "Concentration Exercises -- Object: to learn muscular control of muscle groups. Particular attention is paid to strong contraction and absolute relaxation of the rest of the body."

The technique of Oriental dancing is one of contractions and releases while all other muscles not involved in the movemen are relaxed.

Class 2 goes on: "Stand with knees easy, feet parallel and with the weight of the body well over the arches of your feet. Rock your pelvis upward, Tighten slowly your buttocks and lower abdominal muscles. . . Lying on your back, with legs bent, press back firmly on floor, contracting abdominal muscles at the same time -- release."

This is a position assumed in almost every Oriental dance at one point or another, where the head reaches the floor from a backbend and the body relaxes untill the spine rests on the floor. The knees are sharply bent and the feet outside of and close to the thighs. Slow rhythmic breathing is followed by fast shallow breathing, acceleration of which increases with contractions, producing a variety of abdominal movements.

One of the women, who attended classes of this sort, was the wife of a prominent lawyer of Turkish background and mother of twins. She told me that one of the movements her obstetrician stressed was a rippling movement of the abdomen, the old Arabic "belly roll" - what we now refer to as the "camel".

It was explained that the upper part of the wave, as her doctor termed the movement, was to be done between the contractions of the womb, and the lower part of the wave, or bearing down, was to be done as the womb contracted. This would aid the mother considerably in expelling the baby with minimal wear and tear on all the internal organs and muscles involved. Fighting the contractions through fear and preoccupation with the thought of pain would only tense the muscles and tear them rather than allow them to stretch gently during the uterine contractions and relaxations.

The rolling movement itself is no child’s play to learn, for when done wrong it only serves to stetch the stomach muscles. The lower spine, pelvis, diaphragm and abdomen are involved. This is extremely difficult to describe in writing & must be demonstrated, explained step by step, felt gradually muscle by muscle.

Each little muscle must be found and developed in turn, before the whole can be manipulated to the extent that each split second can be perfectly controlled. Rather than sharpness and angularity, there must be a smooth, circular, undulating motion.

Fortunately, the Turkish backround of the woman I mentioned gave her more than just a laywoman's knowledge of Oriental dancing and therefore a greater knowledge of and control over her pelvic muscles. Subsequently, she learned all the exercises with greater speed and facility than the average female produced by a society that is just discovering its hips via some of the newer social and Latin dances.

These are muscles that have been used by almost every Arabic and Turkish - speaker (and many others) from childhood on up, in the execution of some of their indigenous folk dances: vulgarly and wrongly referred to in Western society as the danse du ventre or, worse yet, belly dance.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belly Dancing as Birth Dance - A Labor of Love by Delilah

The title for this article isn't mine; it's the working title for an unpublished and in-the-works manuscript by Suzanne McNeil. She sent it to me a few years back in exchange for some video tapes she wanted to purchase from me. During the late 80's in the Los Angeles area she had been pioneering classes that involved teaching pregnant women to use bellydance as a therapeutic aid throughout their pregnancy. She refers to the body of her work as simply Birthdance.

It was a great trade. Inside the blue binder were the lesson plans, copious notes of her actual class progress, her findings including the case notes on the actual birthing progress and experience of some of her students. There was a collection of reference articles on oriental dance and it's connection to birthing rituals. Most famous and fascinating was the article entitled "Roots" by Morroco (morocco@tiac.net). There were references from yoga journals, personal profiles from bellydancers outside of her classes, medical and midwifery notes, recommended reading lists, excerpts from published works on sacred dance, myth, rites, symbols and goddesses.

Mostly the material focused on how the movements of bellydance can aid throughout a womens' pregnancy and in the actual birthing process. By documenting her work and findings, her larger goal involved teaching teachers to work with Birthdance as a viable practice for expectant women. In these classes Suzanne worked exclusively with pregnant women. She would have loved to have worked with professional bellydancers and documented their birthing progress, but (we are pregnant such a small percentage of time in our lives) that wasn't in the cards, and none of the case notes involved professional bellydancers who knew the movements prior to their pregnancy. The movements used were basic and carefully initiated, combining relaxation and breathing techniques, yoga, meditation and the basic hip circle, figure eight, camel walk, bellyroll, and diaphragm flutter.

I did not know Suzanne before this time but she was familiar with the video I produced called "Dance to the Great Mother," a video of a dance work I did while 8 months pregnant. Suzanne wanted me to have this manuscript even though it was unfinished because she felt since I produced this video, that I would be one archival depository source for her researching efforts if she did not go on with this labor of love. I've lost contact with her so I'm not sure what the status of her work is at the moment. I choose to bring this to light because I think this very important work she and others are doing in the field needs to be continued.

What I feel I could add to the unfolding picture of this subject is in the realm of the psychological benefits that I discovered during the Dance to the Great Mother Project. Professionally performing while pregnant was the most transforming experience of my life. It opened me to realizing the range of hurtful and unfair psychological conditioning we women undergo.

I performed Dance to the Great Mother during my second pregnancy. During my first I danced in clubs until 3 months, retired for a while, taught a little and basically hid out and waited. I returned to dancing 6 months after Laura Rose was born. I put dancing on hold psychologically during that time.

One day during the 4th month of my second pregnancy I got a phone call to do a private party for an organization. Before hearing very much more I told the women I was on sabbatical due to my pregnancy; she got very excited and requested that I hear her out. I did, and in January 1980 I was commissioned by her regional group of family planners to perform a Birthdance. I went on to perform the dance work at various workshops across the states, and then as part of a larger concert piece called "Phases of the Moon, Faces of the Mother" with Laurel Gray, Kathy Balducci and Tahia Alibec.

The experience was profound for me and for many women in the audience. After the performances they would seek me out with tears in their eyes and comments such as, "If I had only seen this dance before or during my pregnancy I would have enjoyed being pregnant instead I felt fat, ugly, I wanted to lock myself away in a closet I want my daughters to see something like this so that they will enjoy that special time in a womens' life..."

I knew what they meant. I myself had hid a way to a certain extent during my first pregnancy. This marked contrast in my activities taught me something important. I was a darn good dancer, expectant or not why should I stop if there wasn't a health hazard? Both my pregnancies were wonderful, but there was a psychological advantage with the second one. My entire pregnancy with my second daughter Victoria, was spent masquerading around the country as Isis the Great Mother, doing what I was meant to do my entire life, celebrate life and dance! I felt fantastic! I felt like a Goddess!

The deep question that arose for me was why had I not felt free to dance in a professional capacity during my first pregnancy? Not that I wanted to be in a night club while I was pregnant, but there are other venues. What was this invisible social pressure upon us as women to hide away during the most creative and glorious position of our lives? What damage is being done to a society which hasn't any images of pregnant women doing anything powerful, creative, or physical? Couldn't our world benefit from such healthy images of beauty and strength of Motherhood?

In combination with Suzanne's work and others in the field, I thoroughly encourage women to practice the dance as long as and whenever they are able. Encourage your fellow dancers to blossom to the fullness of their expression, to feel proud to display their pregnant countenance and share the special roots of our dance.

10 research discoveries according to Suzanne McNeil:

It's easier for women to learn bellyroll movements when they are pregnant. This was amazing!
The undulation or camel walk felt uncomfortable during labor for all the subjects. The motion made it feel like there was pressure downward on the cervix. After discovering this we did not use it during labor. It did not effect anyone in class except occasionally someone in their 8th or 9th month.
The movements most useful during labour were in relation to the hips and lower back, i.e., the figure 8, the hip circle and the pelvic thrust (not from bellydance)
All the students wanted to learn these movements in their dance form because it's more fun. A teacher could teach them separately as a technique without the bellydance name attached to it if she was hampered by a conservative community.
The circular movements of the pelvis could be done during labor standing, leaning on a bed or table an on hands and knees.
Pregnant women learned better when I placed my hand on the area of the body where the movement needed to be corrected. I would stand next to them- touching- to have them mimic the undulation. This seemed to accelerate learning.
Physical balance and energy increased.
Attitude about their body improved.
Indigestion during pregnancy (a common occurrence) was almost always eliminated.
One woman reported that her baby would kick a lot when she lay down to go to sleep. She tried using bellyrolls during the night and it did quiet the kicking.
Note: A version of this article appeared in Habibi Magazine
Habibi Magazine Volume 15 No 1 ; Habibipub@aol.com or (805) 962-9639
Single issue$11 or $32 subscription rate per year

Reading list:
"Earth Dance", Daniella Gioseffi.
"Sacred Dance: A Study of Comparative Folklore," W.O.E. Oesterly, DD, Cambridge Press.
"Serpent and the Wave," Jalaja Bonheim, Celestial Arts 1992.
"Myths, Rites, Symbol: A Mircea Eliade Reader," Harper & Row 1975.
"The Great Mother," Erich Newmann translated by Ralph Manhiem, Princeton University Press.
"Spiritual Midwifery," Ina May Gaskin, The Book Publishing Co. 1977.
"The Cultural Warping of Childbirth," in Environmental Child Health, Vol. 19, June 1973.
"Callanetics: For the Pelvis," Callan Pinckney, Avon Books 1987.
"Good Birth Guide," S. Kitzinger, Fontana 1979.
"The Indian Mother Goddess," Nerendra Nath Bhallachayya, Monohar 1977.
"The Triple Goddess," Adam Mcleans.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dance of the Great Mothers - A Pharaonic Style Belly Dancing by Delilah

I propose that the original Bellydancer was the great Goddess Gaia herself. Her body rolled and undulated the topography with which she would rock and cradle all the new life forms and prepare the way for the coming of humankind. Her watery, sun-lit womb was alive with the glistening of seeds, and fish, and fowl. A vital whirling dance began to the heartbeat of the pounding rains and drumming surf. A dance for the celebration of life!

Next came the potential in every woman who heard the stories of creation moving through her own body, since our time began. With each birth her belly's dance gave honor to the sacred with gratitude and the spirit behind the miracle of creativity!

After that came the midwives who studied the wisdom of the earthdance, who learned the ways of herbs, rhythms and drum, who guide the birthing Mothers through the thresholds of transition with their own sympathetic ancient Egyptian birthing dance of wisdom.

I get phone calls and email every month from women wanting to know more about the connection between birth and bellydance. "Where can I find more information?" they ask. Sometimes the women have just discovered they are with child. Sometimes a teacher has an expectant student in her classroom. Sometimes it's an expectant Father or Mother in law who wants to give the gift of Dance to the Great Mother (a performance video) to a loved one who is pregnant for positive inspiration.

Here are some of the basic physical benefits as I see them:

The mind/body connection as developed in the art of bellydance is very much in tune with Hatha Yoga principles. The energetics involved in focus and concentration bring the dancer into full body awareness. This is important in feeling a greater sense of control physically, emotionally and mentally in one's everyday life experience. It is also an important factor in birthing whether it's a baby or an idea! All healing processes are strengthened. Concentration in the pelvic and lower abdominal areas send additional blood flow to female organs allowing more oxygenation to take place and thus enhancing proper growth and healthy functioning of the body. Physical competence leads to emotional well-being.

The veil dance, characteristic of bellydance, involves large extended arm movements which when combined with the fast paced-aspects of the dance provides an aerobic work-out strengthening the heart and building stamina.

Involvement in a local bellydance class or association can contribute greatly to a woman's self-esteem and sense of community with other women. It is a dance which has been enjoyed by women for centuries that celebrates life and the stories of our lives remembered and expressed wordlessly through our bodies.

"If I could tell you what I mean, I wouldn't need to dance" -Isadora Duncan

The idea that bellydance was used as prenatal conditioning for women in ancient times is not a new one; I've heard it since the day my bellydance career began twenty five years ago. Anyone familiar with the true art would come to this conclusion intuitively. However there isn't a definitive body of information out there yet. The connection has a ways to go yet. Information is not obvious and out front to the greater public. Susanne McNeil did some important research in the 80's on "Birthdance" as she called it. Currently (to my knowledge) the person doing the most with researching, documenting, and pursuing the reclamation of this bellydance/birth connection is Gaby Oeftering from Freiberg, Germany. Her work has culminated in a quality video release a few years ago in Germany and recently has been re-mixed in English for American audiences. It's entitled Belly Dance During Pregnancy. It is a must-have, and not just for bellydancers. It is an excellent resource for three important interest groups:

* Bellydancers, and most importantly Instructors
* Midwives, doctors and childbirth educators
* Pregnant women or mothers-to-be

There are basically 8 parts to the video. It is a mix of lovely performances by Sabine and Havva during their pregnancies. There are lectures by Gaby and Dr Liseiotte Kuntner, doctor of ethnic Medicine on the research, regarding the birth dance connection, through art and manuscript they chart the herstory, as prenatal child birth preparation. Irmtraud Scnieder, a physiotherapist, discusses tools and therapies currently being employed in child birth education classes for women. They talk about safe practices, and give us inspirational words. The rest of the video is an actual real time bellydance class with Gaby. It's great for all women pregnant or not!

Continued Education Sources:
The reconnection of midwifery and bellydance is an emerging field of study right now. Here is a list of articles and resources in regards to Bellydance/Birthdance.

The following articles appeared as a theme collection in the Winter 1996, Volume 15, No. 1 of Habibi Magazine: A Journal for Lovers of Middle Eastern Dance & Arts, published by Habibi Publications, P.O. Box 90936, Santa Barbara, CA 93190-0936: ph. # (805) 962-9639:

Birth Dance by Elizabeth Clark: A true story of a troupe of bellydancers who performed their dance all through the birthing process as a therapeutic aid to the birthing mother.

A Labor of Love by Delilah Flynn: This article briefly describes how Delilah, a professional bellydancer, continues to dance professionally throughout her pregnancy, and in so doing opens women's eyes as well as her own eyes, to the sad fact that our society has few powerful and radiant images of pregnant women doing anything representative of themselves. To capture the image, a video tape was released of the herstoric performance, "Dance To The Great Mother", which has become, in certain capacities, a focal point for midwives, birth educators, dancers and pregnant women to network through.The article focuses on one such connection, describing the findings of Susanne McNeil, a yoga and dance instructor who taught a curriculum called Birthdance. McNeil taught Birthdance to pregnant women who had not previously known bellydance. She researched individual case studies through to birthing, and documented the findings.

The Expectant Dancer by Jawahare: A professional bellydancer's profile of her experience throughout her pregnancy.

Giving to Light: Dancing the Baby into the World by Morocco AKA Carolina Varga Dinicu: This article sums up countless articles she's published on the subject of bellydance and childbirth since the early 60's. In 1967, Morocco witnessed a birth ritual in a small village in Morocco where the women all did a softly undulating dance circled around a birthing woman who delivered twins in a hollow in the earth.

Other Sources:
Honoring the Belly by Lisa Sarasohn:Yoga Journal July/ August 1993; A look at how the western world views our belly compared to Yoga and Hara Training . Many detailed belly centered exercises are explained with photos.

Videos
Delilah's Bellydance Workshops Volumes I, II, III: Complete home instruction in the art of bellydance; techniques, conditioning, performance, and philosophy. Available From Visionary Dance Productions.

Dance to the Great Mother: features an inspirational Ancient Egyptian style bellydance performance by Delilah in her third trimester of pregnancy. An account of the artist's experience follows relaying the obstacles and revelations she personally encountered that shine light on many realizations for women of today. Beautiful, powerful, and creative, this video provides a sacred and positive image of a pregnant women in her power. This image is rare in our society at present. This video is a wonderful tool for image empowerment for expectant mothers. Available from Visionary Dance Productions.

Belly Dancing During Pregnancy: A video with Gaby Oeftering, a leading dancer and birth educator in Germany. She has produced an outstanding video on bellydance in connection with birth education. It is available in German with a recent translation into English. She has studied with one of the leading authorities of "ethno medicine" (drawing healing techniques from tribal cultures) in Switzerland. Ms. Oeftering has pursued one of the most thorough studies so far and teaches courses to pregnant women, dance teachers and midwives in Germany. She does give extended workshops to dancers and Birth/Life educators in the states from time to time. You may call or fax Gaby Oeftering directly in Germany for more information 49-7665-40782. The video is available from Visionary Dance Productions: (206) 632-2353; P.O. Box 30797, Seattle, WA 98103; email: info@visionarydance.com; website: www.visionarydance.com.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Benefits of Belly Dance As a Prenatal Exercise - By Sheri Waldrop, RN, BSN

Discover Belly Dance Journal

Prenatal exercise is becoming increasingly advertised for its benefits during pregnancy and childbirth. Some studies show that a woman who exercises regularly can enjoy a shorter labor. But what about belly dance (also known as Raks Sharqi or Middle Eastern Dance)? If you are a dancer and are pregnant, or considering becoming pregnant, how could it affect you?

We asked four women whom we believe are highly qualified to discuss this topic. All four are dancers in the United States. One is an experienced OB nurse, YaShara (Cleveland, OH), one a medical doctor in her third year as an OB/GYN resident, Keisha Loftin (Tampa, FL). Two of the women we interviewed danced throughout their pregnancies, TerriAnne (Healdsburg, CA) who is a doula, or labor companion, and Kameal (Corvallis, OR) who is a professional dancer and dance teacher. All four share their perspectives on belly dance and health, and its effects on the pregnant woman

General Benefits of Belly Dance During Pregnancy

After emphasizing the need for pregnant women to check with their doctors before dancing, all four women shared that belly dance has especially beneficial effects during pregnancy. This includes strengthening muscles that normally could be weak, and those that help with childbirth. "The snaky smooth aspects of the dance help the body practice the natural motions associated with childbirth", YaShara states. "Although it seems the abdomen is the main focus, the birth canal and pelvic floor get a workout as well. All of these areas combined support the birthing process."

It isn't only the pregnant mother who benefits, she adds. "The baby benefits from the rocking of the pelvis and the soothing tones of the music. Studies have shown that the fetus can hear while still in utero."

Some of the beneficial benefits of belly dance include benefits for the back and center of balance, notes Loftin: "During pregnancy, a woman's center of gravity is shifted and the lordotic curve of the lumbar spine is accentuated - causing a significant amount of tension and strain on the lower back. The basic starting position in belly dance - knees slightly bent, shoulders back, hips tucked under - teaches us and trains us to be aware of our body position. This helps to prevent excessive swaying of the back, and it also helps with maintaining our balance and center of gravity."

"It has been well shown in research studies that women who exercise regularly have shorter, less painful labors," Loftin adds. And dance can help with toning up and feeling better postnatally: "Using those 'hip and pelvic' movements as a form of exercise can help to return these muscles to pre-pregnancy levels of strength and tone in the postnatal period. It will also improve energy levels, increase mood, and increase self- esteem - things that are known to at times to be decreased in that time period."

Belly dance is also an excellent form of low-impact exercise that can help a pregnant mother maintain her cardiovascular and muscle strength. Loftin shares that the alternating contraction and relaxation of muscles while dancing is especially good as a preparation for childbirth. "Practicing or using the basic hip, chest, and especially abdominal movements can be helpful to decrease muscle tension, anxiety, and pain during labor. The principles of contracting one set of muscles while keeping others is used in the dance, and can be used during the delivery process as well."

Kameal shares from her perspective as a professional dancer who danced while pregnant: "I believe that belly dance has a beneficial effect during pregnancy for most women. However, it depends on the pregnancy. A woman experiencing a difficult pregnancy, physically, is not going to have the same experience as the woman who is gliding through with ease. My advice is, that if you are belly dancing, and can continue to dance through your pregnancy, do it."

She believes that belly dance can increase body awareness for pregnant women: "By becoming aware of our basic life force, rhythm, we help strengthen ourselves for our body's most powerful, natural function - giving birth. I believe we can use all the help we can get, and if a woman enters pregnancy and labor with the strength of body and mind, she will do, and be, all the better for it."

Specific Muscles that Belly Dance Helps

Belly dancing can be especially good for muscles that are used during labor and delivery, and of particular benefit for the pregnant woman. Loftin lists some of the muscles that are specifically strengthened during Middle Eastern dance, which can benefit the pregnant woman:

*"The muscles of the abdominal wall (rectus abdominus, obliques): these are used in performing chest circles, undulations, belly flutters and rolls, and are the same muscles that come into play when the woman is pushing during delivery.

*The gluteal muscles (the bottom): These are used when doing hip lifts, drops, and locks.

*The quadriceps (the thighs): these are used to support the body during dance, and with traveling movements.

*Pelvic floor muscles: these are indirectly exercised when doing pelvic rolls and tucks. These muscles are directly involved in the birthing process."

YaShara also mentions specific muscle groups that are strengthened by belly dance:

"Rectus abdominus muscles (long front belly muscles) used in combination with the pyramidalis (just above the pubic bone);

"obliques/transversalis (wrap around from the back to the waist in front) are also strengthened;

"Vaginal muscles: are strengthened when performing pelvic omi circles slowly, with tightening of the vaginal muscles. This can help with pushing during labor, and strengthens the support for the base of the bladder and the uterus;"

According to YaShara, strong leg and calf muscles can prevent other complications as well. "The large muscle groups of the legs, in combination with the calf muscles, are used for power when dancing. Keeping these strong and healthy can help prevent blood clots by preventing venous stasis (pooling of blood) in the lower legs."

Keep on Dancing

The general consensus is that once you have your doctor's okay (and there are no complications or contraindications), keep on dancing, even while pregnant, and enjoy the muscle strengthening and befits that belly dance can bring. By exercising simple precautions that have been shared here, there is no reason to stop dancing-and in fact, there are many reasons to continue. Take Kameal's word for it: "With my second birth, I danced right up until labor. I used the muscles that I used in undulations to help push my babies out. It was a bonus. After having my first child before I learned to belly dance, I could definitely notice the difference with my second two."

So be careful, follow your doctor's advice, and keep enjoying this healthful and beneficial exercise!


More articles like this one:

>Discover Belly Dance Journal Vol. 19, #1, July 2002
Precautions for Dancing when Pregnant

>Discover Belly Dance Journal Vol. 19, #2, July 2002
In Class and Pregnant! Teaching the Expectant Dancer

>Discover Belly Dance Journal Vol. 20, #1, August 2002
What are readers saying about dance during pregnancy?

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