Belly dancing chiefly focuses on the hips and movements by the hips, and we covered some of them in our previous post. There are so many movements made by the hips that you could almost call this dance style “hip dance” rather than belly dance. I guess that’s why other names for this style exist.
Today, I’m going to talk about more basic belly dance moves. Once again, simply reading about these moves is no substitute for watching them being done and definitely isn’t a substitute for giving them a go. We’ll start with a few more hip moves that we didn’t cover last time, then move to other parts of the body.
What is it? Hip rotations involve one hip rotating in a circle that moves forward and back. If your hips were drawing circles on a wall with a laser pointer, the wall would be to the side of you.
How is it done? To do a rotation on your right hip, put most of your weight on your left leg, keeping a soft bend in the knee. Use your lateral abdominal muscles to bring the point of one hip up, forward, down and back. To keep your balance, you should keep your right toe on the ground and your right heel raised, but the primary driver of motion should be your abdominal muscles (belly dancing is so good for toning this part of the body).
Variations: You can either do multiple rotations on one side, then the other, or you can alternate one hip then the other; this is sometimes called the Moroccan shimmy.
What is it? The pelvis rocks back and forwards, smoothly and subtly. Note that hip camels are not twerking – the idea is to be gentle, smooth and subtle with equal emphasis given to forward and backward motion, whereas twerking is sharper and jerkier with more of a focus on the butt and the backwards movement.
How is it done? This move looks most elegant when you have one foot in front of the other. Step one leg forwards (say, your left) but keep your weight equally distributed on both legs. Smoothly rock and tilt your pelvis forward and backwards. This is a very sensual and, yes, sexy move, but keep the motion smooth and flowing to keep it elegant and classy.
Variations: The hip camel can be alternated with the chest camel (see below) for a full body camel move. The hip camel can also easily be combined with steps or little hops forward or backwards to turn this into a travelling step.
What is it? Belly rolls aren’t what happens when you’ve overdone the doughnuts! This is one belly dance move done with the actual belly. In this move, the muscles at the top of the abdomen contract while those at the bottom stretch and expand; this reverses so the top expands while the bottom muscles contract. It should look like your belly is rippling or undulating.
How is it done? It takes a LOT of practice to isolate the separate abdominal muscles. You can start by simply practising expanding and contracting your whole abdomen to get an idea of how it feels. Then try separating the top and bottom sets of abdominals separately, perhaps with one hand resting on each set. Keep practising! Rumour has it that Shakira practised flipping a coin in her navel to perfect this move while lying on her back. This certainly works to help you isolate and tone your abdominal muscles. I also know one dancer who used the time spent at the sink washing dishes to practice this move.
What is it? The chest camel sways the ribcage back and forth while keeping the rest of the body still.
How is it done? Stand up nice and straight in a neutral position, keeping a soft bend in the knees while keeping your legs and hips still. Now push your chest – and everything that’s on your chest – forwards as far as you can with your chest and shoulder muscles. The muscles across your shoulder blades should squeeze together while your chest muscles open up. Then bring your chest back as far as you can so your shoulder blades open and your chest muscles squeeze together. If you have mastered the cat–cow yoga move, you should find the feeling familiar.
Variations: As described above, the chest camel can be alternated with the hip camel. The movement can be big and dramatic, or softer and more subtle so that your body looks like a silk curtain rippling in a soft breeze.
What is it? The ribcage moves left to right while the hips stay still.
How is it done? Keep your hips still during this move – it may be handy to use a mirror to check what is and isn’t moving. Use your lateral abdominals to push your ribcage to the left, then to the right. Put on a sparkly bra top with lots of fringing or coins (go on – you know you want to), as the movement of the coins or fringes will show you what’s moving.
What is it? This combines the chest camel and the chest slide, so the ribcage makes a circle. If your body were tracing the move with a laser pointer at the bottom of your ribcage, the circle would be on the floor.
How is it done? Keep those hips still, then push your chest out to the front, then to the right, to the back and to the left. Try to make the movement as big as you can. Use your abdominals, your chest muscles and the muscles across your shoulder blades.
What is it? The shoulders shake back and forward, creating that shimmying motion but at the top of the body, not at the bottom.
How is it done? Punch one shoulder forwards and bring it back, then do the same with the other shoulder. Keep your shoulders down and try to release tension across the top of the shoulder while making this move. Although this move will result in your breasts shimmying and shaking gently, the action should be driven by the shoulders – merely shaking your boobs shouldn’t be the focus. It’s a subtle difference but a difference nonetheless.
Variations. You can pop one shoulder forwards and back multiple times – or once as an accent – rather than alternating.
What is it? The arms move and flow in a smoothly undulating wave. If done right, it should give the impression that your arms are as mobile and many-jointed as a snake.
How is it done? Start by mastering the move on one arm. Bring one arm up to the side, lifting from the triceps as if you were trying to make room for a rolled-up blanket between your elbow and your body, letting the gentle curve work down into your fingertips. When you have drawn your arm up as far as possible, start to drop your upper arm while your lower arm and fingertips keep travelling upwards. Practice in a mirror to ensure that you’ve got the undulating motion correct. Once you’ve got the hang of it on each arm separately, add them together so that one arm is moving upwards while the other one is travelling downwards.
Variations. Both arms can move in sync, both going up and down at the same time, like a bird in flight. Snake arms can be done alone or can be combined with hip moves and steps – although you might like to watch some belly dance videos, a teacher or just look in the mirror to work out which hip moves work best with snake arms (hint: shimmies and hip circles are always a safe bet).