Shake your booty, shimmy your hips and undulate your abs for a sexy, sinuous dance workout. Belly dancing is a traditional dance from Middle East and West Asian cultures that engages muscles over your entire body. The revealing, tummy-baring costumes and the fluid and staccato moves are not kind to jiggly muffin-tops. A flabby middle won't see you through to the end of the challenging dance. Strengthen your stomach muscles to improve your belly dancing performance and appearance.
Isolation and Articulation
Belly dancing involves much more sophisticated moves than just shaking it until the coins on your scarves jingle. Each movement is articulated by isolating one or more muscles to achieve explosive, fluid and rapid action that takes concentration and control. Your stomach muscles never stop working as you perform separate, simultaneous articulations of your chest, hips, tummy, arms, hands, shoulders and legs. Hip slide, hip thrust, forward and back shimmies, and belly rolls all come from a strong stable core. You don't bounce; you roll, tighten and release, and shift your weight to move your mid-section for hip circles and camels. Standing and kneeling back bends rely on stomach muscles to support and stabilize you as you lean back and to pull you upright smoothly.
Pilates Core Work
The Pilates system emphasizes the core and provides powerful abs work that can improve your belly dancing. Pilates mat and machine workouts are favorites of dancers for long, lean muscles and strong stomach muscles. Pilates exercises work the deep muscles of the pelvic floor and the inner abdominals, muscles crucial to belly dancing moves. "Dance" magazine recommends some Pilates mat moves to strengthen your lower abs. Lie face down on the mat for single leg kicks to engage your abs and the muscles around your hips for those hip isolations and belly undulations. Use the Hundred as a warm-up and a challenging abs toner. Recline on the mat, contract your abs, and raise your upper torso and extended legs. Hold the position as you pump your arms five times on the in-breath and five on the out-breath for one hundred pumps.
Basic Abs Attack
Grab a stability ball and target your abs with exercises you can do at home or in the gym. Stability ball knee tucks hit your obliques, rectus abdominus and transverse abdominus. Prone walkouts, pikes, the shoulder bridge, and crunches on the ball all work those lower abs. Skip the equipment and just do bird-dogs and planks on a mat to feel a belly burn. Lunges and high-stepping Frankensteins challenge the lower abdominals, as do hip rotations in the pushup position, side planks, reverse crunches and bicycle crunches. Adding abs-focused sequences to your regular workout will not only strengthen your core, but it will increase your endurance, essential conditioning for a dynamic, hour-long, tummy-shimmying class.
The Bottom Line in Belly Dancing
Belly dancing itself helps strengthen your stomach muscles but it won't stop there. The American Council on Exercise says that belly dancing's benefits include greater flexibility and strength, better balance, coordination and posture, improved physical appearance and weight loss. An hour of belly dance burns about 400 calories. And it does that while toning your abs, obliques, back, legs and arms, all with no-to low-impact so there's less risk of injury to your joints. You can take up belly dancing at any age; the moves adapt to a variety of fitness levels and body weights. You don't have to have a perfectly flat belly to do a perfect belly roll. Strong stomach muscles will ripple that move from your solar plexus to the base of your pelvis and back.
- Times Free-Press: Belly Dancing Offers Whole-Body Workout
- Dance Magazine: Health & Fitness
- American Council on Exercise: Ab Exercises
- Belly Dance.org: What is Belly Dance?
- American Council on Exercise: So You Think You Can Dance? Well, Now You Can
- New York Times: Health and Fun, the Belly Dancing Way
- Shira: How to Belly Dance
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .