What does a strip of masking tape, a hula-hoop, and Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos have in common? All three contribute to the effective and creative warm-up one can give the body before belly dancing.
Begin with Yoga
Breathing stimulates the flow of creativity in the body. The first thought that comes to mind when one needs to prepare with breathing is I do that all the time, I’m already warmed up but there are two important reminders needing to be addressed. The first reminder is that breathing is taken for granted because of its simplicity and the second reminder is that there is shallow, or light breathing from the chest, and there is abdominal breathing.
Breathing from the abdominal muscles enables the mind to concentrate. It also oxygenates the organs and the brain itself as we become more conscious of our movements. Breathing becomes a priority.
The yoga pose known as mountain pose best illustrates the starting posture of a belly dancer when beginning to breathe. In bare feet, the dancer stands straight with a slight bend in the knees. The bend in the knees keeps the leg muscles and feet grounded. The tailbone is tucked in and aligned with the spine as the shoulders are pushed back and even.
Raising the arms up to the ceiling with the palms facing each other occurs as the individual inhales and while exhaling, the arms and palms return to the side of the thighs. With feet steady on the ground one is aware of the multiple lessons taught through this pose.
The most obvious lesson of mountain pose is its benefit of maintaining a healthy breathing pattern. On a creative level, however, the bare feet connect to the earth. They are stripped of expectations such as showcasing trends of thick boots and uncomfortable heels. The legs and thighs are more solid without the weight of materialistic support covering the feet. The priority of breathing comes with an understanding of the body’s alignment; the way it stands and why.
Masking Tape and Arm Weights
Once you are in a comfortable breathing pattern, take a strip of masking tape and draw a straight line across the floor with it. This is a tool used to practice balancing on the balls of the feet. It is also imperative to practice the act of taking small steps, which create the illusion of big movements in belly dance. Spend a few minutes walking forward and backward along the line. Next, turn to one side of the line, while remaining on the tape, and walk across the line forward and backward.
To begin working on the upper body, arm weights are essential for the belly dancer. Tying two ends of a scarf together and knotting a two-pound beanbag on the opposite end easily creates an arm weight. Lift the arms with a slight bend in the elbows. The idea is to keep the tied portion of the scarf on the upper arms, not letting the beanbag end slide it toward the elbows. Be sure that the shoulders are down and relaxed as they were in mountain pose.
This physical exercise contributes to the metaphor of carrying burdens across the shoulders; by depending on the lower part of the body to maneuver, the weight along the upper body is no longer thought of as paralyzing to the rest of the body. The muscles learn to accommodate isolation.
Mozart and Hula Hoops
In addition to the line of masking tape, hula-hoops help with structure and balance. Place one small hula-hoop on one side of the tape and a bigger hula-hoop on the other. From the line, start walking around the bigger hula-hoop, with the body facing outward. This is also an exercise for intuition; the head remains lifted instead of looking over the shoulder in fear of tripping.
The smaller hoop is more difficult as it challenges spatial intelligence, just as music does. Therefore, while either walking on the balls of the feet or with the entire sole on the floor, incorporate music therapy during this exercise. Incorporate the arm weights. Let a favorite song be the guide and notice the body’s reaction to the structure of sound. Does the movement become stale or does the body create new expressions? Do shoulder shimmies sneak in? What kind of contrast does the body add, if any, to the music? Shift from the hoops back to the masking tape.
Now let classical music act as a creative outlet this time. Researcher Gordon Shaw believes that Mozart’s “Sonata for Two Pianos” sharpens the creative part of the brain that links to visual-spatial intelligence. Classical music can help aid the memory process of dance moves when practicing choreography. Apply the same questions and/or observations that were considered in the prior song. Here are a few new questions that may be asked: Do the piano keys trigger certain shimmies or hip kicks? Does the tempo trigger stomach flutters?
Shimmies and the Towel Twist
As a belly dancer shimmies her hips, one often wonders, what happens when the body shimmies? Shimmies awaken the dormant energy at the base of the spine. To feel the vibration of shimmies in the thighs lie on the back and bend the knees. The feet are flat on the floor and roughly six inches from the tailbone. The knees do not touch each other.
Slowly draw the knees twelve to sixteen inches out toward the sides. Hold for one second and bring the knees back together. The slower the movement, the more conscious the mind and body become of the tension. After ten to twenty repetitions a vibration should occur in the leg muscles and work its way to the pelvis. The duration for which this exercise is done varies according to what the body needs; it can be as little as five minutes or as long as thirty minutes.
The towel twist also prepares the muscles for shimmying. Start this exercise by standing in mountain pose. The arms should be slightly lifted, as if preparing to dry the thighs off with a towel. Twist the hips from left to right. Once the lower half of the body is loosened up, bend the knees a bit more. Vertically lowering the body to the floor is known as a decrescendo. It creates a visual contrast between movements.
There is no specific order for these exercises. The body will guide itself according to its needs. Whether a female belly dancer, male belly dancer, yogi, or athlete, these exercises contribute to the wholeness of mind, body and soul connection. The best qualities of a person are discovered through physical challenges and attached are the mental capabilities that unlock the door of overcoming obstacles.
Belly Dancing: The Sensual Art of Energy and Spirit. Coluccia, Pina. Et al. Park Street Press. Rochester, Vermont. 2005.
Change Your Brain Change Your Life. Amen. Daniel G. Three Rivers Press. New York. 1998.
About BellaBianca (Brittany Capozzi)
BellaBianca is a belly dancer of birches and a writer of any and all movement. After a brief hiatus from both creative endeavors she emerges from the corner once again, warming up on the yoga mat through dance and warming up in the studio through yoga; the relationship is quite the marriage. When the marriage is unbalanced, she brings in meditation to aid in the flow of things. (This usually brings both sides together again!) Follow her on this rejuvenated journey at her web site here.