Before we actually start to dance, you need to know a couple of things, firstly how to stand. Your feet should be planted firmly on the floor,(make sure they are pointing forward to protect your knees) bare or in shoes that are flat and cover the complete sole of your foot. Your feet should be hip width apart, with knees nice and loose. Every time you start to dance you must do some warm up exercises. If you have any injuries, please be very careful, check with your doctor first. Do not start your warm up with strenuous stretching, start gently by feeling the space around you, then give yourselfa good shake, stand carefully on one leg and make some small circles with your feet, then travel up to do circles from your knee and then the whole leg. Do this with each leg in turn. Next make some small circles with your hips, as you are doing this, imagine a cord attached to the top of your head holding you upright. Do the circles each way. Next standing with your feet hip width apart – arms out to either side, lift your rib cage and slide it to the right and then the left. Do several of these. Next lift and lower your shoulders, do not let them drop, do this several times. Next let your head fall forwards onto your chest, then take it to the left over the left shoulder, then back to the front, then to the right over the right shoulder. Do this several times. Do not take your head to the back unless you are already doing this as part of a regular exercise program. Next still standing with your feet hip width apart – go onto the ball of one foot and raise the same arm in the air close to your head, hold the wrist of that hand with the other and stretch, you should feel a good stretch down that side round the waist area. Do one more on that side, then do two at the other side, repeat two more times each side. Finish this short warm up with a good shake and smile.
Stand, back to the wall, with heels, buttocks and shoulders touching the wall. Your head does not have to touch the wall. Imagine the back of your neck is lengthening-think up and forwards as you do this, keep your chin level. Imagine the back of your rib cage widening. Imagine your lower back lengthening-think coccyx under, release the tension in your legs and slightly flex your knees. Let your heels take about 70% of your weight. Allow your hands to hang lower and lower on your thighs. Take a few quiet breaths and feel a new sensation of balance and relaxation. Now you are ready to walk away from the wall! Your new stance will feel strange at first, but with practice it is possible to acquire a new set of posture reflexes which will discharge stress rather than store it.
IMPORTANT KNEE STUFF
If you take the stance we have talked about earlier and relax your weight into the lower half of your body. Still keeping that imaginary cord holding you upright. Then using a front to back movement and without actually straightening your legs completely, bend one knee and then the other. If you are standing facing a mirror at this moment you will notice just what happens to your hips, keep your shoulders as still as possible and square on towards the front. You can increase the speed of this movement as you progress. I consider this a vital exercise when learning this dance. I have encountered hundreds of ladies who say they are too stiff around their middles and cannot move at all. However this simple movement shows, (providing your corsets are not too tight) that you have a great deal of movement that you had forgotten about.
HANDS & ARMS
Hands can be elegant and gracefully moved in circles or figures of eight, fingers spread and curled to suit the person and the music. Find a good pose for your fingers when holding a position: a hip drop can be accompanied by the opposite arm to the dropping hip, being raised close to the head with either the index or little finger raised.
Eights using hand, wrist and arm can be done horizontally or vertically as can circles. As everyone moves differently, you will find some movements look better for you than others. However whatever you are doing with the rest of your body please do not stiffen up your arms and hands, try to relax at all times and don’t make your arms too fussy. Remember ‘less is more’.
Try parallel arms, moving them in a circle. Don’t let your arms be straight as this won’t look very graceful. You can also just lift both arms to the same side, to shoulder height, lower and then the other side.
A lovely arm movement is the Pharaoh arms. Simply bring arms in one at a time or together and cross them over your chest. To leave this movement, lower your arms into a circular movement either together or individually.
Egyptian Arms. To begin you need to make your shoulders very loose, so practice raising them up and down alternately, no jerking, then forget your hands and take the movement into your elbows so your elbow and upper arm comes up and out to the side along with the shoulder lift. The hand and lower arm should just be hanging limply. Next: when your elbow reaches shoulder height, the rest of your arm can come up followed by your wrist and open hand. When the hand reaches shoulder height the other shoulder starts the same movement and the first arm starts to descend elbow first. With practice this is a beautiful flowing movement that can be done on it’s own or combined with upwards figures of eight to make a body wave. The movement can be done with the arms coming forward or upwards. The movement can be deep or shallow, the latter gives a lovely rippling effect.
Snake Arms. Very similar however the lower part of the arm is turned on descent so the arm comes down palm first. You will encounter both versions, so practice them both and be prepared!
A rather nice hand and arm movement is to make graceful fairly large circles or eights, with the right arm down at thigh level and to the side, then you can raise your arm, pass it under your chin and use it to frame your face. Then take it back under your chin and down ready to start again. When you are proficient at this try the other side, then try both at once, alternating arms. SMILE.
As in the warm up, just about all the movements you do will be with your feet hip width apart (forget the fat, remember the bones)
Don’t worry about the arms just now, we are going to concentrate on the hips, keep in mind that invisible cord holding you upright from your head, this is a simple movement that can be used in many varying ways throughout the dance. Now you are standing with your feet in the correct position, push your hips around in a circle horizontally, your knees should bend as you do this, the movement should be from the ankles upwards. Your upper body should not move any more than necessary. When you have become proficient at going one way then try the other.
Hip circles can also be done in the vertical plane. Using the same stance and keeping the upper body as still as possible, make circles by bending the knees and rising. This is not as easy as the horizontal circles. It looks pretty effective by alternating sides when doing them front to back. Both these circular movements should be kept small. Next we are going to do some bigger circles. First using the stance, holding your arms at hip height, swing your arms together forwards and backwards, so they make a circle right round your body, then gradually introduce your hips into a horizontal circle, bigger than we did before, try to make the two movements fit together as one simultaneous move. You can bend into this circle, however don’t forget to keep your head up. Next we are going to turn within our own circle. Again the same stance, start by shifting your weight from one foot to the other, slightly lifting the foot as you take the weight off it, as you take the foot off the ground move it forwards to start travelling in a circle, at the same time, make the small horizontal hip circles we did earlier. The circles should both be in the same direction.
You can add to these circular movements as your dancing progresses, you can add shimmies and with the larger circles including arm movements, you can eventually add an extra circle while your hands are doing just one circuit of your body. It is all a matter of coordination and not to be rushed into. Don’t worry if you can’t do this all at once, it takes most people years to master just a small part of bellydancing, while others are instinctive and do it all straight away. Just take your time and relax. Enjoy yourself. SMILE.
KNEE DROP OR BOUNCE
Standing with feet flat on the floor and knees bent slightly – suddenly straighten your knees with a jerk or bounce. This can be done in reverse, start by standing with heels slightly raised and drop suddenly. In both cases let the movement travel upward through your body. This can be useful when you just have an extra beat to fill, or want to add a little extra to the finish of a series of movements. SMILE.
FRONT BACK STEP
Keeping your left foot in one place and keeping time to the count of 1 & 2 & 1 & 2 & 1 & 2… move the right foot forwards and backwards. Each time you step on the right foot, the left should lift slightly, keeping the timing going. When you are ready, change feet. After a bit of practice, you will be ready to use this as a travelling step, leading with the foot that is going backwards and forwards. You can also move in a circle or use quarter turns to take you in a square. The leading foot is on the outside. Try adding a lift and a wiggle to your step by going onto your toe on the foot you are stepping backwards and forwards with. Advanced dancers can add shimmies giving a wonderful effect. SMILE.
As we did with the chest, we are going to do with our heads. Do not twist or tilt, keep facing in absolutely the same direction. Keeping the shoulders as still as possible, stand wedged in a corner if you need to, that will give support to your shoulders as you are learning, don’t do it when you are dancing though! Now try to gently slide your head from one side to the other. Do this very slowly, you can also make figure of eights in this manner, both forwards and back and side to side. The head slide look effective when done with your arms above your head and your hands palmed together pointing upwards. SMILE.
With your arms limply at your sides – lift the right shoulder up – to the back – down and to the front and so on. With practice your shoulder should move in a small circle. You can also make this movement in the opposite direction. Do try to keep your arms relaxed. SMILE.
By now your shoulders should be pretty loose – try pushing one forwards and back, then the other, gradually getting faster and faster, until it becomes a shake, shimmy or as many dancers prefer to call it a shoulder shiver.
Try to imagine a clamp on your lower parts keeping you fairly still. It will help to lift your rib cage when doing this movement. This is called isolation. When doing this you must relax your arms and shoulders, it is impossible to do with stiff arms. (Unless you are a French Polisher) SMILE.
HIP SLIDES, BUMPS, TWISTS AND SWERVES.
As we have previously covered head and chest slides, it should not come as a shock that there are also hip slides. Take up your stance and remembering that invisible cord holding you upright, gently slide your right hip to the right, then back to the centre and over to the left. Try to keep it as smooth as possible.
Same stance – imagine a wall two inches from your hips on each side, try to bump the wall with your right hip and then your left, practice this awhile, then try to do two each side. This can also be done up and down. To do a similar movement to the front would appear diagonally or with a twist, that is exactly what it is a hip twist. You can step on this and it becomes a hip swerve. Don’t let your arms move in unison with your shoulders, keep your hands relaxed and open. SMILE.
I suppose this is the oldest movement in history, without it none of us would be here. Take up your usual stance – push out your butt, concentrating the movement into the pubis – next bring the lower part of the pelvis sharply forwards and up, then back again. The emphasis is on the upward thrust, you can also do this with the emphasis on the downwards thrust. SMILE.
This is a simple drop. As you are moving forward, drop down from your waist, then come up slowly, head and shoulders first. There are in belly dancing some amazing drops, the most famous is the Turkish Drop. I would not recommend any amateur dancers to attempt this. It is a drop to the floor going backwards, with the knees bent, it is done suddenly. When the dancer is down, her legs are bent under her. Not only can this be very dangerous to do, it can also be rather ungainly to recover from. Leave this one to the professionals please.
You can try ‘dropping’ in a figure of eight. Go down as far as you like (or can) try to keep this and the ascent as graceful as you can. SMILE.
Not Grannies underwear, just a way of joining two moves together. When you have mastered some of the previously mentioned moves you can play around with them as you wish. Here are a few suggestions: Do an upper body circle and follow it with a hip circle. You can also add a side step to this. Do an upright figure of eight and add your front back step. Do a circle and add a camel. The world is your oyster, however do look in a mirror to see how it looks and don’t hurt yourself.