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Basic Arm Positions in Belly Dance

Zaghareet! Magazine (Jul/Aug 2011)
by Anthea Kawakib Poole

Learning To Have Beautiful Arms In Your Dance Naturally

Last article we delved into ARMS, a topic I personally love! Once you understand arm positions and how to move from one to the next, having beautiful dancing arms is easy. What I wrote at the end of that article bears repeating:

“NEVER drill hips, shoulders, or any other part of the body without having a specific position for your arms... Arms should always have energy and be in a lovely position”

So what are those lovely positions every belly dancer should know? Look at the drawing my daughter did for me years ago to illustrate my Dance Tips booklet.

Basic Arm Positions

Figure 1 shows what I consider the three “basic” arm positions. These could be termed “low, medium, high”; but I usually refer to them in reference to the body, that is, “at hips, shoulder level, overhead”). Notice the elbows - like the knees - are always softly bent.
(Figure 1 below by L.H.P, reproduced from Kawakib's Dance Tips)
            bellydance arm positions

Beginners should do their belly dance drills while holding these arm positions. During drills your focus should include every part of your body, not just the part that’s moving.  As I tell my students, NOT moving is just as important as moving!  After these positions become habitual to you--when your arms automatically go there when you drill or dance--then you can “let them go”...not into chaos, but into other beautiful positions and movements. There’s a better chance of having “good arms” when they come from these basic positions.

Here are two popular variations of the arm positions in Figure 1:

  1. One arm overhead, one arm at hips
  2. One arm overhead, one arm out at shoulder level (not shown); either to the side or front.
These two variations are often used during hip isolations. The “overhead arm” continues the line of the standing leg, while the other arm frames or accentuates the working hip. For example, if you are using the right hip, position the right arm at hip level or out in front, etc.

Other Arm Positions

Check out the next arm position in Figure 2 (unfortunately, this is what it looks like when I draw):
(Figure 2 below, Diagonal Arms)

arm position
          variation for bellydancing

This “diagonal line” arm position is popular in belly dance but it’s one of the hardest to get right. Both arms should match in both bend, angle, and even which way the palm of the hand is turned. In beginners, one arm is often on the diagonal while the other is quite noticeably off, but even when looking at themselves in a mirror, beginners often don’t see this discrepancy. “Dancer-eyes” can be developed easily though, with just a little awareness and focus.

The World of Transitions!

Moving the arms from one position to another brings us to the world of transitions - the short but crucial time between “real” movements. In my Basics classes we often just drill moving from one body position (also known as a pose) to another, over and over until the TRANSITION becomes flawless. Sometimes my more advanced students need the “transition drill” too, but less frequently. What we’re looking for is clean movement between positions, while the body stays in the correct position. There can be NO extraneous body movement, weight shifting, arm path, etc. Clean transitions between movements is an art in itself, as any experienced dancer can attest. 

Homework: Watch Videos!

Advanced and professional dancers often have their own way with transitions. Their unique individual style often shows in how they treat this little space-time. I don’t mean every single movement transition but usually the “bigger” transitions signaling a break in the musical phrase. They might do a little kick, hair/head twitch, larger arm movement; dip into plie, etc. The next time you watch professional dancers on YouTube, keep this in mind and see if you notice any special transitions in between melodic phrases. Fun, isn’t it? Read more on beautiful arms in the next article!

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