Shimmy And Shake

The term “belly dance” was coined in the 19th century when a performer named Little Egypt danced in a two-piece costumer that was considered risqué at the time. Today, the dance form has become popular throughout the world, and one of Bangkok’s best-known belly dance teachers is Liz Williams, a therapist who incorporates the dance into physical therapy at BNH Hospital. The classes are open to any interested party, but are most often taken up by pre-and post-operation patients (often breast cancer patient), and those with chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and Parkinson’s.

“Belly dancing has already been recognised as beneficial in the UK and US, but this particular programme is unique in that it uses belly dancing movements and adapts them creatively as a therapeutic intervention,” Williams said. “BNH Hospital is leading the way and has embraced dance therapy. It’s wonderful to hold dance therapy classes in a hospital; it’s the first of its kind in Thailand.”

After being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis 16 years ago, Liz knew she needed to come up with an enjoyable and effective way to deal with her pain and manage it on a regular basis. She designed the sequence of movements to reduce swelling and pain. Other benefits, she discovered, included toning the body, improving posture and helping with weight loss; on average belly dancing burns 300-400 calories per hour. It also helps to increase strength and endurance, as well as boost mental health and the immune system.

Belly dance movements are simple and can help restore range of motion, reduce lymph edema, stimulate the lymphatic system, increase flexibility and assist with structural rebalancing.

“The belly dance in gentle, feminine and flowing, so it works with the body rather than against it,” she said.

All classes begin with a warm-up that includes breathing exercises, head, neck and shoulder rolls, contractions, arm circles, and the stretching of torso, legs and feet. Music gradually increases in tempo. When the music matches the movements, students can work their bodies more effectively.

Patients who are unable to walk can perform the movements seated or holding onto a chair. These 20-minute sequential warm-ups are longer than the 8-10 minute warm-ups in most aerobic classes. The purpose is to promote the flow of energy throughout the body, opening the lymphatic system at the beginning of the class so that major “drains” will be open and ready to receive more lymph as the pace of exercise increases thereby increasing circulation and helping to rid the body of toxins.

The highlight of every belly dance lesson is the shimmy, where you stand with your feet together and your knees slightly bent. As you alternate bending and straightening the knees, the hips start to bounce – a great cardio workout and fat burner, not to mention stress buster.

“Feel the shimmy vibrating through the bottom and thighs.” Williams said during a recent belly dance session at BNH. I focused on a physical motion that was not in my vocabulary of movement. Back home, I practiced the dance watching Liz’s DVD, shaking my hips in a carefree manner every day for a week, reminding myself to keep my tummy in and my pelvis tucked so that it lined up with my spine. The same goes for every movement in belly dance. “The shimmy is a gentle vibration with zero impact – it’s primal and earthy, especially as it’s done to the beat of drums,” Williams said.

Belly Dancercise therapy helps us focus on our core abdominal area. We must remember to keep our feet slightly apart. Our knees “soft” and unlocked, and maintain good posture, tucking our pelvis under, keeping our tummy pulled in and our bottoms tight. The activity definitely makes for strong thighs as well. “Today, most working women are in a sitting position for long periods of time, super-glued to their iPads and Blackberrys. They not only suffer from stiff shoulders, neck aches and back pain, but it seems are increasingly losing their connection to other people and to their surroundings,” Williams said.

“Belly dancing can help to unlock and release emotions, allowing for freedom of expression though both flowing and earthy movements. It’s a reminder of how empowering it is for a woman to express her femininity.”

BNH Belly Dancercise classes are held Wednesdays from 6:15-7:15 pm and Thursdays from 5:15-6:15 pm. All classes are by donation, with proceeds going to Breast Cancer Research. For more information contact BNH at 0 2686 2700 ext 1827 or email [email protected]