Throughout my dance career I have seen and personally experienced the many benefits of dancing, and especially the positive impact that belly dancing can have on periods, pregnancy and mental wellbeing. Since my own pregnancy I’ve also discovered many links between how complementary therapies like acupuncture, reflexology, mediation and yoga tie in with the movements and both physical and mental benefits that belly dancers experience.
Having had Occupational Therapists, Reiki healers, Physiotherapists as well as probably most other vocations represented in my classes, I’ve learned a lot from their experiences, and recently I was asked to join ‘Harmony in Health’, set up by the College of Medicine in London, where alongside Doctors and other body and movement specialists, I will will be looking at how and why it all fits together so beautifully.
In my opinion it can be summed up in one word: energy.
We are all energetic beings, and we create energy and vibrations that we emit from our bodies. I’m not just talking body heat, but actual energy. In my advanced dance classes I often touch on this and especially when teaching performance technique I often use exercises to allow students to experience how to receive and not least share this energy, so that they can actively use it when performing. Some may call it stage presence, others simply presence. And you’ll know what I mean when you see it in action. Some people, and dancers, do it totally naturally, and its captivating and spell binding, and why we remember them and their performance, even if you may not remember any particular moves or the music.
Looking at alternative medicine and therapies such as acupuncture, acupressure and reflexology, all have the concept of energy and meridians at the core (even if they technically are different ones). Meridians typically run vertically in the body, from head to toe, but there is one that ties them all together around the middle: the belt meridian. It may not be that well known, and a kinesiologist I spoke to even had to look it up as she had never really encountered it that much before, but mine was clearly quite evident!
Having studied many dance forms from Ballroom, Latin, Jazz, Street dance, and Flamenco, belly dance is the one dance form that very heavily uses and focuses on moves that stimulate and feed into the belt meridian. Even Bollywood, which has lots of hips, doesn’t contain the same focus around using and grounding oneself in hip movements, and this doesn’t necessairyly have to be slow or sensual dancing.
In Chinese acupuncture the belt meridian helps control all the other meridians being the only one that goes horizontally, and is referred to as an ancestral meridian because it’s a main ‘energetic controller of our genetic ancestry’, which is why it has a powerful way of influencing genetically based diseases in the body from the traditional acupuncture point of view (according to an article by John Veltheim). It helps balance the upper and lower body and energetic issues involving the belt meridian can influence the digestive system as well as negatively influence a person’s self-esteem.
The belt meridian, also called Dai Mai, can be used to treat everything from headaches, migraines, anger, and gallbladder pain to chronic neck and shoulder tension. You may take away from it what you wish, but women’s health also springs to mind, and there may be a close connection. On a practical level; the movement in and around the pelvics also stimulates muscles and blood flow, which in itself can have a massive impact on everything from period pains to IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). A healthy uterus may be better to conceive and carry babies too, although one should never generalise around this, although on a personal level I seem to know more belly dancers than not, that have found getting pregnant and carrying them, relatively easy.
In reflexology the lower lumbar spin (in particular the 5th lumbar vertebrae) is closely linked to the sex hormone. This area is stimulated a lot when doing hip moves such as shifting hip circles, omis/broken hip circles and horizontal figures of 8s, so no wonder women feel sexy when doing them.
The whole link to ‘Goddess Dance’ and birth rites obviously comes up again and again and it’s believed the dance has been used to educate women in everything from easing labour to sex education (like Moroccan Shikat). But the moves clearly work on a practical level, as during my hospital birthing class I had a physiotherapist showing me how to do (what a belly dancer would call) a hip circle, an omi, horizontal figures of 8s and undulations to help with contractions and birthing pain.
Trust me, in my 48 hour labour I tried them all and they did nothing for me! But then I also tried to dance myself into labour, which didn’t work, probably because my body was so use to it all and didn’t pay much attention to the hormones released and meridians activated in the process. For others it may be a completely different result, which is why dancers, and especially those new to belly dance, need to be very careful when they get pregnant and want to continue/or take up dancing. Something I’ve previously written about and also teach on the JWAAD Understanding Safety in Bellydance course.
So apart form the physical benefits of working your muscles as well as your brain when dancing, there is clear evidence to show that belly dance is good for both the body on many different levels as well as the mind. A lot of the observations mentioned here were shared at the London College of Medicines AGM recently, and I look forward to working more closely with the Harmony in Health professionals over the coming months to not only gain further insight, but also to hopefully debunk some myths about belly dance in society, and make it a more accepted dance form to practise and enjoy in order to live a healthier and more harmonious life.
Please share your own insights and observations below, so we can keep the knowledge sharing going, and for me to take to my next Harmony in Health discussions.
Did you miss my last post? Read it here: Best Belly Dance moves to shape up for Summer