Technically speaking, strength is the capacity of a muscle to exert force against resistance. In belly dance we don’t hold weights (although I have a pair of zills the size of tea cup saucers that might count); the ‘resistance’ is often gravity or even the weight of our own bodies. Belly dance is therefore only light strength training, but having strength is important for maintaining good posture and for clean isolations.
What a strong belly dancer looks like: She always has good posture and alignment. Her isolations are clearly defined and she can perform them equally well slowly or quickly. Her core muscles can support movements with a large range of motion. She can easily transition from standing to floorwork.
You should work on your strength if you:
- Have poor posture
- Experience back pain during or after dancing
- Want to be able to perform more advanced floorwork technique
- Intend to perform back bends, especially transitioning to floorwork dropping through a back bend
- Want to improve the precision and range of motion of isolations
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.
Recognizing the Signs
1.) Your body seems to just deflate by the end of class. Your instructor is constantly reminding you to keep you chest lifted and your shoulders back. You experience lower back pain often while dancing, or perhaps even the next day.
Why: You don’t have enough core strength to support good posture and alignment, and to compensate other muscles are stepping in to do the work where they shouldn’t.
The Fix: Concentrate on good posture throughout your day, both at work and at home. Supplement your dancing with light weight training, yoga, pilates, or other core strength fitness routines (see below).
2.) You’d like to achieve greater extension with your torso movements (slides, circles, camels, back bends), but when you try to make your movements larger you feel off balance. Or, you can extend much further on one side than on the other.
Why: You don’t have enough core strength to support the movement (on either or both sides).
The Fix: Practice extending the movement to the point where you feel tension in the opposing muscle groups. Make sure you’ve maintained good posture and alignment. Hold in the extended position for ten seconds or until the muscle fatigues. Take a break and repeat.
3.) You’re working on an isolation that’s difficult for you. You vaguely feel like you can connect to the right muscle, but it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere when you ask it to move. It feels weak and heavy, like there’s an invisible wall preventing you from moving it.
Why: The muscle group you are trying to move is not strong enough to carry the weight you’ve asked it to carry (or you’re still having trouble connecting your brain to the right muscle, a coordination issue).
The Fix: The one’s the hardest to deal with, but as always practice can help. Visualize the muscle you’re trying to move, imagine it working. You might be able to place your hand on that muscle group to feel it when it contracts and releases. You might also try “isometric” (squeeze and release) contractions to help locate and strengthen.
Extra-curricular study: My favorite fitness programs to better my posture and and rev up my floorwork are yoga and TRX suspension training. Light weight lifting, core and abdominal exercises, and Pilates will work, too.