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The Seven Movements of Belly Dance

Step-by-step technique on how to do the core movements of Belly Dance

NOTE: These following technical notes are not intended to be used on their own. They are there to supplement the student’s in-class learning with a good teacher. Please use these notes in conjunction with a Beginner level Belly Dance course.

Each Belly Dance teacher in the world will teach in her own way, but there are fundamentals and basics that all teachers will cover at some point or other. So please use the following notes to help you elaborate on and recall what you are learning in class, and encourage you to practice a bit at home before next week’s class!

 

Following are the core movement groups that make up Classical & Modern Belly Dance, grouped according to the shape you are drawing with your body, and then sub-grouped according to the part of the body used to draw that shape. I call each group a “Family” of movements, which then has members on the Lower Body, Mid Body and Upper Body.

Belly Dancing Principle:
If you can draw a shape using your lower body (hips and feet) you can probably draw that shape using your mid body (chest) and upper body (shoulders, neck, head, arms, hands).

Following are the seven core Families of Movement that create Belly Dance:

  1. Lifts and Drops
  2. Slides
  3. Shimmy
  4. Twists
  5. Circles
  6. Figure 8’s
  7. Undulations

Lifts & Drops Family of Movements

On the Lower Body

Basic Hip Lifts & Drops

  • Stand in Basic Pose.
  • Bend the knee to drop the hip, straighten the knee to lift the hip.
  • Always drop before a lift, and lift before a drop to accentuate the movement.
  • Never lock the knee when straightening, always keep them released.
  • Activate your thigh muscles to either push the hip up, or pull it down. So the movement technically comes from the knee and the thigh muscle/hip.

Classical Hip Drop

A typical Egyptian move from the Classical Pose.

  • Weight in supporting leg, right foot forward on ball of foot (Toe position), knees soft. Don’t lean back, stay centred.
  • Lift working hip, in this case the right hip, upward slightly.
  • Drop right hip downward in a strong accented move.
  • Upper body stays steady.
  • A heavy deep-seated drop is followed by a lighter “half drop”; on the counts of 1 & 3 deep, and on the counts of 2 & 4 half.
  • Kick working foot softly on the half drops, on the 2 & 4 counts, like brushing the sand off the carpet.

Belly Dancing Principle:
In order to move a part of your body in one direction, first move it in the opposite direction. E.g. If you are trying to do a hip drop, first lift that hip slightly to do the drop. This give you the space your need to create the movement, which will help you create a bigger, fuller and more juicy movement.

Classical Hip Lift

A typical Turkish and Lebanese move, features less in traditional Egyptian Belly Dancing. It is the opposite of the Drop, less grounded and more exuberant. Lift the working hip upward and slightly forward in a strong accented move. Activate the out side of your thigh and your hip to give the movement oomph. And, using the principle above, drop slightly first before you lift.

On the Mid Body

Chest Drops and Chest Lifts
A small but effective thrust of the rib cage with an accent either upwards or downwards. Remember, to go up you must first go down and vice versa. Visualise a string attached to your spine in the centre of your chest. Imagine a puppeteer pulling this string upwards on a 45 degree angle. Generate the movement from the inside of your body and you will have a much more beautiful and juicy movement.

On the Upper Body

Shoulder Drops

The only effort is to bring your shoulders up together, then, let both go. Careful not to shrug and draw your shoulders forward and up to your ears which locks your upper back and your energy flow. Fast Shoulder Drops look great while swaying your body from side-to-side, and shifting weight on legs.

The Slides Family of Movements


On the Lower Body

Hip Slide

  • Assume Basic Pose with feet under hips etc.
  • Shift your weight from leg to leg, straightening supporting knee and releasing the other.
  • Get into the rhythm of this, and then slide your hip out to side as weight transfers into that foot, then back in connecting to your centre and so on.
  • Imagine you have your arms full of groceries and you push the car door shut with your hip!

Variations:

  • Small, isolated.
  • Larger, more thrusting to the side, more assertive also known as the “flick”.

On the Mid Body

Chest Slide

  • Imaging a string attached to your spine behind your heart.
  • A puppeteer pulls that string to the right, your rib cage moves to the side, independently from your shoulders and hips.

Belly Dance is an organic dance, but it also teaches us to move different parts of our bodies in isolation. Try to move the chest out to the side while keeping the rest of your body relatively still. This is not a rule of thumb across the board. It really applies best to the small, accented movements such as this. The chest slide is a very small isolated movement yet can be very effective for accenting the music.

On the Upper Body

Head Slide

Keep facing ahead. Use the muscles behind the neck to slide your head to the right, then the left, keeping it as horizontal as possible. Lovely move when framed with your hands crossing in front of your face, or crossing above the head. Warning: Practice this move very gently, only after a good warm up of the neck muscles to avoid injury. Do not do anything that feels painful. This movement needs only to be very small to be effective, so do not over-extend your self. This move is difficult and takes time to master. Go easy.


The Shimmy Family of Movements

On the Lower Body

Basic Shimmy

  • Starting in your Basic Pose, feet firmly grounded. Relax lower body, strong thighs, soft and released knees. Weight evenly distributed on both feet, and based in the centre of your soles.
  • Push right knee forward.
  • Then pull right knee back in and push left forward. Basically, you perform a succession of small Basic Lifts & Drops.
  • Keep this going; keep the movements small in size and medium speed.
  • Use your knees and thighs. Speed up when you feel ready.
  • Keep knees released and soft.
  • Breathe! Relax your mind.
  • Keep upper body steady, no bopping up and down. Also, stay centered over your pelvis, do not lean forward into the balls of your feet, or back into your heels.
  • Keep this up until the shimmy vibrates through your bottom and thighs. Keep knees soft.
  • Relax everything: your knees, bottom, thighs, hands, jaw, and eyes.
  • IMPORTANT NOTE: You must breathe with the shimmy, as it tends to stop ones breathing. If your shimmy gets locked, it’s probably because you have stopped breathing.

The shimmy will take time and practice to build up the necessary muscles and technique to keep it both strong and lasting yet feminine and soft at the same time. The most beautiful hip shimmies are sensual, seemingly effortless and flowing. In the beginning, don’t worry if your shimmy is jerky that’s normal, so just keep practicing.

The shimmy uses a part of the body that can be blocked energetically. If you feel it is jarred do not be disheartened. It took me seven years to feel a joyful shimmy, as my hips were so locked and my pelvis so rigid. Women’s bottoms and thighs are unfortunately open to ridicule in our societies, and can hold a lot of shame. Imagine this as a course in reclaiming that part of you, your pelvis and the seat of your sexuality. If you have difficulty with the shimmy just know that by practicing shimmying you are opening up a flower, and the petals will unfold in their own sweet time.

Once you’ve got the basic shimmy, you can start to learn the variations in your Intermediate course:

  • Big, village style shimmy with bent knees. More in the buttocks.
  • Flutter shimmy; with straighter knees and smaller knee movement.
  • On one leg; moving weight into one leg.
  • Pummeling shimmy; pummeling feet into the ground and alternating shifting weight between them.

On the Upper Body

Shoulder Shimmy

  • Imagine your spine right behind your heart. Imagine this section of your spine rotating around itself to the right, then the left, and repeating in this motion.
  • You can also use the muscles that run down the outer sides of your breasts to help in generating this motion.
  • Generate the energy of the movement from the centre of your chest, from your core (remember the flag analogy).
  • Don’t be temped to just push your shoulders and breasts forward and back, this is not a correct shoulder shimmy, and it looks and feels hollow to the viewer in comparison.

The correct shoulder shimmy will be juicy; as it will open your heart and channel its warm energy outward. The shoulder shimmy is traditionally used when two women dance together facing each other, and they alternate leaning toward and away from each other in unison; a beautiful sight to see. As with the shoulder roll, it is a movement that requires feeling and a sharing of a joyful moment. It is by no means intended to be a breast thrusting or jiggling exercise! So please; keep it small, keep it coming from your heart, and feel the difference!

The Twist Family of Movements

On the Lower Body

Basic Hip Twist

  • Assume Basic Pose with feet under hips etc.
  • Shift your weight from foot to foot, straightening supporting leg and releasing the other. As you shift your weight keep your hips relatively level with the horizon, pelvis centred.
  • Gently stomp a foot. As the weight is being shifted into it twist the corresponding hip from the back, to the front. As you get the hang of this, shift from a stomp to keeping the ball of your foot always on the ground, using it as an axis for the turning foot. This is important so that the working knee does not lock as you twist the working hip.
  • Start off small, then speed up and get closer to the ground. Done fast and big it reminds us of African earthy moves that get the heart pumping. Warning: Always keep your knees bent/released and working heel released to avoid knee injury . This movement can cause knee injury easily. Do it with care and supervision from your Belly Dance teacher.

Variations:
Practice small and isolated, then medium, then large and earthy.

Classical Hip Twist

  • Take Classical Pose.
  • Keeping your hips level with the horizon, pull your working hip back allowing your torso to face the far corner of the room at your 2 o’clock.
  • Swing your working hip to the front, in a delicious swishy movement, holding at the end of the twist, to accent the movement and give it energy. Do four in quick succession for a yummy juicy movement. Hip Twists feel great as they massage our ovaries!
  • Count 1, 2, 3, 4 with a slight kick “swoosh” of your working foot on the 2 and the 4, like you’re lightly brushing the ground with the ball of your foot. Keep the ball of your working foot brushing the ground and not lifting off it too much, so you don’t lose your groundedness.
  • Use fast music to this; the twist is a juicy, exuberant movement that asks for joy or passion in the music.

Warning: Always keep your knees released and ball of working foot turning on the ground to avoid knee injury. If you lock your working foot into the ground it can injure your working knee.

On the Upper Body

Shoulder Twist
Gently push shoulder forward, then back, on the horizontal.

General Traveling Principle:
You will learn some basic travel steps in your Beginners Belly Dance Course. Allow your feet to fall into the Earth – pause there. Mother Earth then brings energy in through your feet to your center, your inner body, nourishing you. Imagine your body like a tree, your feet the roots that need to be in the earth connected to it, your body the trunk and the energy you give out from your heart through your hands and fingers are the fruit. With traveling, start small and sllllllooowwww. Take your time, feel your feet and feel the energy coming up through them.

 

The Circle Family of Movements

On the Lower Body

Basic Hip Circle

  • Take the Basic Pose with your feet slightly apart.
  • Imagine you are standing inside a cylinder that comes up to your hips. You are standing closer to the front of the cylinder than you are the back of it.
  • Firmly ground your feet into the earth, and shift your weight to the side, like in a slide.
  • Now start to clean the inside of the cylinder with your hip scarf, firstly pushing your hips to meet the back, then round to the other side.
  • When you come to the point of trying to clean the front section keep your upper body over your knees, do not bend your back and thrust your pelvis forward. This will create back injury for beginners. In this way, cut across the front section of the cylinder to get back to your starting point.
  • Let the upper body move as it will, you are not a robot and do no need to keep everything stiff. Classical Middle Eastern Belly Dancers keep everything supple and flowing, allowing their energy to stay in flow around their body.

Classical Hip Circle

Same hip movement as the Basic Hip Circle, only it is done in the Classical Pose drawing a smaller circle around one working hip.

  • Stand in Classical Pose.
  • Imagine a small circle around the diameter of a dinner plate drawn around your working hip horizontally. You will try to trace around this circle with your hip.
  • To do so, push your working hip a little bit forward shifting some weight into your working foot, then circle that hip around and out to the side, then back, then pull into your centre and connect your hip to your core.
  • Keep circling this way, and keep an open connection between you hip and your heart, so that there is energy in your movement.

As in any Belly Dance movement there are variations based on the plane of movement and the direction of circle i.e.: you can draw a horizontal circle in two directions, clockwise and anti-clockwise, and you can draw a vertical circle to the front and to the back. Experiment and practice all the directions.

On the Mid Body

Chest Circle

  • Trace the outline of a horizontal circle around your breast area – like a hula-hoop.
  • You will need to have reached four points already with your rib cage to do the circle. These are the lift & drop points as in the Chest Lifts & Drops, and the right and left points as in the Chest Slides. The Chest Circle is just a smooth joining of these points.
  • Can be tricky at first, but it does loosen the area up and becomes easier with time. The circular motion can be quite small but still effective.
  • Use the puppeteer visualisation from the two groups of movements mentioned to help you with generating the movements.
  • Chest movements open up the heart area, your emotional centre, which helps heal emotional disconnections.

On the Upper Body

Shoulder Roll (Shoulder Circle)

  • A smooth roll of the shoulders forward and up, then down and back.
  • Stand with one foot slightly in front of the other and relaxed.
  • Draw a vertical circle with your shoulder by gently pressing it forward, bringing it up (without shrugging!), rolling it down and back.
  • Do it on each shoulder individually, then start to alternate them. This is how the Shoulder Roll is done, never one on its own, always both shoulders alternating.
  • I always tell my students that it is useless to do the shoulder roll without feeling and emotional expression. Wear you heart on your face when you do the shoulder roll! Melt, be soft, and send your love out. It is really a beautiful emotional move, so try not to be robotic about it.

Wrist Circles

  • Hold your hands in front of you, palms down.
  • Imagine you are holding soft fluffy balls in the palms of your hands.
  • Keep your knuckles soft, and your fingers flowing and lengthened – beware the chicken claw! Refer to correct Hand Pose.
  • Drop fingers down first, by bending the wrists.
  • Then circle them upwards and around, then down again.

Quote: “Strength for her movements is picked up by the belly dancer from her belly – the lower part of her body where her balance is centred…even her finger movements draw their energy from her belly.”

Rosina-Fawzia Al-Rawi From her book
“Belly Dancing – Unlock the Secret Power of an Ancient Dance”

 

The Figure 8 Family of Movements

The Figure of Eight is so named because it look like a number '8' on its side like this ∞. This symbol is also called a lemniscate, the mathematical symbol for 'eternity'. In ancient calligraphy it has been drawn as a snake with its tail in its mouth - a metaphor for the 'shedding of old skin' and the cyclical nature of life - also linked to woman's menstrual cycle and fertility. Outward Figure 8 - Horizontal

  • On the horizontal - Imagine a number 8 on the floor, step one foot in each half.
  • Begin to trace this eight with your hips, by sliding the hips diagonally to the right, weight in the ball of the right foot. Slowly continue tracing the by pushing the hip backward in a round motion, weight shifting into the right heel.
  • Diagonally slide through the core of your belly, from the back right to the front left side of the .
  • Then continue tracing around the side and back of the left side and slide again back to your starting point.
  • The aim is a smooth, flowing figure of – a gentle sway of the hips driven by the strength in the thighs and the relaxation of the knees, while the feet are kept flat and grounded. Relax our navel through all of this.

Inward Figure 8 - Horizontal

  • On the horizontal – same technique as above, just starting the flow going backwards, and then scooping from back to front when turning the sides of the .
  • To twist the hips from back to front, you must first take the weight of the move into the right heel. Turning the ball of the working foot in by lightly releasing the heel off the ground (do not lift the heel! Keep it brushing the ground), twist the hip forward shifting the weight into the front of the right foot, turning the foot and the hip inward.
  • Transfer the weight from the ball of the right foot to the heel of the left foot and slide your hips diagonally moving through your core.
  • Turn the ball of the left foot and hip inward again. When the movement gains momentum, you feel the hips gently twisting inward from the lower torso, heels brushing the floor when needed.

Belly Dance Principle:
Move from your centre, from your core. Remember the flag analogy; a small movement of the pole generating from the base of the pole creates a large visible movement of the flag at the other end of the pole. What people see is the flag, but the energy comes from its base, invisible but very perceptible. Draw your energy from your belly, from your base!

The Maya - Vertical

“Maya” is the Egyptian word for “water”, which makes complete sense when you see this movement done well! It is a fluid, flowy movement that channels a woman’s energy from her belly in a very warm and sensuous fashion. On the vertical plane, draw a lemniscate with your hips.

  • With your feet hip width apart in the Basic Pose, and your knees well bent…
  • Lift your right hip up, and outward to the side then downward - shifting your weight to your right foot.
  • As your right hip goes down, your left hip goes up then outward to the side and downward.
  • Keep your feet flat at all times, really extending the hips. If you lift your heels it will ruin the structure and form of the movement.

It is a difficult move that takes time and practice, but well worth the effort for its mesmerising beauty! I usually teach the Vertical Figure 8’s to my Intermediate students.

Upward Figure 8 - Vertical

The opposite of the Maya, it scoop downwards first then upwards and in to your core.

  • Standing in the Basic Pose, feet under hips.
  • Drop your right hip down first, then scoop it up and out to the side slightly in a round motion.
  • Start pulling it into your core, your centre, with the intention of shifting the movement to your left hip, which should be in a drop, balancing out the right hip that is now in a lift position.
  • Make the move small and isolated, bending your knees to move up and down on the vertical allowing space to give the movement motion. Again, try to keep heels on ground.

The Undulations Family of Movements


Body Undulations

A snaky wave that travels down or up the body. Very sensual and fluid, the undulation suits flowing music and Taqsim. Undulations take time and flexibility, so I usually teach them to my Intermediate students.

Downward Undulation

  • Take the Classical Pose, with working arm down by side.
  • Sway chest forward; keep it small no need to try too hard. Sway weight forward a little into working foot (front foot).
  • Pull back in, and in doing so, push the movement down to the belly.
  • This will push your hips to the front, also a small move, and then sway them back and……
  • ….finish off with a sitting movement. Imagine a pin pushing down into the navel, diagonally pushing the pelvis down into a sitting position. Think of a pin-cushion.
  • Repeat pushing the chest forward then pulling back, then swaying hips forward then pulling them back and continue….chest out, in.…hips out, in….chest out, in….hips out, in….and so on.
  • IMPROTANT NOTE: Frame this movement with your arms; supporting arm up in the air behind you, working arm down by the side of the hip that is closest to the audience. You MUST stand on the diagonal with the undulation as the wave is happening up and down your body, the audience won’t see it if you stand squarely facing them. You need to stand side-ways so they can see the movement.

An Upward Undulation is the reverse of this movement, starting at the pelvis and sending the wave up to the chest. Also and Intermediate level movement.

Undulating Arms (known as Snake Arms)

  • Stand in the Basic Pose or Classical Pose.
  • Arms stretched out to the sides, soft elbows pointing softly to the back, and hands in pose.
  • Start with a contained shoulder roll with the right shoulder.
  • Then imagine a puppeteer pulling the right elbow upwards.
  • Let the movement generated by the shoulder roll and the elbow moving up travel across and down the arm to the fingers.
  • The shoulder roll will have moved to the back, and the elbow comes down. Lift the wrist to complete the wave and finish off with live fingers.
  • Think of it like this: Shoulder – elbow – wrist – fingers. Shoulder – elbow – wrist – fingers. The puppeteer pulls each one up after the other, creating a snaky wave that travels from the shoulder to the fingertips.
  • At this point, repeat this process on the left shoulder.
  • The intention is to get a fluid alternating mirror image happening in both arms simultaneously.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed, and keep breathing! Keep everything stress free, learn to move without cramping your muscles, stay loose in your mind!

    * * * * *

That does it for the core seven movement groups that make up Belly Dancing. Of course there are many more accents such as belly pops and pelvic tilts etc, but they do not belong to the seven main families of movements and are usually taught in later levels. Also, there are Belly Dance travel steps galore, but I will not cover these here. They are too difficult to explain only in writing, so you will have to ask your teacher to elaborate on the travel steps she chooses to teach you, and it helps to take your own notes in class to remember things at home.

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

 

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