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Belly dancing originated in the Middle East and parts of Africa. Therefore, specific moves are culturally intrinsic to various countries. For example, Egyptian baladi is very earthy and the important base movement is the downward hip drop. Turkish dance uses a lot of hip lifts. There have been many cultural and artistic influences that have shaped belly dance styles around the world. Yet there are some core moves that remain constant to a homogenous style of belly dance that is globally recognizable.

1. Hip movements, rolling or slow

Belly dancing requires supple rolling motions in the hips. These moves are often done to slow improvised music and is called “taqsim.”

a) Hip circles – small rolling hip circles are done with the pelvis pivotting on an axis in a continuous circular movement. Much like Polynesian or Hawaiian dance. Anthropologists believe this ancient move emulates birth and fertility ritual.
b) Larger hip circles
are similar to the way you would move if you were spinning a hula hoop around your waist…but make the move slower and lower.
c) The inward figure of ‘8’ requires the vertical movement of the hips to create a shape like a number ‘8’ by alternating sides; first the raised toe and straighter leg pushes the same hip upward, and inward. Then this is repeated on the opposite side, in a pendulum action. Weight must smoothly shift from left to right. It is quite a contained move.
d) The outward figure of ‘8’ is a wide horizontal move. Imagine drawing an ‘8’ on the floor by pushing alternate hips first diagonally forward, then tracing half the ‘8’ back. Repeat. Feels flatter in the feet than the inward ‘8’.
e) Maya – a vertical outward ‘8’ that is quite contained – and looks like”honey spilling from a cup!” It is a more advanced ‘8’.

2. Hip movements, staccato or fast

To faster music, especially drums, the hips move with more energy! The main fast hip moves are:
f) Hip lift – the hip lifts upward whilst the rest of the body remains quite still. Isolation is important for effective fast hip moves. Turkish, Lebanese, Persian and Ghawazee (Egyptian Gypsy dance) incorporates many hip lifts.
g) Hip drop – very Egyptian, it is a deep seated downward hip move. Again make sure the whole body doesn’t ‘drop’ when the hip does – isolation is important.
h) Shimmy – the most exuberant, fun move of all! A quivering of the flesh on the hips and bottom. You must relax your knees and build up a constant vibration from the knees to the thighs. It also helps get rid of cellulite! In fact, the ‘shimmy’ was done in the Artemis days in ancient Turkey as a wild, unrestrained fertility dance.
i) Travelling shimmy – you can walk with a shimmy too! Either with a hip down move as in Egyptian baladi, or with a twisting movement from the waist like the Turkish dancers move when the rhythm speeds up.
j) Hip accents – you can push your hips outward to the sides – a bit like a small, sudden ‘thrusting’ move. Remember to isolate the hips. These look great with drum accents in the music.

3. Belly and torso movements

            Turkish dance is more of a ‘belly dance’ in the true sense of the word than Egyptian or Moroccan dance – both which use more hip moves. Belly moves are very good for toning the abdominal muscles.
k) Tummy roll – a smooth three part belly ‘rolling motion’ where the abdominal muscles alone are used – without any movement of the spine. First ‘push’ out, then ‘pull in’ the upper abs, then ‘pull in’ the lower abs. Continue this roll.
l) Undulation – a sinewy swaying motion of the spine and belly. First move the weight of the body forward and then ‘pulling back’ with the abs and pelvis, like a wave.
m) The ‘camel walk’ – a combination of this undulation and a travelling step. It feels quite natural, with a slight ‘scooping’ effect. Just step on the front foot, then the back in synch with the undulation. You alternate stepping low with slightly bent knees, then high with straighter legs to create an up-and-down camel walk.

4. Snake arms and shoulder moves

            In belly dancing the arms should be natural and relaxed. Snake-like arm moves or rapid shoulder shimmies enhance belly dancing. Again, isolation is important.
n) Shoulder roll – roll the shoulders back and around in a small, smooth circular motion
o) Snake arms – slow, mesmerizing move done with arms out to the side, alternating levels, i.e.: lift one arm up while the other is down low and then smoothly, swap. Maintain some poise in the arms. You can do this by focusing on the elbows lifting the arms up and down.
p) Shoulder shimmy – a rapid, relaxed vibrating move in the shoulders. You can start slowly by pressing one shoulder back as the other come forward, and then speed up. Try to keep the hands still and level while the shoulders shimmy.

5. Head and neck moves

q) Head slide – The main head movement used in belly dance is the head slide (a gentle continuous move from right to left, the head slides horizontally). It is very much used in Persian dance, Turkish and Egyptian folklore.
r) Head/hair flick – The other head move often seen is the head/hair flicking move like in Khaleegee (Gulf dance) or Zaar (Egyptian ritual dance). It is a wild, exhilarating movement that should be monitored and learnt with a professional teacher as it can be rather harsh on the neck.

6. Turns and stepping moves

            To enrich the dance and provide exciting contrast to the stationary isolations and on-the-spot moves of belly dance, use steps and turns. Steps and turns make use of ‘space’ and also create sweeping movement that accompanies the full orchestra.
s) Step/point – a simple step with a flat foot down then the opposite foot pointing out, thus enabling then hip to come forward and up slightly. Works well with a regular medium paced rhythm.
t) Triple step – a sprightly, gliding, flowing step with the front foot coming down, then briefly shifting the weight back on the back foot and then shifting weight to the front foot again. Then change feet. Count 1-2-3, 1-2-3, etc.
u) Turns – the most simple and effective is the three step turn. You must actually push your body weight in the direction of the turn. Start with the body facing the front. The first step is out to the side. Next step you turn 180 degrees, weight onto the other foot, your back to the audience. Then lastly step onto the initial foot 180 degree turn (continuously in the same direction) to face front again. Pause on 4th beat.

Permission to reprint by Keti Sharif


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