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Belly Dance Principles - Upper Body

Technique for arms and hands, and energetic understanding in Belly Dance


Following are some basic principles for arms and hands. Arms and hands take time to master, so go easy on yourself! In your first term focus on your feet and hips dancing out the rhythm. With time, you start layering your upper body and arms on top of your lower body movements to dance out the melody.

Adult learning is difficult and takes time. Think how hard it is to start learning playing the piano as an adult. Starting to play with one hand is not so hard, but when you try to use both hands together doing different things it gets more challenging. That’s what layering your upper body on top of your lower body movements can feel like, so be easy on yourself.

Belly Dance Hand Pose

There is one hand pose or posture in Belly Dance, thank Goddess! Compared to Classical Indian dancing which has 28 single hand and 23 double-hand “mudras” or gestures to master! So, let’s be thankful of the only one in Belly Dance.

Here’s how it goes;

  • Hold your hands in front of you, palms down and release your knuckles.
  • Thumb down, pinkie up and curved.
  • Middle finger level and as a natural extension of the arm, neither lifted nor drooped.
  • Index and ring fingers slightly higher than middle finger. If you want to get really technical, the ring finger is slightly higher than index in the Classical style, but I must say I don’t know many dancers who go so far. As a beginner Belly Dance student, just keeping these three middle fingers together, with the outer two slightly above the middle is enough of a challenge, and will give you instant good form.
  • Knuckles together and released. No stiff hands and knuckles, it will block the flow of energy.
  • Hold hands as extensions of arms, do not break at the wrists. Fingers alive all the way to the tips.
  • IMPORTANT NOTE: Keep hands stress-free. This will take time as in the beginning you will be training the muscles needed to hold the pose and that might stiffen things a little. Keep feeling your heart energy in the centre of your palms.
  • IMPORTANT NOTE: Beginner students tend to either stiffen their fingers and not let go, or droop their fingers inwards in what a sort of chicken-claw position. Watch out for both situation and remember to keep your fingers alive to the fingertips.

Hands channel your heart energy, and a beautiful and well-trained dancer can be told by her beautiful hands. Hands also are used to direct audience attention where the dancer wants it to go, they can point to a moving hip, or frame a movement or facial expression.

General Arm Posture

Always have elbow released, soft never straight planks. At the same time, never bend them, this gives you chicken wings. Arms channel your heart’s energy from it to your hands and out to the world, so think of that when moving your arms. Once you start getting your lower body movements you will want to know what to do with your arms. Some basic positions are arms out to the side at breast level and slightly hugging forward, or down by hips, or up in the air in a V shape. However you hold them remember they are the framers of your movements, so use logic when positioning them. Support the supporting side of the movement with a framing arm up in the air or behind the ear; add spice to the working side of the movement with a working arm that is alive and that travels to wherever you want to attract attention.

Belly Dance Principle - Giving and Receiving:
As in life – so in dance. When you dance you need to give your energy and attention to the audience, then you need to come back to yourself and receive their attention. Always remember you must go to that still space of receiving, so that you can fill up and give again.

Arm Positions
Keeping arms soft and graceful, hands alive and fingers together in the proper posture. There are many positions for the arms in both the Basic and Classical Poses. Most of these positions are not regimented. Once you learn them, it is generally up to you to use whatever combination best suits your expression and the music. However there are some exceptions to the rule, if in doubt while experimenting with your arms please make sure you check with your teacher.

Up in “V” Shape
Arms up to the ski in a proud V, shooting out of your chest with your heart energy. Keep elbows released!

Breast Level
Arms out at breast level, holding the space in front of you. Elbows released and softly pointing to the back wall of the room.

Hip Level
In the form of an inverted “V” With hands directing attention to hips.

Hands Behind Head
Holding up you hair sensually.

One Hand Behind Ear
As if cupping your head from behind your ear. The other arm out to side or down. This pose is appropriate only for certain moves.

There are other positions, but these are some of the main ones. You can use a mixture of these, with one arm up and the other down etc. The general rule though is that the lower arm is used to bring attention to the working hip, to where the movement is as if to say “Look at my beautiful hip!” The arm pointing up generally frames your form, frames the movement, and does so by being on the same side as the supporting part of the body.

Belly-Breath Energising System

Always breathe like in yoga. In through the nose, to the belly, then out through the mouth. Think of your belly like a petrol tank that energises your motor and can run empty and need refuelling. Refuel by breathing and by having your attention in your belly when you breathe; the energy of the breath will go there. Where attention goes, energy flows. This will also help keep your heart open when you dance, instead of contract and shut down your entire energy system which leads to a hollow performance/dance.

Always keep breathing THROUGH THE MOVEMENT. This is an important principle in Belly Dance. Keep conscious of your breath, without it your body will tense up, and the movement cannot flow. The movement will then neither feel good to you on the inside, nor look good to the audience. Breathing in this fashion re-energises your whole system.


This article is an extract from Shemiran Ibrahim's "Belly Dance Student Guide". To read more and download click here.