From hip lifts to chest shimmies, belly dancing works the entire body
by Davia L Mosley
August 13, 2012 12:00 AM | 2892 views | 1 1 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Belly dancing is an alternative method of exercise. Above: Identified by their dancing names, from left, Julena, director of the Dancers of the Harem, Nanda, Bela and Rayzahna perform with the other students at Julena’s studio.<br>Staff/Jon-Michael Sullivan
Belly dancing is an alternative method of exercise. Above: Identified by their dancing names, from left, Julena, director of the Dancers of the Harem, Nanda, Bela and Rayzahna perform with the other students at Julena’s studio.
Staff/Jon-Michael Sullivan
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While belly dancing might evoke images of beautiful women, colorful costumes and shiny jewelry, the ancient art is also a form of exercise. Various studios exist in Cobb for the general public to learn the moves as well as strengthen the body. Three local instructors offer insight into the history of the dance as well as the benefits. In keeping up with tradition, they use one name.

Julena

In 1974, Julena took her first belly-dancing class, something she said she’d be the “last person on the planet” to do at that time. However, she has continued to teach the art for more than 30 years, starting in 1976.

“It turned out to be my niche, something that was really, really wonderful,” she said. Her troupe is Dancers of the Harem.

“There was a such a demand for it, and I have never been without a class or a troupe,” she said. “There is something about belly dancing that is different from most exercises.”

Julena said belly dancing is for the young and old, big and small, and men and women. She stresses the importance of having an enjoyable fitness regiment, because then it will be a fun one.

Some of the benefits of belly dancing include increases in joint flexibility, core strength, muscle tone and stamina.

For a first-time dancer, she said they can expect to wear comfortable clothes (such as yoga pants) and to get an introduction into Middle Eastern dance. A warm-up starts the classes, then class participants perform moves that work each part of the body.

“Even the eyes get a workout. I can’t find a muscle, internal or external, that doesn’t get a workout,” she said.

Her troupe can be found performing in places such as Sandy Springs, Alpharetta and Acworth. For more information, visit www.dancersoftheharem.com or contact Julena at julenahall@yahoo.com.

“Belly dancing is an art,” she said. “As with anything, if you team it with diet, it will work.”

Inara

Inara began belly dancing in 1996 at the urging of a friend, and now teaches and performs in metro Atlanta with her troupes Sandtrance and Luma’as-Sahara.

Her clients have ranged fromhigh school students to senior citizens. With belly dancing being a lower-impact activity, she said there is less risk for injury.

“Belly dancing develops a lot of your core muscles because you have to use a lot of that to move. What most people don’t realize is that also build up a lot of your leg muscles,” she said. “It’s more strength toning than aerobics, but once we get moving, you can find yourself out of breath.”

In her beginner’s class, Inara said people can expect to start with a general warm-up, followed by five to six different but specific moves, such as hip lifts or basic Egyptian moves. She said, “We do those moves until they are comfortable with it, when they know what muscles go behind the move and how to do it correctly. Then we’ll put all the moves into a little short combination. That’s usually when the heart rate gets up.”

Women make up the majority of her clients, and Inara said the classes offer them health and social benefits.

“Women stick with it as a form of exercise and do it at home more simply of the way it’s structured,” she said. “You’re getting your social needs met as a woman, along with this activity. It’s an emotional support group.”

However, the health benefits can’t be denied. Inara stresses the importance of consistent practice, saying she assigns drills for people to do at home — even while cooking!

“I do kitchen dances all the time,” she said, laughing. “I come up with combinations. Just put some music on — if a song is on the radio, you can dance to it. You stay more active with belly dancing than with other exercises.”

For more information about classes, contact Inara at inara999@comcast.net or (678) 523-3532.

Sanam

Sanam is of Middle Eastern heritage and began teaching belly dancing classes in New York, where she was raised. At Sanam Studios, located at 255 Johnson Ferry Road, No. 27 in Marietta, participants can burn nearly 500 calories in one of her classes. She starts with 14 basic movements that she said can become more advanced with time and practice.

“The 14 basic movements are neat because we can do an entire dance using those movements,” she said, adding the movements have a way of gradually strengthening muscles. The moves include hip lifts and drops, shoulder and hip shimmies, wrist and hip circles, chest lifts and drops, snake arms, arm waves and chest circles.

Posture is key to belly dancing. Sanam said, “It’s the most important part. If you have good posture, you don’t get hurt and it really helps you become more of a graceful dancer.”

She adds, “The movements are so smooth. Muscle control and strength comes from isolated and repeated moves.”

With clients as young as 16 and as old as 60, Sanam said the range in cultures is “the most incredible thing I have ever witnessed.”

“These moves go along with the natural range of a woman’s body,” she added. “When students see themselves, they say they didn’t know how easy it was.”

She said the goal for her clients is to get the proper techniques but also to enjoy themselves. Sanam encourages women to come to class with jewelry and makeup.

“Come have fun. That’s what this class is all about,” she said. “It offers internal strength. When they come to that place, they speak the universal language of belly dance. There is camaraderie among the people in the class.”

For more information, contact Sanam at sanam@sanamstudios.com.
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Pam J
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August 13, 2012
When I was a lot younger, my mother liked to try different things. And since my father didn't, she would "rope" me into doing these things with her. One time it was ice skating, where we found out we could skate on thin blades, and then she signed us up for belly dancing lessons that were being held at Argyle Elementary School. I have never had so much fun or laughed so much. It really is good exercise.
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