Shimmy and shake your way to better health! Belly dancing, an age-old tradition commonly found in Middle Eastern and North African cultures, has slowly but surely been gaining popularity in Western cultures over the past few decades. And for good reason! This rhythmic, hip-focused dance provides a fun and engaging way for women to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

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As someone who struggled for years with body image issues and low self-esteem, belly dancing seemed completely out of my comfort zone. I still remember walking into my very first class, feeling completely awkward and self-conscious swaying my hips side to side and shimmying my shoulders. But after class, an incredible sense of empowerment washed over me. My body, with all its curves, felt strong, graceful, and decidedly feminine. I was in awe of what my body could create through dance. How my teacher positively reinforced each dancer’s sensuality just by encouraging us to have fun and not judge ourselves made me feel more body positive than ever before.

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And you know what? Modern research backs this up! Studies have shown belly dancing can greatly improve women’s body image as its focused on embracing the natural curves of being female. By emphasizing hip circles and undulations, belly dancing highlights the joy that can be experienced by all women, regardless of shape or size. And the confidence gleamed from these classes extends far beyond the dance floor itself.

Even just a four-week beginner belly dancing course significantly decreased body shame and improved body appreciation amongst female college students according to one study. Participants finished the short course feeling more comfortable in their own skin, with less concern over other’s perceptions. And we ladies know very well the mental turmoil negative body image can inflict — depression, anxiety, disordered eating patterns — so finding an antidote to those nagging thoughts is key for quality of life. Promoting mental wellness through an enjoyable, confidence-boosting activity like belly dancing is a win-win in my book!

But lest you think belly dancing is only good for the mind, think again! The unique whole-body rhythmic movements provide quite the physical workout as well. Fluidly transitioning from shimmies to hip drops while keeping up with complex percussion instruments like the doumbek involves intense multi-tasking and coordination unseen in most other workouts. Maintaining good form during these fast transitions tones the core remarkably faster than plain old crunches.

Not only does belly dancing promote external confidence through embracing our feminine shape, but it also improves internal wellness via increased blood circulation to the uterus and ovaries brought on by hip drops and undulations. Many dancers, myself included, report less painful, more regular menstrual cycles thanks to their belly dancing practice.

In fact, research shows just an 8-week belly dance course significantly improved flexibility, balance, and core endurance in sedentary adult women. And retaining muscle tone and balance become increasingly important to counteract age-related declines in those areas as we get older. But unlike boring planks or Pilates, belly dancing never feels like a chore with its lively music and cultural elements intrinsic to the movements. We almost forget we’re sweating away until class suddenly ends!

Additionally, the core-centric moves coupled with light aerobic activity make belly dancing an excellent option for gentle weight loss and cardiovascular health. While I can hardly keep up with those trendy high intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises all over Instagram nowadays, I can easily shimmy my way through hundreds of calories and get my heart rate pumping as I let the captivating belly dance music take over.

So sisters, no matter your age or fitness level, slip into your coin belts and dance those midsection woes away! Our feminine bodies deserve to be celebrated, not critiqued, as our curves undulate to the rhythms of an iconic Middle Eastern darbuka drum. Strike those yoga poses, do the cabbage patch to some hip hop beats, or salsa the night away if dance calls you. But for me, I’ll take a belly dancing class over a trip to the doctor any day! My health and self-image have never been better since I started shimmying on the reg. Now excuse me while I go practice my Maya hip slide…

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