I am learning to belly dance (or to do Middle Eastern dance, as my teacher has it). My first class was Tuesday. I will be posting what I learned every week, so you can learn to belly dance with me! Words, of course, are dismal substitutes for seeing these moves performed by a good teacher, but they're better than nothing. Belly dancing music and videos may be available in your local library, but if not, here's my attempt at capturing the moves in prose. Feel free to msg me with questions.
Stand with feet relaxed, a little less than shoulder width apart. Tuck your tailbone under slightly while lifting your abdomen and straightening your spine. Sound complicated? Think about your spine. Roll your back a little bit, and get acquainted with it. The back has a natural curve. You're just going to straighten it out as best you can, to have a nice clean posture and a strong axis to rotate on. Tightening your abs will help pull the spine into alignment, just be careful not to clench your butt too much, because that just looks wrong. Try and stay relaxed, breathe deeply. Get comfortable with this posture. Your arms can stay down for now, holding a very gentle and natural (but strong and focused - posed, as it were) curve with your palms framing your hips from a short distance away. You want to look and feel like you've been sculpted, but are about to come to life. When my teacher is standing, or showing a pose, you can see the faintest quiver of latent power in her muscles. It's not so much tension as it is a kind of controlled force of nature. If I could see such things, I expect that I'd see all kinds of anima energy coursing through this woman like electricity. Tap into your natural energy, the energy of the music, or any other ley lines you might be aware of.
From basic posture, rotate your hands (just your hands) in a clockwise motion, fingers pointing at the ground. Your fingers may be inclined to fan and curl around the palm or to find their natural furl. Just don't let them flop around or go noodly. Focus on their grace. Start lifting your arms, while circling your wrists. When your arms are about parallel with the ground, the direction of the fingertips will naturally shift toward the sky. Keep circling the wrists up and over your shoulders. Don't straighten your arms entirely, let them hold that gentle but strong curve over your head. By the time you're up above your head, you'll see that your hands are circling in mirror to each other, kind of like egg beaters but far more lovely. Go back down, up, down, until you feel you have some natural fluidity of movement with it. You'll notice that your fingers, wrists, elbows, and shoulders all make interrelated concentric circles as part of their natural tendencies in this movement. You can work on making your movement more graceful by minding these circles until muscle memory takes over.
Another hand and arm combo. To get your hands in the right place, do this (but it's not part of the thing, I'll tell you when). Pretend you're praying. Hands palm to palm at your sternum. Now - separate them to about four inches apart. That's the starting point. You're going to swoop your hands around each other like WWI flying aces, but without the sound effects and explosions. In slow motion: hands go from perpendicular to parallel with the ground, fingers pointed at each other, play chicken, miss, swoop up and out (palms now up to the sky and parallel to the ground) crossing each other on the upswing. Kind of like the Coco Chanel logo in motion, dig? Repeat, but crossing (if the right hand swooped on the outside, next it swoops on the inside, with in and out defined relative to your body. This is also kind of helixish. Once you get this groove on, combine it with raising your arms and lowering them, helix up and helix down (it's not a helix at all, of course, but you get the visual).
Opening the curtain
In today's vernacular, I would call this "pushing the elevator doors open", but ok. Bend your arms and pull the elbows to the sides, holding your palms up to the sky with fingers pointed away from the body (kind of like doing the Egyptian, or gesturing "what the hell", but not). Here's the movement in slow motion - but you'll want to get it going with more fluidity. Your palms are parallel and facing up. Now straighten the wrist so the fingertips are pointing straight up. Keep going. Now your palms are down, fingers pointing at your jaw. Rotate your wrists so your fingers circle out and point away from you. This is kind of like "I'm a little tea pot" but both of your arms are spouts. Now straighten your arms while "pushing" with your palms. Net result: arms straight, palms facing out and perpendicular to the floor. Repeat until fluid.
Alternate straightening one arm while bending the other and bringing the bent arm's hand near your ear. Palms are parallel to each other. This looks kind of Mae West, vampish, when posed still. As the name indicates, the alternation is done with a curving up of the arms, not a flat parallel switch. Windshield wipers. But sexier.
Flower in the hair
OK, this is really hard to describe unless you've done archery... Or seen it. It looks kind of like pulling an arrow back, only it's a flower, and you're tucking it behind your ear in a very coy but stylized gesture, while extending your other arm out (with the palm out and the fingers holding a graceful furl). It's OK to wing this one, I think the spirit of the idea will inform the body when you've got your Flower in the Hair gesture worked out. Note: I get the impression that Middle Eastern dance is idiosyncratic - lots of different names for things and ways of doing them - and that's all part of its beauty. So.
Now, for the good stuff, below the waist. This feels really, really wonderful. After doing all of these exercises and then doing them some more, you'll have a feeling of lush, warm physical well-being. The first thing to do is to familiarize yourself with your hips.
Find the summits of your hip bones, rest your hands on them, walk around. Get intimate with your own geometry of motion.
With feet flat on the ground, bend right knee while tossing your left hip out (don't throw it out, just give it a flirty flip). If you were to freeze here, you would notice that this stance was last seen in your body when you were fourteen years old and all business. But don't stop. Alternate sides. The more you use your butt muscles to shape the movement, the more crisp and defined it will be. Soft, strong, practice both, learn how different they look (a mirror, by the way, is a good thing with this endeavour). If you have a scarf with bells or coins (you know, a bellydancing scarf, you probably have one right next to the peanut butter in your kitchen cabinet), you'll notice that you get more volume on the ching-ching, ching-ching of it when you make it more crisp and powerful. But they swing very sensually and suggestively when it's soft and gentle. And so.
Pick a foot to balance on, and push the other one out in front a little bit and lift it up on the toes. Not on tippy-toe, but like you're wearing an invisible stiletto heel. Your poised heel will be roughly in line with the front of your flat foot's toes. So you're stepped out a little, feet about shoulder width apart. Now swivel your hips in a circle. Imagine drawing a circle on the ground with a piece of magic chalk attached to your the hip poised above the posed foot. If you are a complete and utter geek like me, you might have a laser pointer. In that event you can hold the laser pointer to your hipbone, and watch your hip draw circles on the ground. This will also entertain your cat, if you have one. Keep your knees soft and let them bend as they must, but try to keep your hips parallel to the ground, not going off on an elliptical orbit to it. Switch sides. Repeat until fluid.
Like hip circles, but in a figure eight. Sounds simple? Yes and no. You will do a hip circle, but on your way back to the starting point of the circle you transfer the rotational kinetic energy of it to the other hip, and circle that one in the opposite direction to the first, catch the energy and transfer back, to infinity. Like a perpetual sensual motion machine. Your shoulders and abs will eventually want to join the party, and by all means let them in. Doing so will provide more natural torque and suppleness. Again, try to keep hips parallel to the ground. It's tricky. But once your body catches on to what you want to be doing and starts teaching you how to do it, you will look in the mirror and go "Holy shit, I'm like, totally belly dancing!" This is very cool. Practice on both sides, forward and reverse. Note: the figure eight is not exactly aligned with your feet, but at a slightly oblique angle, because of the fact that you're swinging your your hip out in front of you from the side on the first circle, not torquing it directly to the side.
The point of the shimmy is to jiggle all your loveliness in a way that makes it look like you're shimmering with latent sexual energy. You're more vibrating than shimmying. Feet parallel and flat on the ground. Now alternate lifting your heels as fast as you can, lifting them as little as possible while still getting plenty of bounce for your goods. Your behind, bosom, and belly should all be jiggling like Jello-O on springs. Pair this with the Flower in the Hair, and feel the power of your womanhood. Yes indeed.
Like the Egyptian shimmy, but: one leg is stretched out at an angle to your body with its foot up on its toes (as above) the other is flat on the ground. You shimmy on the flat foot. Personally, I find this pretty hard. Other women seemed to shimmy better on one leg than both. YMMV.
Now you can start pairing up tops and bottoms, just like Fashion Plates. Try pairing all your hands with simple hip circles first, and then work in figure eights, then shimmies, etc.
Needless to say, the right music really helps get into the spirit of the thing. I found that practicing to music helped me find my figure-eight groove. My selection: The Best of George Abdo and His Flames of Araby Orchestra: Belly Dance!.
Next week: Slinky walk, Beledi walk, and much much more. OK, actually now that we're like dancing steps this is way beyond my ability to write. Happened fast, oy! And so here are the standing still bits and if you want to put them together with moving around, definitely look into classes or a video.