By Faye Martins
The art of raks sharqi, also known as Middle Eastern dance or bellydance, takes a combination of strength and grace that a firm Yoga practice provides. Many of the most well known American bellydancers, like Rachel Brice, Zoe Jakes and Suhaila Salimpour use Yoga training as the foundation for their dance. They precede each class with a Yogic warm up and devote some time each week to full practice.
Bellydance focuses on flexibility and isolation of muscle movements, and breath control is also necessary during performance. A powerful Yoga practice can help a dancer learn to be present in the moment, which in turn gives her stage presence. Much like the asanas, bellydance movements are always in the process of refinement. Practitioners soon learn that specific movements, which a dancer finds more difficult, may signal areas in the body, which require special attention.
For a beginner or expert bellydancer, some of the most useful Yoga asanas include the following postures.
Seated spinal twists and stretches, like Ardha Matsyendrasana or Half Lord of the Fishes pose, and Marichyasana III or Sage pose.
Poses for spinal flow: Marjariasana or Cat and Cow, Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog, Balasana or Child’s pose and Virasana or Hero’s pose.
Leg and foot stretches, like Prasarita Padottanasana or Wide Leg stretch.
Backbends for strength and flexibility such as: Dhanurasana or Bow pose, Ustrasana or Camel pose or Natarajasana or Lord of the Dance pose.
Hip openers, like Kapotasana or Pigeon pose are good for the hip flexors and the hip joint itself.
Abdominal strengtheners for belly rolls and undulations, like Chaturanga Dandasana or Four-limbed Staff pose.
Balancing and centering poses, like Tadasana or Mountain pose, and Vrksasana or Tree pose.
Sterling Painton, a bellydancer and the owner of a Yoga studio, notes that Yogic methodology helps protect the body from injuries, and, in the event of an injury, recovery time is quicker for those who practice regularly. Bellydance and Yogic practices both date back thousands of years and offer a tolerance of and acceptance for the self not prevalent in our mainstream society.
Yoga emphasizes slowing down and relaxing at a gentle, conscious pace. Bellydance supports body acceptance outside of the images shown in the media and commercial industry. Traditionally bellydance is non-commercial. Both hatha Yoga and bellydance can help those who practice diligently take the time to understand themselves better and resist pressure to conform to external expectations.
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