Saturday, 27 December 2014

10 reasons why bellydance is the best way to get fit and healthy this New Year

1 - It's fun

Learning to dance is just great fun. It's a skill that you can use in all kinds of situations, dancing around your kitchen, at parties, even performing on stage. Dancing has a purpose within itself, it isn't about mindlessly moving the muscles to achieve an aesthetic result. This means that you are likely to want to keep doing it. Why take up an activity you don't enjoy, just to get fit? Take up a dance class, learn new things, make new friends, keep coming to class for more reasons than just getting sweaty.

2 - It's engaging

Learning Arabic dance isn't just about learning the steps, you also learn about culture and music. There is a rich backstory to this art form and a good teacher will trickle-feed information and anecdotes to keep your brain  as engaged as your body.

3 - Motivation that's about more than fitness

You know when they say "nothing tastes as good as being thin feels"? Well, firstly, I am not convinced the person who came up with that had a very interesting diet, secondly, a distant, undefined goal of "be more healthy" isn't really all that motivating. It's a good intention, but I know that a warm sofa is a more appealing option on a January evening than a jog and that intention can feel a long way off.

When you are going to a dance class, you have progress to track, you may have learning goals for the term, a choreography to perfect for performance, there is always something to keep you turning up.

4 - The people

Some students turn up to their first class with a friend for "moral support", others find their friends there. Learning a dance that is appealing and accessible to people from all walks of life means meeting people who you might never have crossed paths with.

Through dance I have become close friends with people I would be unlikely to meet or get to know otherwise. Your dance path will cross with all kinds of people and your love of the dance provides an icebreaker. You can socialise with your dance friends not just in class, but also at dance events like haflas. Many new dancers find a whole new social scene. This keeps you motivated to stay dancing and active.

5 - Bellydance is for everybody

Going to a fitness class can be daunting, but most bellydance classes, especially beginner classes, are open and accepting of all kinds of people.

It doesn't matter if you are older or heavier, you CAN dance. There are classes available for pregnant women, disabled dancers and those who just want to go a little more gently; most teachers will offer gentle alternatives if the class is a little intense for your fitness level or ability.

Most classes are LGBT friendly. People of all genders are welcomed into my classes.

You don't have to bare your belly if you don't want to, a bellydance class should be a safe, friendly space where you can move, have fun and express yourself, no matter who you are or what you look like.

6 - Learn to love your body

We have already established that bellydance is great for your self esteem. Learning to move with grace and confidence, to walk taller has a knock on effect on how you feel about your body, no matter what size or shape you are.

I have focused on fitness here, rather than weight loss, very deliberately. Weight loss, should that be your goal, is about lifestyle balance, diet and activity, and dance alone is not guaranteed to shed pounds. It is also perfectly possible to be healthy, fit and active whilst wearing a larger dress size.

Regardless of size, negative body image is not helpful when you need to take care of your body. Crash dieting and inconsistent or binge exercising is not healthy for your metabolism, cardiovascular system or joints. When you love your body, you care for it better.

When I feel happy in my skin, I am more active, I eat healthier, I am more present in my own body and I gravitate towards healthier lifestyle choices.

Even if feeling better about yourself doesn't help your fitness regime, you're still feeling better about yourself, and that's never a bad thing.

7- It's a whole body workout

When you are learning bellydance you will find muscles in places you didn't know you had places! Dancing continuously through your class is a gentle cardio workout. Add in some extra shimmies and travelling and it can be a bit less gentle too!

Bellydance increases your core muscle strength, and your flexibility. It improves your posture and your coordination.

There comes a point in your dance career where you will want to cross train to complement your dance, but when you are starting out, bellydance gives a lot of fitness benefits for one class.

8 -  Dance is a gateway drug to cross training

Bellydance is great exercise in itself, but as you progress you will undoubtedly find that to improve your dance, you need to cross train. Swimming, yoga, pilates, some dancers run, some weight train.

I am not a fan of exercise for its own sake. I find it tedious, but when I have dance as the motivation behind it, I find myself wanting to do it. I started out doing Vinyasa flow yoga, which is common amongst bellydancers for strength, flexibility and alignment. Suhaila's beginner DVDs introduced me to pilates and now I mix fitness training in these styles with weights and drills as part of my daily dance conditioning. Datura Online has some fabulous conditioning segments. Ashley's Built for Bellydance series is challenging, but quite rewarding.

9 - We want you to succeed. 

Many of the fitness and weight loss industries rely on your failure for their profit. If any diet club, pill or product really worked, helped you lose weight and keep it lost, then it would cripple its own market. These products and services rely on you losing a little weight to begin with, to convince you that it "works" but hope that you put the weight back on, so that you keep coming back and spending more.

Many gyms operate on a model where there are more members than they have capacity. They know that a large portion of their members will not attend regularly, and they have no reason to encourage them to, as long as they pay the subscription.

When you attend a dance class, your progress should be important to your teacher. We want to see you healthy and fit, and able to progress in your dance. As dance students get better, they attend more classes, out of love, not obligation. They might even start performing, solo or in the student troupe, and that is great publicity for the dance school. A good teacher will actively encourage their students' improvements, not hope that they regress in order to start over.

10 - We have the best workout clothes

Sure you can turn up to class in a vest and a pair of leggings without too many holes, but I can almost guarantee that as the dance bug grips, you'll be sporting jingly hip scarves, sequinned cholis and diamante studded pants. What other fitness regime supports the wearing of body glitter?

So if you are looking for a new, fun way to keep active in the New Year, why not find your local bellydance class? And if you happen to be in Glastonbury or Bridgewater, you would be welcome at mine

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