Now We Dance
Belly dance is not a room-filling dance. Movements spread in rhythmic waves across the body--the body itself becomes the space for the dance, and the dancer dances with and within her own body. This is entirely different from classical ballet, during which the dancer moves her body across the room, jumping and turning to create the illusion of weightlessness; the dancers appear to fly and float across the room.
In contrast, belly dance is a very grounded dance. The basic position from which movements originate connects the dancer with the earth. Belly dance gets its beauty not from strength but from the ability of the dancers to have good contact with their bodies and to play selectively with their muscles. That is why shimmies appear so easy and effortless, especially among experienced dancers.
For belly dance, it is important to put proper weight on the feet. The bulk of the body’s weight rests on the edges of the feet. The feet stay flat on the ground. They are spread at hip-width and parallel to one another. The feet point forward with the knees slightly bent. The knees extend beyond the feet and are parallel to one another. The knees should roll neither in nor out, as this would unduly strain them. Keeping the knees facing forward ensures the hips stay loose and flexible. The pelvis sits on the hip joints; the hip bones are level side to side. The spine rises upward from the pelvis. The shoulders drop back slightly. Imagine that a string is tied to your chest, pulling it forward; this raises the torso and widens the chest cavity. The head is similarly suspended on a string and straight, with the chin slightly raised. Breathe steadily, with the breath flowing deep into your pelvis.
Starting position is the basic position. During this exercise let your arms hang loosely at your sides, or you can place your arms on your hips to feel the movements more intensely. You can also hold your arms as if you were carrying a big round balloon in front of your body. When circling your hips, pay attention to keeping your knees as steady as possible--they should not move with the hips. The hip circles come from the hips, not from the knees. Many women have trouble at first when learning to initiate movements from the hips. That is why we also recommend trying this exercise in pairs: have another dancer hold your knees to keep the legs quiet as you gain a sense of the range of motion of your hips.
Kicking with Your Hips
Kick your hips to the left or the right as though you were trying to push someone aside. This movement can be strong and forceful. Then kick your hips forward (3) and back (4). Some women are embarrassed by this movement, as they find it pointedly sexual. But this important movement loosens the pelvis and is an expression of your vitality. Still, if you feel uncomfortable with this you can leave it out for now and return to it later, when you feel more comfortable with the dance movements overall. Repeat hip kicks ten times.
The hip swing results from intense legwork and weight shifting. To perform hip swings, first shift your weight to your right foot. Lift the right heel, keeping your weight on the ball of your right foot. This movement swings the right hip upward (5). The left leg is slightly stretched, but the knee is not straightened all the way. Place your right foot back on the floor and shift your weight to your left foot, then to the ball of the left foot. When the left heel raises, the left hip swings up (6). The right leg is slightly stretched. Repeat this sequence ten times.
Lifting the Hips
During vertical hip lifts, the hips alternate moving up and down, like the bowls of a scale. This movement is driven only by the pelvis. Both feet remain firmly on the ground. You can vary the levels of these vertical hip lifts by going deeper into your knees or by rising to the tips of your toes. Again, repeat hip lifts ten times.
Circling the Hips
During the small hip circle, the hip moves independent of the upper body, which remains straight and at rest. The thighs support the movements of the hip. Picture yourself standing inside a square. During circling, concentrate on touching the corners of the square. Picture squares of different sizes to vary your movements between small and big circles. Start with small circles and gradually increase the size.
If that goes well, move from the hip circles inside the square to small pelvis circles. It helps to picture your pelvis as circling a ball in a ball bearing. Circle right (7) and left (10). Picture a small spiral, your pelvis inside the spiral and circling out, until the movements are big. The pelvis now moves along the outer edge of the spiral. Then reverse direction and return to the inside of the spiral until the movements of the pelvis are small again. Repeat hip circles ten times in each direction, and spiraling three to four times.