Time for this week’s challenge! Are you ready?
I, personally, think that part of the appeal of belly dance is that you don’t need to be flexible to be good at it. You don’t see a lot of the famous dancers out of Egypt doing many splits or high kicks, though back bends are routine (for me back bends are more about ab strength than back flexibility, but that might just be me). I think it makes belly dance more approachable to the general public, and adults, then dance forms that demand flexibility, like ballet.
Being flexible in belly dance, while not required, is certainly desirable. Splits are impressive, and for floor work flexibility is mandatory. Flexibility is also good for back bends, for sideways leans, and for kicks (like in Turkish dance). But flexibility isn’t just about these over-the-top moves. Having flexibility in the torso means your isolations will be larger, and your range of motion will be greater. Any dancer can benefit from this!
My students know that I’m about as flexible as a dry stick. That doesn’t mean I don’t stretch! There are some of us who may never achieve the splits, due to hip socket anatomy (if bone gets in the way, there isn’t much hope for stretching into it!), but we can at least stretch for the health of our muscles and increasing our range of motion. Improving our flexibility is also a good way to improve our dance.
Naturally, in order for us to become properly flexible, we must also be strong. Being strong makes for good dance!
What’s the challenge?
First, a strongly worded note. DO NOT STRETCH COLD MUSCLES. Do not try to gain flexibility by tearing your ligaments and tendons. Remember, strength AND flexibility is the name of the game. Always do stretching AFTER your workout, so you are at your warmest. Stretching is never an acceptable warm up.
Beginner: Unless you have a strong background in another dance form or yoga, you are probably coming to belly dance as someone who is not flexible at all. There’s nothing wrong with that! As I said, belly dance can be done successfully without ever doing the splits. But flexibility is good for our muscles, and keeps our joints healthy (if we don’t overdo it), and, of course, increases our range of motion. This week, get with your teacher to help work on improving your flexibility. Concentrate on your torso this week, because this will probably be easiest. Side bends, chest slides and rotations, all will be improved by stretching the torso. Find some good stretches, get nice and warm, and then stretch!
Intermediate: Let’s talk about the splits. I have tried and tried and failed and failed to get into the splits. Not everyone has the hip socket anatomy for it, and it has nothing to do with how often they stretch or whether they are doing it right or not. As a massage therapist, I know how to increase flexibility. It just doesn’t work for me. But you can work this week on improving yours! Before starting work with a personal trainer or massage therapist, try researching some good stretches for the hips. There are a lot of hip muscles, so try to find stretches that work all of them. This week, incorporate those stretches into your daily routine. YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO DO THE SPLITS AFTER A WEEK OF STRETCHING. This challenge is to get you used to stretching daily to improve your flexibility.
Advanced: Let’s talk backbends. Everyone wants to be able to do backbends. They are impressive, difficult, and unsafe. However, there are safe(r) ways to do them. This week, you will work, not on the flexibility of your back, but the strength of your abs. “But I’m a bellydancer!” you protest. “My abs are great!” Maybe. But backbends, and the associated movements, require ab and leg strength that you don’t get unless you train for it. This week, in addition to any regular stretches you do for your back, add in ab and hip flexor strength work. Crunches, Pilates, whatever works for you…This might be a challenge about flexibility, but for backbends you need both strength and flexibility in equal measures!
A note of caution: always listen to your body when it comes to stretching. It should never hurt. Always consult with a doctor first, and if you do not work with a teacher, a trainer, or a massage therapist, make absolutely sure you are following all guidelines and steps for the stretches accurately. And keep in mind that flexibility takes time. Don’t push it, just use this week as a building up of good stretching habits.
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