I took beginning belly dance classes in the basement of a woman's house during my second pregnancy. We danced primarily because it made us feel good, because of the way it made us stronger in our varied, beautiful bodies. We learned technique.
When I got pregnant again, with number three, I knew that I wanted to do more belly dancing. And I wanted to belly dance for birth: without so much emphasis on technique, and not just for 'fun.' Keeping my belly and pelvic area toned was important to me, and I was aware that these movements would help.
Though the true origins aren't without debate, belly dancing was historically a woman's dance for fertility, sexuality, childbearing and birth. Dancing took place among women's groups, for women, in the women's section of the house. Mixed-gender dancing was not a thing, and depictions of women belly dancing for the benefit of a group of men are largely inaccurate.
Considered by some experts to be the oldest known form of dance, belly dance is no-impact and safe for all ages. Many of the moves involve isolations, which help build strength and flexibility. This kind of core movement also helps decompress the spine and 'un-stick' your sticky places.
Suzy Evans of the International Academy of Middle Eastern Dance says,
Belly dance is natural to a woman's bone and muscle structure. The movements center on the torso rather than the legs and feet, as is common in Western dance. The belly dancer isolates parts of her body, to move each independently in a completely feminine interpretation of the music. The music seems to emanate from her body, as sometimes she emphasizes the rhythm, sometimes the melody of the song.
A practice this old had to have merit, so I sought out help to belly dance as an element of feminine health. I happened upon Dance of the Womb, this DVD set by Maha Al Musa.
You know how they say that touching or working a certain part of your body can bring up and release stored emotional tension? I didn't really believe that until I got started with the endless spirals of spiritual belly dancing while watching my DVD.
I started using these movements as a form of exercise, but soon discovered that they were inexpensive and effective psychotherapy. I just felt better, more open and relaxed. All super for birth preparation!
One day at about 32 weeks I was innocently going about some small hip circles, moving one slow step at a time across my yoga mat in the living room, when I felt a geyser of emotion inside me. I was acutely aware that the emotion came out of my body, from doing the movements. It felt good, like a release. This experience repeated itself, to a lesser extent, numerous times while doing the movements. I've come to believe it was a releasing of past emotional trauma stored in my pelvic area. Psychotherapy for the body.
I don't expect everyone will have this same experience because we are all so different and bodies are so weird. But if you're interested in exploring that, I expect this kind of dancing will bring you to that place.
Unlike most exercise I've done, including my original experience with belly dancing, dancing with Maha felt like my body moving me rather than me exercising control over my body. I enjoy this movement that is essentially spiritual, that brings me into my body and is a kind of prayer -- a way to align myself with a higher power.
When I dance I am really meditating rather than performing for an audience. I am completely absorbed by the music and the steps I choose to respond to the music.
A supple, rhythmic movement of my birthing muscles -- this spiraling, circling, and rocking made me stronger. And it really works in labor!
When I was in labor with my third baby, I used the cervix spiral to jump-start labor. I'm not even sure this is possible, but I swear I actually felt my cervix opening. It felt a lot different than doing the exercise while not in labor, like it was causing the stretching of a big, fat rubber band. Intense, but good.
Belly dancing this way in pregnancy and during labor helped to slow, center and ground me. It helped me stay in the moment, to just be with my body and my baby. I believe the gentle, spiritual approach to the movements made all the difference.
I still do a lot of the circling and spiraling in my daily life. It helps with back pain, stresses in my pelvic area, and loosening up when I get tense. I've incorporated the movements into my everyday actions as well as my exercise routines. Check it out. I hope you find some solace and strength in belly dancing for birth and life.
You may also like:
Emotional Preparation for Birth
How to Align Baby for Faster, Easier Birth
Photo credits: catherdr and Roselle Kingsbury via Flickr/CC