"Bellydance is a strenuous activity. FatChanceBellyDance and their associates will not be held liable for any injuries that may occur from use of this video. We thank you for using common sense and suggest that you consult a physician regarding any concerns you have."
That important piece of disclaimer always greets me whenever I open up FCBD Tribal Basics vol. 1, 4, 5, 6, and 7 to drill on ATS. Buy the videos here.
And you can see that type of advice coming from all over the place: from instructional DVDs by the likes of Bellydance Superstars, IAMED, Suhaila Salimpour, Sadie, and Veena & Neena to workshops (at least those I've been).
A muscular and join stretches and warm-up follow after that.
Apparently, bellydance can be quite challenging activity that it needs a disclaimer and a session of stretches and warm-up (Sharon Kihara used no less than 45 minutes to drill us with warm-up yoga poses and glute work to improve our technique).
Sharon was a student of Suhaila Salimpour. Suhaila's a lifelong endorser of using your glutes for a lot of benefits such as sharper isolations and better shimmies. It works for me!
The gym was the first place where I got tangibly introduced to bellydance. At first it was hard to even master camels and mayas, but I eventually got the hang of it. And after two years, I could share the very basic steps at the gym, by being an instructor.
And through my teaching experience that's well over a year and my own gym and fitness experience (ugh! I really hate to call it that, but yeah, I've had my gym-freak days), I managed to find a way to make an hour class become survivable. I may not be the greatest teacher and I've had my share of both boosted-ego and humility regarding the sizes of my class.
My longtime teacher and now dance partner, Ms. Miftahul Jannah, has a very good stamina and a loyal fanbase. She can teach up to three classes at the gym in one day (where it's indeed more exhausting) and on Saturdays, she drills all of three levels (Introduction, Beginner, Intermediate) at Dancewave Center.
And as for the fanbase at the gym, well... It surprised me to know that she actually knew what a certain class wants and it can be totally different to another class. She caters to the want of the majority of the group and the group loves it.
As she's gone away for two weeks, I'm substituting her, and I almost fainted. Going from class to class, fighting the godawful traffic jams, sweating and getting muscleaches sometimes feel unworthy of the sweet, sweet paycheck at the end of the month. But again, after a while, I kind of got the hang of it and now I feel so much healthier when I have to wake up at 5:30 in the morning to susbtitute her early class.
Bellydance, like other physical activities, have both benefits and dangers. It can benefit our body if done correctly, and if not done correctly, it can cause permanent damage. One of the ladies in Ms. Mifta's class suffered from skoliosis. Ten years ago, she could not even wear high heels. After dabbling with Pilates and then Yoga, she said she felt a lot healthier, "corrected", even, although still far from normal.
She also said that whenever she does the lateral figure eights, she had to elongate her spine more to not feel the pain.
Ah yes, the beauty of meeting and teaching people is actually not the things you can teach them, but what you can learn from them. And this lady, a dentist, has taught me another valuable tip that I can keep in my tip jar to distribute to my fellow dancers and students along my dancing life.
Another thing that she pointed out was the fact that I always tried to remind them to use the muscles, never the joints, to do the movements. For example, when doing hip bumps (or hips on the ups, hip hits, whatever the terminology) let the glutes and the obliques do the work, not the knees and let the muscles take control. Putting too much strain and pressure on the joints can be really bad. The muscles should be conditioned to help the joints work, and honestly, bellydancing can be a somewhat mild (and uplifting) exercice to condition them.
My shool of thought is definitely not the classic Egyptian (read: Raqia Hassan and the likes). In Sonia's (of BDSS) Drum Solo DVD with Issam Houshan, there's a short documentary about her travel to Egypt where she took private courses with local teachers, one of them was Ms. Hassan. Sonia said that she was not used to the hip shimmy where the movement originates from the knees. I didn't quite get it at the moment, but it all made sense to me now that I am able to hip-shimmy while sitting down and driving: my type of hip-shimmy comes from the hips and glutes.
To tell you the truth, my hip-shimmy is definitely much better when it comes from the hips and glutes, not the knees. How else can I kneel while shimmying if the movement comes from the knees? But then again, I think to each his/her own.
But let me tell you something, contrary to the belief that somehow gets popular, bellydance does not require pot belly to dance to. Some people prefer the dancers petite and curvy, some wiry, some fit and muscular, some voluptuous. As long as they are healthy and can do bellydance (Oriental, Tribal, a good fusion will blow me away), why not?
And contrary to another contradicting belief, bellydance will not burn away your tummy fat. The flab will still be there if you only do bellydance for your physical activity. You will not achieve flat and gorgeous tummy without a proper diet, a proper sleeping pattern, and a hell lot of proper activities. And that's a bunch of sacrifices. Cameron Diaz has an enviable set of abs and I don't think she bellydances. Shakira's fit but doesn't exactly have the six packs and yet she dances. And don't get me started on Brad Pitt's washboards.
But can you really do bellydance at the gym? Well, yeah. It is a physical activity that offers a way to trim down a bit of the calories, tone your muscles, work on your flexibility (that, by the way, depends very much on muscular awareness and conditioning), work on your body coordination (head, hands, feet movements, etc). If you're lucky the instructor can give you an insight or two about Oriental (or Tribal) bellydance.
Then again, it's the gym. Some classes prefer to have sweaty work out, some classes prefer to do in details, some classes prefer to have a choreography in the end. And there are gym instructors who are willing to explain things without worrying about being labeled as boring, willing to sweat off with the members just to show you the right movements and go all the way with them, willing to share you tips to make the end choreography look much classier and more Oriental instead of Burlesque, and what to do with your arms when you turn, and share the meaning of the lyrics of the song you're dancing to.
Some instructors at the gym will not teach you how to achieve the Tarab, but come to think of it, neither will some dance instructors at respectable Oriental instutions.