"It is the darkness that is the light, and the stillness that is the dancing"
What follows is a practical introduction to help you learn to belly dance. It is for guidance rather than a substitute for physical teaching.
Before we get into the movements its very important that you first warm up correctly. I've written a separate page which gives a practical introduction to warming up. Clicking this link will open a new window so you won't lose your place here!
You're back? Ok, what follows are the core movements to get you started to learn to belly dance.
Practice in your own time, but if you truly want to learn as much as you can and really get involved in this dance then you should learn to belly dance with as many teachers as possible.
All movements are executed from your basic dance posture. You cannot learn to belly dance before mastering this.
§ The foundational / basic belly dance posture...
Feet hip distance apart and parallel to each other. Your knees are bent so as to align with your toes and your pelvis is tucked by slightly contracting your lower abdominal muscles.
Your shoulders are down, not tensed up by your ears and your upper body is lengthened, stretching up from your hips.
Your chest is open from the heart area. Your neck is lengthened and you are looking straight ahead of you.
Feel your skeleton and your muscles relaxed over it. Feel gravity holding you to the earth and the air around you supporting you in this relaxed aligned position.
In order to learn to belly dance its important to understand that all movements are executed from the above mentioned posture, allowing for adjustments in feet distance and weight adjustment, depending on the type of movement executed and its variations. For example, exaggerated or big movements may require more bend in the knee and a bigger distance between the feet, whereas small, fast movements may require that the feet be closer together.
Isolation of the tummy muscles, the lower internal muscles, your pelvic floor muscles, found on the outside by feeling just above your pubic bone and giggling or coughing, when you contract these muscles you will feel your pelvic floor lifting, your perinium contracts and pulls up.
The second 'set' we isolate are along the hip line, your transverse abdominal muscles. When you contract these it can feel like you are pulling your hips in, towards each other, a very subtle feeling.
The third 'set' are the muscles around your belly button area, as if a string is pulling your belly button to your spine, sinking your belly button in so that it disappears.
The fourth set is around your diaphragm area, which can be felt on exhaling fully. When you contract these you will feel a pressure pushing down on your internal cavity.
To learn to belly dance properly keep in mind that all these tummy movements can be aided by your breathing rhythms and vica versa, especially tummy pops.
Engaging your tummy muscles, the abdominals and obliques, to bring your hip bone to kiss your rib cage. The rib cage stays parallel to the floor, on the horizontal axis and the hip is lifted as if by a string to meet the ribs.
You do not straighten the knee to execute this movement, the knee will straighten slightly as a consequence of this abdominal muscle action.
You do not clench your buttocks in order to achieve this articulation, it all comes from the abdominal muscles and the feet are planted on the ground, except in the case of executing the hip lift from second position in which case the one foot is balanced on its ball, with the same muscular action applying.
Again engaging your abdominal and oblique muscles, your upper body remains still, facing forward, imagine you are in a magicians workshop and your upper body has been 'vanished'.
Your hips are pulled from side to side as if by a string, along the horizontal axis, your hips remain parallel to the ground, remembering to keep your pelvis tucked under you. The motion feels like a slide as your weight shifts from foot to foot.
Engaging your abdominal muscles, lift your pubic bone up to your sternum. This movement does not engage the gluteous muscles (the bum muscles) for this pushes the pelvis forward, not up. Keep your pelvis tucked under you and imagine a string pulling your pubic bone up.
This circular motion, vital to learn to belly dance with ease, can have two main feelings...
Firstly you can articulate the circle by staying at your centre or core and incorporating the hip lifts and pelvic tilt around this centre, which would break down as: hip lift right, pelvic tilt forward, hip lift left and release, remembering not to slouch out of posture when you 'release', always keep your pelvis tucked under you, unless the circle you want to make is a large one, in which case you would release and extend to the back by tilting your pelvis down in front and hence curving it out at the base of the spine.
This circle can also be articulated from standing in fifth position (standing on the diagonal, one foot flat and the other on the ball aligned more or less with the instep of the flat foot), where you circle the hip of the raised foot, hence doing a one hipped circle.
The second is more of a 'slide' circle, where you are oscillating around your centre axis, as opposed to working from it.
You are using more of a 'hip slide' motion to the sides and front, keeping the hips parallel to the ground and keeping your upper body still, in one place, holding your centre line, your centre of balance has lifted to your rib cage.
You're well on your way to learn to belly dance!
This is drawing a circle with one hip first, then crossing through the centre point and drawing a circle with the other hip on the horizontal plane.
This is articulated by turning the hips on the diagonal horizontal axis, pushing one hip forward, away from your centre, bringing it round to the side, as in a hip slide, and sliding to the back which now means that the alternate hip is now pushed out in front of you on the diagonal and ready to start its own circle, moving out from your centre as the first hip comes back to the centre, and drawing a circle on the opposite side.
Draw an infinity symbol on the horizontal plane in your minds eye, or trace it with your finger as you copy the motion with your hips.
The figure of eight, or infinity curve as I like to call it, can be done in both directions, i.e. one can start by drawing the circle out to the front first, or by drawing the circle out to the back.
Remember the cross over from one hip circling to the other, happens at your centre point.
This is achieved by lengthening the side of your torso and letting that extra length move down to the ground, taking your hip with it.
Your shoulders stay parallel to the ground and your pelvis tilts on the vertical plane, your knee bends to allow the lengthening to occur. The opposite hip lifts as a consequence of the alternate hip being 'dropped'.
You've now mastered over half the basic movements on you path to learn to belly dance!
Standing in fifth position, with one foot raised on the ball, all your weight is held by the supporting leg, lift and drop the hip of the raised leg. On every second hip drop, straighten your leg from the knee at the same time as you drop the hip, it looks nice if you keep your foot pointed with your toes relaxed.
The shimmy is what everyone seems to love and look forward to when stating out to learn to belly dance. This is when you get to shake!
In fact its such an important element of how to learn to belly dance that I've written a whole separate page on it. Click here and read it before continuing (a new window will open so you won't get lost!)
You are back in the magician's workshop and this time your lower body, from hips down, has been vanished. You now know that magic is vital to learn to belly dance!
Using your abdominal and oblique muscles slide your rib cage from side to side. The rib cage stays parallel to the ground, and therefore the shoulders do too and it is as if you are sliding your ribs off your hips with just your tummy muscles and spine keeping them attached.
Again you can use the string visualization to help, imagine the string attached to the lowest rib and you are pulling it off to your left or right.
Keep the length in your upper body, so keep the spine straight, your pelvis tucked under your rib cage and lengthen off your hips. No movement is effective if you are slouching.
This movement originates in your sternum, it is as if you are pulling your sternum forward and up, opening your chest. Your shoulders do not move forward with this motion. Your are doing a small arch with your upper back and engaging your abdomen to lift the rib cage in a short sharp 'pop'.
This involves using the rib slides and rib lifts. Sliding your rib cage to the left, sliding your rib cage into the forward position, then sliding to the right, and then bringing your rib cage in and slightly to the back of your centre position and then sliding back to the left again.
All of this happens on the horizontal plane, your shoulders and ribs stay parallel to the ground and you keep the length in your upper body, always imagining yourself being lifted off your hips, which remain parallel to the ground and still.
You cannot learn to belly dance without a clear understanding of the importance of arm movements. The arms are very expressive. They are one of the most important tools for giving the dance your own 'feeling'. You use your arms in a unique way, which helps you tell your story in relation to the music or the moment.
Arm movements are generated from between the shoulder blades by the trapezius muscles, the rhomboids and the shoulders. Imagine air lifting your arms, like a wind current would lift a feather your arms are weightless and graceful in articulating floating motions.
Keeping a natural bend at the elbows and allowing the lower arm to be lifted as a consequence of the upper arm being raised by the shoulders. Your wrist follows your elbow.
Keeping your shoulders down, play with alternating one arm up and one down synchronically, this is what we call 'snake arms'; bring them together above your head and snake them down your centre line, as if flowing water, take them to your sides and cross them at your navel. Be creative with them.
Remember that your arms and hands extend and create your sphere of movement, they describe your personal space. They can frame a movement done by your hips, ribs or head and they can be used to describe patterns and 'space' within your sphere of movement.
To learn to belly dance well be aware of creating space around your main body or of limiting it by keeping your elbows at your sides or squashing your ears when you lift your arms above your head. Always keep space around you with your arms because when you restrict them and keep them pressed in on you it squashes your energy field, your sphere of movement, and cramps you, restricting movement.
That's it, all the basic movements to learn to belly dance.
Now, put your learning into practice.
A 'technical' list of pre-described arm and hand positions by Momo Kadous.
What follows is a list of specified hand and arm positions that you can experiment with as you learn to belly dance...
0a: Basic dance posture, hands facing thighs, fingers together and soft
0b: Palms turned out to face forward
0c: Palms flat, touching the thighs
0d: Back of hands face each other at pelvis level, fingers slightly fanned
0e: Arms straight, palms facing the floor, fingers meeting (creating a circle with your arms)
1a: Arms just below shoulder level, soft hands
1b: Arms in soft neutral frame (just below shoulder level), palms facing up to your face
1c: Arms in neutral frame, palms facing the floor, fingers relaxed pointing down to the floor
1d: Arms out to the front at chest level, back of the hands almost touching
1e: (never got this one down, he was going through them so quickly!)
2a: Arms straight out, perpendicular to the body at shoulder level
2b: Arms in same position as 2A, with palms facing up
2c: Arms perpendicular to body - straight out at about shoulder level with wrists relaxed and hands hanging
2d: Arms in same position as above with the back of the hand turned to face forward
2e: Arms straight out with hands bent at wrist, pointing up.
3a: Arms framing the head in a soft bend with soft hands
3b: Arms framing head, palms facing forward
3c: Arms framing head in soft bend, palms facing each other
3d: Framing head with arms, palms back to back above crown
3e: Arms framing head with palms facing up to the sky
4a: Palms 'cradling' back of head
4b: Elbows lifted above ear level, bend wrists- fingers facing down, place back of palms over ears
4c:Flat palms facing the ears, framing the head
4d: Fingers spread (fanned) before the eyes
4e: Cross your arms over your chest and rest your fingers on the shoulders of opposite arm
5a: Cupping your elbows with your hands
5b: Forearms resting on top of each other at chest level
5c: Hands clasp inside of upper arm from position 5B
5d: Arms crossed over your chest with fingers and palms held straight and firmly together (mummy style).
5e: Cross arms at chest level and curl fingers around shoulders, clasping (as though holding or hugging yourself)
6a: Heel of palms resting on the hips
6b: Palms facing out, resting the back of hands on hips
6c: Clasping your hips with whole hand
6d: 'Pinching' the top of your skirt
6e: Fingers curled around 'braces' at chest level, thumbs facing up
7a: Arms behind you, hands held softly at bum level without touching
7b: Arms behind you with palms facing forward, framing the buttocks
7c: clasping your fingers together at your back
7d: Hands holding each forearm behind you
7e: Same as 7a, but resting the heel of your hand on the top of your buttocks
As you continue to learn to belly dance remember...
You are the puppet and the puppet master!
So learn about your muscles by taking time with yourself and patiently sensing and isolating the muscles that you as the puppet master are going to need to engage to articulate each movement you need in order to express your interpretation of the music or moment.
§ Remember your 'sphere of movement' - your personal space, from your core or centre point when standing in one spot - described from that centre point to the tips of your fingers when your arms are fully extended away from the body in all directions, in all planes and your leg span as it extends in all directions and on all planes away from and towards your centre or core.
§ Be experimental as you learn to belly dance with movement variations i.e. articulating a movement at different levels: floor, pliet, normal and on your toes. Alternating the speed or tempo, and direction of movements and steps. Changing the accent of movements: soft and hard, small and big.
§ Use your breath to help your movements: exhale for hard and strong movements; breathe rhythmically throughout the dance remembering to draw breath into your core, or into any area where you are articulating a movement.
§ Stay centred and grounded by visualizing your core and reminding yourself of your sphere of movement and the support of the Earth beneath your feet.
§ Take your awareness into your hands, imagine energy flowing from your fingertips, connecting you with the space around you and keeping your hands alert, yet soft.
§ We are born knowing rhythm. When we are in our mother's womb, we grow to the primal sound of her heartbeat, rhythm is inherent in all of us and we can all therefore dance or express our rhythms.
Videos can also help you learn to belly dance. Click here to learn more.
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