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How to Belly Dance (With Confidence!)

Published on Feb 28th 2022
how to belly dance

Learning how to belly dance is a great way to connect to your body, strengthen your muscles and build your confidence. This distinct form of dance is one of the oldest known styles with a rich cultural history and many mental and physical benefits.

Although often performed solo, belly dance is rooted in connection, emphasizing the relationships between the dancer, the body, the community and the earth. 

If you’re a beginner, you may be asking questions like is belly dancing difficult? Where can I learn how to belly dance? Or, can I lose weight through belly dancing? From in-person dance classes to online lessons, you can learn how to belly dance and explore the history and culture of this unique style with a group or in the comfort of your own home.

Whether you want to step outside of your comfort zone with a new type of dance or challenge yourself to shake your hips like Shakira, one of the world's most famous belly dancers, learning how to belly dance is a fun and energizing way to explore how your body moves while building confidence with each hip lift or belly roll. 

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How to Belly Dance for Beginners

Belly dancing for beginners starts with learning to isolate various parts of your body before advancing to layered isolations in different patterns to create a unique and mesmerizing sequence of movements.

Foundational movements when learning how to belly dance include hip lifts, shimmies, belly rolls, figure eights and more. Newcomers learning how to belly dance might find it challenging at first, but thankfully, there are many instructors and resources available to help guide you as you master the basic moves. 

Try Belly Dance Classes

Working with a seasoned instructor ensures the movements are performed safely and correctly and can prevent you from picking up bad habits and postures.

You can find classes available to help you learn how to belly dance at all levels whether you are looking for dance classes in NYC, dance classes in Las Vegas, dance classes in Orlando or dance classes near you. 

If learning how to belly dance in person is a little too far out of your comfort zone or you can’t find a class in your area, there are also online dance classes available for you to try so that you can learn belly dance online and in the comfort of your home.

Once you are comfortable with the basics of how to belly dance, try a class with advanced techniques and begin to add your own unique flair to the routines.

learn how to belly dance in a fun class or online belly dance class
via Canva

What is Belly Dancing?

Belly dancing is a distinctive form of dance that focuses on isolated movements of the hips and torso developed from rituals and customs from throughout the Middle East. This style of dance can be either performed solo or in a group and is well-suited to the feminine form.

The dance is often performed barefoot to highlight the connection between the dancer and the earth. Belly dancing costumes are made of flowing, brightly colored garments adorned with scarves, veils and jewelry. Some performers learn how to belly dance with accessories including finger symbols, coin belts or even swords.

Why Was Belly Dancing Created?

Contrary to popular belief, belly dance was not meant to be a dance of seduction or for the entertainment of men, but rather a form of feminine expression and celebration.

In some traditions, women gathered to perform belly dances together after the evening meal as an opportunity to socialize. This is where mothers of young bachelors could meet and observe potential wives for their sons.

In many cultures, belly dance, also called Oriental dance among other names, is a joyful dance performed by friends and family at occasions such as weddings and festivals. One of the foundations of learning how to belly dance with confidence, is that it is important to relax and enjoy the experience. 

women in bright colors belly dance together
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Belly Dancing History and Origin

Understanding the origin of belly dancing and the rich history of this unique style is an important step in learning how to belly dance. As one of the oldest known styles of dance, with roots in ancient cultures from India to the Middle East, belly dancing has a long history layered with meaning and legend. 

What Was the Original Purpose of Belly Dancing?

A fertility ritual performed by women thousands of years ago in honor of their deities is believed to be belly dancing’s origin and is depicted in ancient Egyptian tomb paintings, Greek sculptures and engravings discovered in Italian caves.

Other versions of belly dancing have been recognized in civilizations stretching from the South Seas and East Polynesia to Africa, Greece and throughout the Middle East. 

One legend with versions across a number of cultures is of Ishtar and the Dance of the Seven Veils. Ishtar, a Babylonian goddess of love and sensuality who was both chaste and fertile, descends into the land of darkness covered in seven veiled costumes to retrieve her deceased husband.

To enter each seventh gate of the underworld, she dances, rolling her abdomen in circles, giving up a jewel and a veil. Despite the trials of her journey, Ishtar triumphs, returning with her seven veils to a bountiful homecoming. 

When Did Belly Dancers Become so Popular?

In the eighteenth century, Europeans traveling in Egypt witnessed a distinctive style of dance, the Egyptian belly dance. A stark contrast to the fashions of England or France, the Europeans were mesmerized by the undulating movements. Belly dance continued to make its way to the West being introduced to America at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

What promoters described as “belly dance” became an instant success in turn-of-the-century America. Despite the remnants of modesty from the Victorian era, belly dancing spread to Coney Island and other major cities. 

The popularity of belly dancing throughout the West extended from colonialists enjoying the dance as entertainment in nightclubs to the film industry both in Hollywood and abroad, where the sequined bras and belted costumes now commonly associated with belly dancing were first introduced.

A pivotal moment in belly dancing history arrived as these Western influences returned to the Middle East, changing the nature and appearance of the dance. Belly dancers such as Samia Gamal and Tahia Carioca became international stars as Egyptian belly dance was frequently performed in clubs and cabarets as well as on the silver screen, inspiring many Westerners to appreciate and learn how to belly dance. 

woman in blue dress belly dancing with scarf
via Canva

Why is Belly Dancing so Popular Today?

Today, travelers in many parts of the world seek to enjoy belly dancing as part of their experience of the local culture, whether taking in typical Moroccan nightlife or watching hula dancers in Hawaii.

Immigrants and descendents from countries throughout the Middle East and other regions where belly dance is practiced are free to express and share their native style of dance in restaurants, entertainment venues and dance studios throughout the West.

With its uniquely gentle movements and ability to tone often under-exercised muscles, learning how to belly dance as a form of exercise has also gained popularity and can be practiced in dance and fitness classes across the world. 

Egyptian Belly Dance

Although there are many styles that make up modern Egyptian dance, the traditional Egyptian belly dance known as raqs sharqi in Arabic is most common for those learning how to belly dance in the West.

This form of Egyptian belly dance is traditionally performed solo as an artistic and emotional expression and grew largely out of films made in Cairo, Egypt’s Hollywood, that made Egyptian belly dancers famous around the world. The belly dancing costumes of the West were largely inspired by Egyptian belly dancer outfits of this style and time in Egyptian belly dance history.

Egyptian Belly Dance Costumes and Moves

Other popular forms of Egyptian dance include the social and celebratory beledi and sha-abi, often performed in groups at special occasions such as weddings and a variety of folk style dances such as melaya leff among others. Some dances feature props and garments such as canes, scarves or veils and each style has its own rhythms, costumes and character.

Some styles are more akin to the faster paced Turkish belly dance while others include lyrical movements similar to ballet. Elements of many forms of Egyptian dance are incorporated by Egyptian belly dance teachers in the United States and often serve as the foundation of learning how to belly dance in the West.

What Does Belly Dance Do for Your Body?

Is Belly Dance a Good Workout?

Years of research have shown that dancing of any style can have a number of physical and mental benefits. Learning how to belly dance strengthens the abdominals, thighs, calves, arms, back, glutes and hips as well as otherwise hard-to-tone muscle groups.

Learning how to belly dance can also help to improve posture and develop muscle control. Because of its relatively gentle impact on the body, belly dancing is accessible to individuals of all levels of fitness and can even be practiced during pregnancy to help prepare the muscles of the abdomen for childbirth. 

Psychological Benefits of Belly Dancing

Dancing is believed to improve mental health, while belly dancing in particular may promote a positive body image for dancers as they embody the flowing, sensual movements.

As described in Science Daily, researchers have found that “belly dancers see their own bodies in a better light…and are less likely to be dissatisfied with how they look.” Regularly practicing dance and joyful movement has been shown to lessen depression, increase self-esteem and improve overall psychological well-being.

Researchers in Psychology Today explain that expressive practices and therapies such as music and dance, “could help lessen mental fluctuations before the onset of full depression” in addition to having creative, collaborative and social benefits. 

Social Benefits of Belly Dancing 

Participating in a class for belly dance for beginners will help encourage creative expression while building a sense of community. Many belly dancing classes promote socialization amongst members with a number of opportunities to bond available through gatherings, workshops and festivals.

For those hailing from countries where belly dance is a traditional part of celebrations and customs, practicing belly dance can strengthen connections to their heritage. Those who are foreign to the dance may find that learning how to belly dance helps them appreciate both the movements and their significance to belly dancing’s native cultures. 

three women with scarves belly dancing in a field
via Canva

Even for those with little dance experience, learning how to belly dance can be a source of enjoyment and strengthened confidence. Exploring the sensual movements of belly dance helps connect you to your body and develop your ability to creatively express yourself through the dance.

With a rich and diverse history celebrating the female form and a variety of physical and mental benefits, learning how to belly dance might become your new favorite activity. 

For even more creative ideas and inspiration, check out other experiences happening on Classpop!