Belly Dancercise…a trendy stress reliever for patients with chronic diseases

When we talk  about “Belly Dancercise”, many people may picture a Middle Eastern woman gracefully shimmying, moving her hips to the earthy tempo and exciting beats of the music all to rapturous applause from the audience, however according to 52 year old British Belly Dance teacher Liz Williams, a Belly Dancercise instructor and therapist from BNH hospital said that there was so much more to this type of dance as the moves from belly dancing have now been adapted and are  being used as therapy for patients with chronic diseases.

“The hip movements are smooth and flowing, and work with the body of the woman empahsising her femininity, and the dance also focuses on abdominal muscles as well as the upper body to promote range of motion and flexibility. The movements help to reduce stiffness around the shoulder in post-surgery breast cancer patients, pain and swelling in joints and bone caused by Rheumatoid arthritis, helps relieve stress, and lower back pain from office syndrome caused by seated office work over a long period of time.”

With all that has been said, some may still question the significance and popularity of this form of therapy in Thailand. As we already know well, there are many types of exercise available ranging from Yoga, and Taichi; this begs the question what exactly is “a belly dance therapist?” How does it differ from a belly dance instructor? Teacher Liz went on to say that

“Belly dancing therapy is not aimed at a stage performance and does not focus on complexity of movements but rather adapts specific moves from the dance as a therapeutic intervention focusing on treatment so that is entirely holistic and much simpler so that patients are able to learn the movements effortlessly in order to maximize their recovery. The movements are weight bearing so good for bones and joints with minimal impact and no prior background in dance is necessary. Before joining the class, the instructor will check the patients’ condition, making sure that she has her doctor’s consent to exercise and will determine with the patient which exercises she should avoid and run through a posture check with any newcomer in class. This clearly shows that there is a significant difference between a regular Belly Dance instructor and a Belly Dance Therapist.” she explained.

The “Dance therapy” originated from the cooperation in research projects between BNH hospital and the Queen Sirikit Centre for Breast Cancer, King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital. The course was initially opened only for breast cancer patients but now it has been successfully running for 2 years and is available for any interested individual with payment being by donation for Breast Cancer Research.

Teacher Liz added that in Belly Dancercise emphasis is placed on the warm up by mobilising joints, increasing blood flow to the body and stimulating the lymphatic system. The warm up is done in a series of moves starting from moving neck, rolling shoulders, shaking waist and hips, then moving to the lower body all done to motivating music alternating slow and fast tempo to accentuate the moves. Often, in a typical one hour class, the teacher will use a variety of music from hip hop, tango and flamenco and sometimes Thai dance for fun and variety.

Teacher Liz stressed that Belly Dancercise can help to stimulate the body’s immune system which can get blocked if there is no movement to help it flow and rid the body of toxins. This is a reason why people get sick because they do not incorporate enough movement and exercise into their daily lives; and ultimately this can lead to chronic diseases. Body movements made through the alternate fast and slow steps, along with various styles of music help to stimulate better lymphatic circulation, therefore the mechanism to eliminate body wastes and toxins is better adjusted too. The movements during the dance help to reduce swelling and inflammation, improving symptoms and reducing pain. Additionally, the joys from dancing along with the music stimulate the brain to secrete Endorphin and Serotonin, which can significantly decrease the level of pain for example from and  8 on the pain scale to just 3; it is totally holistic working both mind and body.

Yoga and Pilates are undoubtedly popular but the teacher with over 10 years of expertise in Belly Dancercise said: “I can say it is definitely a hit. Not only are patients with chronic diseases taking part in the class but also office women suffering from stress or back and waist pain due to sitting at a desk for too also known as as “Office Syndrome”. Even foreigners living around the Sathon area are suggesting the class be held every day. It has generated around 200-300 participant s over the past 2 years. Every Wednesday and Thursday classes are full with 15-25 participants. It is increasingly gaining more and more popularity with participants from 18-75 years of age!

Teacher Liz identified the needs of the instructor to work with doctors “I personally encourage having a Belly Dancercise instructor in every hospital to work with doctors in terms of helping to create a more positive outlook for patients treatment apart from giving antibiotics.; Especially in cancer patients who may lose their organs, experiencing emotional distress. Therefore the movements, the music, and the instructors can help to improve both their physical and psychological condition as well.

A 22 year old girl, Chayada Pongsittichoke always enjoys her steps in the class after work. Working in customer service, she communicates with a lot of people causing stress from time to time. After she joined the class, her body became more flexible, plus the dance does not cause exhaustion but rather promotes true relaxation through laughter and smiles, and more importantly the moves are so simple.

While Thunyakamol Pramuanrattanarat or Noo, a skillful dancer who has been attending classes for over 7 months, said: “Belly Dancercise helps me practice abdominal muscle contraction, which helps to reduce back and lower extremity pains whilst driving. The dance postures yet reinforce self-confidence and sexy looks in all women. Generally speaking, they are naturally feminine, such as hip rolling, belly contracting, and etc. I think I will pass on teacher Liz’s instructions to any interested parties.”