With inactivity and aging our muscles tend to shorten and stiffen, in other words we lose our flexibility. Flexibility is needed for extending muscles through their normal range of motion to create the beautiful hip and torso articulations we use in belly dance. And it isn’t just for dancers, fitness experts now agree that being flexible is extremely important to preventing injuries both during exercise and in our normal day to day motions.
What a flexible belly dancer looks like: She always has good posture and alignment. Isolations of her torso, hips, arms, head, and wrists form complete shapes (like circles instead of ellipses) both small or large at her discretion. She has mobility in her spine to bend backwards or forwards, to twist or rotate.
You should work on your flexibility if you:
- Have poor posture
- Experience stiffness or tension in your muscles including hips, neck, wrists, arms, and shoulders while dancing (not your joints, that’s something else!)
- Have trouble twisting or rotating one section of the body (like your torso) separately and away from another (like your hips)
- Intend to perform backbends
- Want to improve the range of motion of isolations
- Want to improve your body lines, your ability to extend hands, arms, torso, or legs to form beautiful poses
A quick note: What’s the deal with isolations? Isolations, as I refer to them, are small, highly focused movements. These include the circles, waves, and eights of the hips, belly, torso, chest, and shoulders. Isolations are a product of coordination (your brain knowing and connecting to the right muscles at the right time), strength (those very small muscles having the power to move large sections of your body), and flexibility (those same muscles being able to stretch long enough to produce a wide range of motion). You need all three to have clean, precise isolation work.
Remember that when stretching aim for tension in the working muscle, not pain! Deepen your stretch slowly and with control while breathing. Never bounce or rock in the stretch. It takes 30 seconds of holding a stretch for the muscle to begin to relax and lengthen, so try to be in the position for at least a minute.
Recognizing the Signs
1.) Your instructor has shown you what good posture is supposed to look like, but it feels really awkward for you to try and hold that alignment. You tend to slump back to what feels normal and comfortable pretty quickly.
Why: You don’t have enough core flexibility to support good posture and alignment. Your muscles are used to being in a contracted state and have therefore shortened, now they really have to stretch to hold good posture.
The Fix: Concentrate on good posture throughout your day, both at work and at home. Supplement your dancing with stretching for the core muscles, especially the upper back, shoulders, and chest.
2.) You’re working on a figure eight or circle for your hips or chest. At one point in the movement you feel a lot of tension, and if you push it too hard pain, in the working muscle. Your circle or eight isn’t completely ‘filled out’ either, because at the same point you pull back inside the trajectory of the shape to prevent tension or pain.
Why: You don’t have enough flexibility in that muscle to execute a full range of motion.
The Fix: Add this circle exercise to your warmup. Perform fifteen circles in each direction for each section of your body starting with your hips, moving through torso, then shoulders, arms, wrists, and finally head. Add extra circles if one direction/side feels more tense. For the movement your working on in the scenario above, find that awkward point in the circle or eight and hold it. Push gently into the stretch aiming for tension not pain, and breath deeply.
Extra-curricular study: The best thing for flexibility is of course Yoga! But any general stretching program will help, too.