The Power of Belly dance
(reprinted from "One" magazine
(July/Aug. 2001 [unedited version])
by Anthea Kawakib Poole
Belly dance can CHANGE YOUR LIFE!
That's the message I got loud and clear
when I interviewed my students before writing this article.
In fact, I was amazed at the
OVERWHELMINGLY positive response I got to my question, "Has
belly dance made a difference in your life?" I mean, I know
belly dance has changed MY life, but then it's practically
CONSUMED it because I've made it my career.
So I wanted to know "How? How has belly
dance made a difference in your life?"
Some of the answers surprised me: only
two said they had lost weight (a combined 70 lb. this year),
though many did talk in terms of exercise; but no one said
anything about it heating up their love life! (Perhaps
they're too shy? Maybe I'll interview their "Significant
Grace, beauty, strength
Several students said belly dance
had increased their "body awareness" - probably because our
dance focuses on parts of the body that don't get a second
thought in everyday life. (When was the last time you moved
your ribcage sideways? or in a circle?!) The spine gets freer,
energy flows easier, after practicing belly dance isolations
for a month or two.
All this energy flowing up and down the spine, through
the chakras or energy centers of the body, can release lots of
pent-up emotional or mental "material". People who stick with
it really do seem to "open up" after being in class for
several months. Sometimes I wish I had taken "before and
after" pictures, the transformation is so remarkable.
I'll relate what else I learned from my students (their
years of belly dance is in parentheses):
- Linda (6 years), an artist, sees belly dance as an
affirmation of her feminine strength and beauty. We always
laugh about how strenuous veil work is, when it looks so airy
and effortless! We're talking biceps here! And how lovely to
take a symbol of oppression and use it to create beauty
instead. Other students mentioned how belly dancing increased
their grace, co-ordination, and muscle tone; and is just more
FUN than ordinary exercise.
- Gayle (1 year), a psychologist,
loves coming to class for the emotional and physical
uplift it gives her; and the music recalls her travels in
- Donna (25 years), retired but now in
a second career as a dancer, spoke of becoming more
confident and outgoing through belly dance; and said it
developed her artistic self-expression while also making
her more appreciative and tolerant of other's artistic
- Leslie (one of our drummers), enjoys
the historical link to dancers of ages past (belly dance
is often called "the oldest dance"). The movements are
derived from indigenous folk dances of the Mideast and
Mediterranean region, some even resembling dance movements
described in ancient Greek texts. Our drum & dance
group, Pearls of Rhythm, uses frame drums (and other
instruments) which are among the oldest known musical
- Jill (1 year) says practicing belly
dance has been an important tool, an empowering process,
in her personal growth; and that it's smoothed the flow of
energy between her and her patients (she does animal
massage). She takes private lessons with me in which we
also do drum work, which she says has helped develop her
A personal experience
Maya (10 years), a friend and former
student who now lives near Winchester, had a lot to say:
"Indeed, it was life changing for me.
First, you made belly dance seem accessible, something
anyone can learn. If it weren't for that, I probably would
have always thought of it as something a "performer" does.
"And your sharing the 'moves' came at a time
when I really needed it. I was in a healing crisis,
realizing that I needed to release old sadness as well as
heal a back so messed up that my chiropractor said it was an
example of how 'God makes mistakes!'
"Most every morning, I would dance and it would
dispel my habitual depression and allow my higher, brighter
express itself. My stiff, aching back normally
restricted my body's movements, but the gentle undulations
of 'the dance' allowed my body to move in a joyful
expression of life, thus healing me emotionally and
"As a part of a daily practice of meditation,
prayer, and good nutrition, belly dance helped me re-create
a damaged body and psyche. As time went on, my pain lessened
until I was totally free of it. I came to embody more of
the joyful being that is my higher self, my true self.
Belly dance was my physical therapy and my emotional
therapy. It was my connection with the Goddess energies
flowing from earth to me and from me into the world. It
helped the kundalini to flow fluidly through my body.
"These days, I dance in ritual, celebrating the
Nature Holidays and teaching belly dance 'moves' to anyone
who is open to them."
Increasing energy awareness
In belly dance we learn to develop
and control our focus of energy as it manifests in the body.
First the student is made AWARE of the energy, then works on
remembering to CONTROL it. I say "remembering" because it's
something natural we can all do, but usually we don't think
about it or realize we can affect it. This is why students
feel they've become more graceful and co-ordinated - it
becomes a habit to move in this centered, focused way.
The belly dance posture is naturally-aligned, with bent
knees - this lowers the center of gravity and allows energy to
flow freely from head to toe. With the ribs lifted up out of
the waist, every body part has room to move and "breathe"
while internally-focused movements massage and tone the inner
Underneath the prosaic classroom material emphasizing
"tempo" and "technique", one of my goals in teaching is to
help people create aesthetically-pleasing space/time
sculptures, using the body to create visual shapes and
patterns that correspond to the music or rhythm. One of my
favorite things is the shapes and patterns of the movements -
to me they evoke the intricate swirls and geometric designs of
Feeling the movements' momentum is also very
pleasurable (to me) not only physically, but psychically, as
it echoes the vibrating rhythm of the cosmos. I love
re-creating the patterns of the universe in my dance. Belly
dance is all about the balance between expanding/contracting,
give and take, push and pull.
Establishing a relationship with the body's momentum,
being able to let go in anticipation of regaining control, is
KEY in a student's mastery and enjoyment of the dance.
A feminine experience
One phenomenon we've remarked upon
at our shows is what a magnetic attraction the dance has for
women. It's not unusual for women to make up 90% of the
audience at belly dance shows (not restaurants). And when our
group plays for open audience dancing, it's usually only women
who get up and dance! We wish it were otherwise - we'd love to
see men dancing too!
Apart from the socializing, another favorite aspect of
mine is experiencing the community spirit that grows among us.
Our new studies in Improv Tribal Style Belly dance*
(synchronized group improvisation) also evoke a "tribal"
camaraderie because our focus is centered within the group
instead of outwards toward the audience as it is in "regular"
Working together as a group, creating "blessings" of
positive energy for ourselves and our audience, is of ultimate
importance to me. I believe this interactive, positive
experience is a TANGIBLE, if unseen, phenomenon with lasting
side effects, helping to tip the balance of "good" in the
universe a little bit at a time. So belly dance is still
changing my life, for the better, one little move at a time!
*Tribal Odyssey (see link below)