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How To Have Beautiful Arms in Belly Dancing

Zaghareet! Magazine (May/June 2011)
by Anthea (Kawakib) Poole

Those Lovely, Expressive Arms

Arms hug, defend, attack. They direct energy or focus by their movements and positions (poses) as they frame the body proper.

We all have seen “chicken arms”, “claw hands”, “T-rex arms”, “booger fingers” (my term!).  And after seeing themselves dance on video, many students often have questions about what to do with their arms and/or hands. They know something needs fixed but they can’t tell how to fix it. No wonder - it’s complicated. There’s a lot going on in those hanging appendages. Fixing “the arms” will actually include adjusting the fingers, hands, wrist, elbow, shoulder, and even the upper torso - and that’s just the physical approach...

Arm positions connect through your body from one arm to the other. Arm movements originate  there, smack dab in the middle of the upper body where the two arms meet; that is, between the shoulder blades in back, and the middle of the chest in front.

Obviously, arms express emotion, as the energy expressed in the movement is coming from the heart. When arm movements do NOT come from the middle of the upper body, or heart, then you have “robot arms”, disconnected from any emotion. I think when most dancers complain about their arms, the robot look is not what they’re after.

"Feelings, nothing more than feelings"

Sometimes people hold tension and stress in the upper body, or have mental attitudes that speak through shoulders that seem stiff as a board. Did you know the word “attitude” also means body position, especially expressing a mental state?

Habitual mental attitudes do impact physical expression, and will not only affect the resting position of the arms, where it’s seen as rigidness, immobility, or “deformations” like a hunched or uneven posture; but also, of course, will affect any movement of the entire arm - all the way out to the fingers.

So much is expressed unconsciously through dancer’s arms that I view them as a sort of barometer of the entire person. By looking at students’ habitual posture and their flexibility or lack thereof, I can usually get a sense of whether “storms” are likely in the future, whether stemming from stubbornness, repressed issues that may surface under stress, or from overcompensation due to a lack of self-confidence or self-worth.

You can often see how much “vital energy” a person has by how energized and fluid their shoulders, arms, and hands are:

Dealing with emotional and mental issues is beyond the scope of dance classes, but what CAN be done to help counteract these issues is to emphasize healthy habits that relieve stress such as conscious relaxation, and regular, deep, breathing. Adjusting your mental state IS part of being a dancer. And as dancers become away of their attention, focus, and feelings, they can begin to direct them into healthy channels, away from the cesspools of fear, envy, and hate.

Posture First, Then Movement

Since the body responds so well to training, in class we focus on specific positions as well as movement paths and dynamics of movement (whether the arms move softly or strongly, fast or slow). Sooner or later, these movement habits come through when dancing, and the body naturally goes to its habitual poses and moves through familiar paths.

Training takes time and commitment, a fact that can be hard for students to face. Without training, the arms will be sloppy or stiff. The arms show, as clearly as signal flags, whether the training has been thorough and correct.

“Arm moves” (like belly moves) are only a very small part of belly dancing, so rather than wondering “what do I do with my arms”, ask yourself how your arms can frame what your body is doing.
Train your body by including habitual arm positions with your drills. NEVER drill hips, shoulders, or any other part of the body without having a specific position for your arms, or you’ll find yourself complaining about them later. Arms should always have energy and be in a lovely position - it’s really as simple as that!

Next, learn several beautiful arm positions and how to use them in your everyday dancing.

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