Tips for Maximizing Your Belly Dance Fitness Potential
It’s that time of year again. After sustaining myself on a diet consisting mostly of sugar cookies and eggnog for the month of December, my belly dance costumes are little… shall we say…snug?
I know I am not alone in this. About 40% of Americans will set at least one New Year’s resolution, and losing weight or becoming healthier is one of the most popular picks. So even if you yourself are not amongst us repentant dieters in January, if you’re an instructor you probably have some students who are interested in turning their belly dance practice into a workout. Is belly dance actually effective for weight loss?
The good news is that belly dance is great for fitness when it’s practiced regularly. But you have to treat it like a workout, which is much different than how many of us usually choose to practice.
Did you know? The average woman burns approximately 300 calories per hour belly dancing. That adds up to a pound of weight loss every two weeks (when practising for an hour six times per week).
So how can we use belly dance as a workout? Here are a few of my favourite tips to get your started:
- Set a schedule. Your workouts will be most effective if you practice three to five times per week for at least a half hour. Try building time to dance into your daily routine. If you always dance at the same time each day, such as an hour before you shower for work, it is more likely to become a habit.
- Warm it up, cool it down. A proper warm-up helps prevent injuries and maximizes your workout potential. Try some light dance moves using a reduced range of motion. After a few minutes switch to gentle standing stretches for the hips, obliques, glutes, and shoulders. Now you are ready for more intense movement. After your workout, while muscles are still warm, is the best time for deep stretching. Add a cool-down to keep muscles long and limber, prevent soreness, and increase their flexibility.
- Press play and go. When your focus is fitness, it is important to keep moving at an active pace. Create a playlist that motivates you to move so that when it is time to workout you can press play and go. This is not the time to be critical of your technique and pause to practice a particular isolation. Keep a shimmy going in between songs to keep your heart rate up.
- Layer and travel. Layering movements and travelling incorporates the use of large muscle groups which is great for both toning and burning calories. Focus on moving about the room with circles, eights, and shimmies. Do not forget level changes, moving from a semi-squat up to the balls of the feet, for working the thighs and calves.
- Arms are key. It is easy to forget about them, but how you use your arms can make a big difference in your workout intensity. Use large, sweeping movements that keep your arms above your heart for the greatest challenge.
- When in doubt, add weight. You would be really surprised at how heavy a veil feels after waving it around non-stop for thirty minutes. Zills can act as great arm weights, too. Try adding them into your routine and you will burn bonus calories while improving your prop work. If you are looking for even more of a challenge, try some light ankle weights to make travelling steps even more potent.
- Repetition is a good thing. When we dance in a performance, we try not to repeat the same combinations over and over. However, when we dance for fitness, repetition is ideal. For each song select just a few combos to practice and concentrate instead on improving form each time through.
- Get creative with power moves. Since our focus is fitness there is no reason you cannot add in a few traditional gym moves to supercharge your workout. Try adding a set of leg lifts, squats, lunges, push-ups off the wall, triceps dips off a chair, or standing crunches into your combos. Or use these moves to fill the time in between songs. This is a great way to add strength building exercises to your cardio workout.
- Balance your fitness routine. Belly dance is great for gentle toning and for improving cardiovascular health, but if your fitness goals are extensive you should consider adding other forms of exercise into your routine. Weight lifting, pilates, yoga, step, kick-boxing, walking and running compliment belly dance well and increase your strength, endurance, flexibility, coordination and balance.
- Eat well. To dance well your body needs to be fueled well. Focus on making healthy choices like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Avoid overly processed foods including refined sugars before your workout, as they tend to give you only a quick spike in energy before leaving you feeling tired. Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after you dance.
Did you know? To build muscle, your body needs protein. The average woman needs 50 to 65 grams per day, and many active women do not eat enough. Try adding a protein rich snack or meal before and after your workout. Healthy choices include nuts, seeds, eggs, chicken, lentils or beans, and Greek yoghurt.
What You Can Expect
If you also reduce you daily caloric intake (cut back on the eggnog and sugar cookies!) you can expect one to two pounds of weight loss per week with regular belly dance practice. It depends on your current weight, the intensity and frequency of your workouts and whether or not you have added in additional exercise. Remember that doctors do not recommend more than two pounds of weight loss per week.
In addition, you can also expect some light toning of the arms, abs, chest, thighs, and glutes. Belly dance is also great for improving coordination, flexibility, and balance.
Bonus: How to Stick to Your Routine
- Use friends and family for support. Tell the people you love about your goals. It helps you feel more accountable for following through and they may be able to offer support in ways you do not anticipate.
- Use a diary. Write down a few notes every day. It’s been shown that keeping a record of what you eat encourages dieters to take smaller portions. A diary can also help you keep track of your progress, which is good to reference when you’re craving something you shouldn’t have.
- Use an online tool. There are several free websites that help you record and monitor your weight loss goals. Check out StickK or Habitforge.
About Ananke: Ananke is an award winning performance artist and certified belly dance instructor out of Keene, New Hampshire. She was certified in Group Fitness by the American Council on Exercise, and taught dance fitness classes for three years at a local women’s gym. Ananke writes articles regularly on her own blog Ask Ananke.
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Valeria is a dance researcher completing a PhD in dance and heritage. Valeria also teaches and performs as a belly dance but also enjoys learning ballet, jazz dance and other dance genres.