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Wiggle Your Waist And Get Fit With Belly Dancing

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By Larissa Wiese, Health Reporter

Belyssa Radzivanas

You’ve tried aerobic boxing, mountain bike riding, rock climbing and black American funk dancing, but these activities aren’t exotic enough for you - right? Spice up your fitness regime and think sensuous. Think fun. Think belly dancing!

There are no prerequisites to joining a belly dance class - all ages and sexes can give it a go. It helps you burn calories while giving you a total body workout. Perth’s matriarch of belly dancing Belyssa Radzivanas, from Belyssa & the Flames of Araby Belly Dance Troupe, believes the many different styles of belly dancing mean that students from all backgrounds can enjoy the unique Middle Eastern dance.

‘There are many different types of belly dance - it can be a cardio dance or focus on your balance, depending on the different music and mood of each dance,’ Radzivanas said.

‘The Middle East doesn’t really employ the concept of a workout by Western standards. Generally speaking, there are no health clubs or gyms. Belly dancing is an activity - not an exercise.’

And yet, according to belly dancing devotees, the health benefits are endless. Dancing may reduce high blood pressure, lower risk of heart disease, help the participant lose weight, contribute to lower blood sugar levels, reduce depression and minimise incontinence!

Weight Loss and Fitness
Dr John Brotherhood, Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney’s School of Exercise and Sport Science, has reserved feelings about the potential for weight loss through belly dancing.

‘For most people, the exercise involved is unlikely to have any marked benefit of weight (body fat) loss, unless they do a lot of it. The reason for this is that it is now well recognised that for exercise alone to have a significant impact on fat loss a considerable amount of exercise is required,’ said Brotherhood.

Brotherhood cites at least 30 kilometres of walking a week - or five hours of walking to gain noticeable benefits of weight loss using exercise alone.

‘If a person is engaged in belly dancing for four to five hours a week they might experience some weight loss.’

Having said that, dietitian and founder of Allan Borushek notes that devotees of belly dancing often comment upon their increased level of fitness.

‘This makes sense since belly dancing works the major leg muscles and increases the heart rate. So potential benefits for weight control are not only when the calories are expended while actually dancing, but in the increased musculature structure and hence the ability to burn more calories after the exercise session has stopped,’ says Borushek.

‘Importantly, when you are out dancing, you are kept occupied and are not at home munching! If you are belly dancing for two hour-long sessions a week, you have easily contributed to over half of your weekly ‘Find Thirty (minutes of exercise a day)’ requirements.’

Muscle toning

According to Robyne Garrett, physiologist at the School of Physical Education Exercise and Sport Studies in the University of South Australia, belly dancing uses various groups of large skeletal muscles, arm abdominals, back and to a lesser extent - legs.

The abdominal actions use the rectus abdominus, traverse abdominus, internal and external obliques, and the lower back extensors and flexors - maintaining strength and mobility in those areas. The rhythmic tightening of the abdominal and pelvic muscles strengthens the back and thighs.

Pregnant women may find the rocking and rolling movements help strengthen their belly, legs and upper torso as their tummy expands.

Garrett also believes belly dancing could be quite beneficial for arthritis sufferers.

‘It depends upon where the arthritis is. However, being a non-ballistic (low-impact) activity where body parts like the hands and wrists are taken through a full range of movements, belly dancing could be beneficial to an arthritis sufferer by maintaining the joints’ range of movement and keeping the muscles in that area toned and strong so they support the joint and take undue pressure away from the joint that is working,’ said Garrett.

People who suffer from arthritis generally benefit from exercise. Any activity which is enjoyable and not dangerous so the person remains in participation should be promoted.

Incontinence (involuntary urination)
Radzivanas has many post-natal mothers, post-accident patients, and people with nervous disorders and mental disabilities as students. As a result, incontinence is an issue she is faced with on a regular basis.

The contractions and rotations of the abdomen in belly dancing provide an increase in size and strength of the pelvic floor muscles. Belly dancing uses the traverses abdominus - a muscle which pulls your belly button in towards your backbone. Using the traverses abdominus at the same time as the pelvic floor muscle enhances the pelvic floor muscle, and strengthens contractions.

‘Let’s face it; any exercise is good for incontinence. Generally, elderly people tend to be more open with the problem, as they are over caring what other people think about them. But many younger students may suffer from incontinence and do not wish to discuss it. I have students with mental disabilities who suffer from incontinence - particularly when they get excited,’ notes Radzivanas.

Shakira, Columbia's belly dancing popstar

Other benefits
There are many other benefits to belly dancing. Depending on the energy requirements of each specific dance, it may help to maintain healthy levels of blood pressure and blood glucose control, reduce the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and some cancers such as bowel cancer. What a unique way to contribute to finding thirty minutes a day of exercise!

The mental benefits must not be overlooked. Brotherhood believes that almost any sort of moderately vigorous exercise has mental benefits.

‘It alleviates mild depression and anxiety and also makes people more resistant to depression. These benefits may be enhanced when people exercise together. So belly dancing as an enjoyable exercise is likely to be beneficial to mental health,’ mentions Brotherhood.

As belly dancing originally started as a social activity between women only, it is a fabulous way for women to get in touch with their sensual, feminine self. Breast cancer survivors have found belly dancing helps their self-esteem - take this example from a Queensland survivor (name withheld), who emailed Zaida Belly Dancing for Older Women in Mackay:

‘I am a breast cancer survivor and the dance has been restoring not only my physical strength, stamina and flexibility, but has helped restore my own sense of femininity and self-esteem, something the very nature of breast cancer tends to rob women of.’

How to get started
There are many belly dancing schools around the country - from Kalgoorlie to Rockhampton. To find your nearest school, you may have to try a number of options.

  1. Look in the Yellow Pages under Sport/Leisure > Sports - Dance to Football > Dance > Dance Tuition--Ballet &/or Theatrical.
  2. Look on the notice board at your local community centre.
  3. Look on Radzivanas' web site for dance schools near you:

Remember to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise regime.

Last updated: June 7th, 2002

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