Thursday, 11 February 2016

The pregnant bellydancer

Every now and again I get approached by a dancer who announces she is pregnant. That's always rather nice, but more specifically they are looking for help and advice about dancing through pregnancy.

Now I love these conversations, because it's great to help out another dancer, and supporting women on their journey into motherhood is what I do on the other side of my working life. But I also felt that it would be good to put a bunch of information in one place (for the bits I forget to talk about) and to be able to share it with dancers who aren't going to contact me directly to ask. There's a lot of misunderstanding about dance, or physical activity in pregnancy, and I think that places a lot of unnecessary stress and restrictions on pregnant women.

In this post I am going to focus on continued dance for dancers who happen to be pregnant. There will also be a sister post on my doulaing blog for pregnant women who would like to dance.

Before we start. Who am I to be talking about this stuff?

Well, I'm a bellydancer, and teacher, hopefully that is clear or you have stumbled here via a stray internet link and are wondering what is going on. I have a background in teaching specific prenatal bellydance classes ( this used to be a regular thing, but now is something I offer as a workshop) which stems from my work as a doula.

I am also a trained doula, which for the uninitiated means that I provide practical and emotional support for women through pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period. This is not a medical position, I don't provide any medical treatment or advice, but part of the role is having a strong understanding of the processes of pregnancy and birth, as well as the various options, complications etc that might arise, so that if need be, I can serve as an advocate for a client, helping her to make informed choices that are right for her.

And I'm a perinatal yoga teacher. I have been teaching regular pre and postnatal yoga classes for just over 3 years and I have the privilege of watching a wide range of women progress through pregnancy, whilst analysing their posture an movement (in a totally not-weird way).

What I am not however, is an obstetrician. Or more importantly, your obstetrician. The information I am about to give you is based on my experience as a dancer, teacher and mother. Always seek the advice of a medical professional who knows your file and can actually see you and stuff.

Down to the questions. 

I'm going to FAQ this. Yes, it's a bit lazy, but it might make it easier to follow....

Can I bellydance in pregnancy?

Yes. Yes you can. There will be limits. For the most part they will be extremely clear to you.

This is assuming you are generally healthy. If you have complications in your pregnancy then those limits might be tighter, or you might need to rest up completely. I keep a quick checklist here for *my* prenatal class, which is beginner level and very low impact.

Generally if your health care professionals are not advising you to avoid light/moderate exercise, you can dance. Some HCPs don't know much about bellydance, and will err on the side of caution when asked, because they really have no idea what you are proposing to do with your expanding midriff. Discuss your concerns, and theirs and see how you feel. But the rule for most pregnancies is if you were doing it before you got pregnant, then you can keep doing it. Dancers in forms that are much tougher on the body, like ballet, continue to dance safely in pregnancy. Runners keep running, weightlifters keep lifting. You get my gist.

Is it going to cause a miscarriage?

The "usual" advice women are given is to lay off exercise for the first 12 weeks, as this is a risky window for miscarriage. Now, it's fine to lay off exercise if you are exhausted and nauseous, and it is very important to listen to the signals your body sends when you need to slow down.

But.... I need to get a bugbear off my chest. There is a reason most miscarriages happen in the first trimester. That reason has nothing to do with exercise. It has nothing to do with *anything* the woman does. To suggest otherwise is a cruel lie that leaves grieving women torturing themselves with blame over a pregnancy loss that could never have been prevented. The vast majority of first trimester miscarriages are genetic faults. Those embryos simply didn't have the right DNA to grow into a viable foetus. It's really common, happens all the time - we have actually evolved to only carry the strongest, most viable embryos. It is nobody's fault.

For many dancers, dance is what keeps them sane, and healthy. For many of us it is our main (or sole) form of exercise. Without it we lose our cardiovascular fitness, strength and posture. Those are all going to be important to keep healthy and comfortable through pregnancy. So telling a dancer to stop dancing for a couple of months is not actually beneficial to her health at all.

Is there anything I should be avoiding?

I have 3 answers to this question, the fluffy, the general and the sciencey

The fluffy

Listen to your body. If you feel tired, don't push yourself. If you feel dizzy or nauseous, stop spinning drills. If something hurts, don't do it.

Most of the time that will see you through. If you are dancing regularly and not consistently injuring yourself, the chances are you either have a fabulous and attentive teacher, or a fairly good understanding of your body. Both of those will serve you well here.

The general

Smooth movements are usually ok. Sharp movements can be uncomfortable. Twists, especially sharp twists need to be avoided. Camels/undulations - the general advice is no, I would certainly advise against deep pelvic undulations in the second half of pregnancy. Backbends are just ridiculous, don't even think about it. Belly rolls are probably possible (I could bellyroll at 34 weeks pregnant just fine) but it does put strain on a muscle that is already very stretched and you would probably like to go back to its original length eventually.

That said, Sadie is doing just fine....

The sciency

To unite the first 2 answers, sharp movements will probably feel uncomfortable anyhow. Your uterus will essentially become a hard and heavy wrecking ball, crashing about buffeting your insides (that's the science....). You will most likely not enjoy this sensation. You won't want to do the movements.

The other risk for sharp movements is relaxin. As your pregnancy progresses you will become more flexible as this hormone softens your ligaments in preparation for birth. Flexible joints are unstable joints and it will become easier for you to hurt yourself through an overenthusiastic movement. Some women find themselves getting really loose in pregnancy, and this can result in Pelvic Girdle Pain, when the usually fixed joints in the pelvis start to wriggle around. I suffered from PGP in both my pregnancies. I found that I could dance at times when walking was difficult, because my automatic dance posture activated my core into stabilising my pelvis. If you have PGP though, you need to take it steady and remember that if you overdo it, you might not feel it until the next day, so be careful.

That said, from my personal experience as a mum to be with pelvic pain, and as a yoga teacher with several women with PGP in my care, I strongly believe that the worst thing for a loose pelvis is complete rest. When your core muscles weaken, they support the pelvis less, the instability becomes worse, the pain becomes worse. The Pelvic Partnership have some great information about how to take care of your flexible pelvis in terms of avoiding the activities that make it worse. Maintaining core strength and good pelvic carriage in your posture usually reduces symptoms.

Generally stabilising the pelvis will help both pelvic and back pain. Be mindful of your posture and think about keeping the low abs engaged and avoiding "duck butt" at all costs. Your body will be fighting you on this one. Do this every day to help straighten things out.

Twisting the lumbar spine needs to be avoided in pregnancy, in prenatal yoga spinal twists are done sat on the floor or otherwise to root the pelvis in place and taken very gently. I personally found horizontal figure 8s just fine, but kept the range of the twist small.

The last thing to consider is dizziness. You'll probably be getting some of this. You'll also notice the headrush from standing up or bending over is much worse now. This is usual. Your balance will also be off, because your centre of gravity is different and constantly changing. This is going to limit your ability to spin.

Can I keep training?

For some dancers training might mean attending one class a week, for others it might mean a more punishing schedule of conditioning and dance. How you manage this is entirely up to you. I stopped taking classes at about 20 weeks in my first pregnancy. But at 17 weeks I made it through the Majma festival without sitting out of any workshops.

Of course dance isn't just about classes. I never truly stopped dancing in either of my pregnancies. Even after I stopped classes, or practice at home. Dance is integral to my life and I was still dancing, even briefly, on a daily basis.

If you want to maintain your fitness, it might be worth switching over to specialist pre-natal classes whose teachers have a better understanding of what is going on in your body and how to manage it. There are also some really good prenatal yoga and pilates DVDs on the market (Tara Lee held me together in my first pregnancy), and a couple of prenatal bellydance DVDs, which while basic, offer you a safe flow practice.

There are other ways you can work at your dance, without actually dancing. Like watching videos or studying music. So try them out to keep your dance monster fed. Lastly, be creative, if you can't do the entirety of your regular practice, what can you do? When my pelvis was at its worst, I sat on a fitness ball and drilled arm patterns. Great for core strength!

Can I perform during pregnancy?

Absolutely. If you can dance, you can perform. You might want to think about what your energy levels can handle, but if you feel up for it, most bellydance events love a pregnant dancer!

What about afterwards?

When I was pregnant people told me that dance would be the last thing on my mind after I had a baby. These people were wrong, and if you, like me, live and breathe bellydance, then you will understand the urge to get back into it fast.

You're going to have to wait a little, at least. Medical advice is to wait 6-8 weeks, at which point you will have your postnatal checkup and your doctor will tell you if you are OK to start exercise.

After my second baby (c-section) I went to a beginner level class at 10 weeks postpartum. Looking back on that it seems ridiculous, but at the time it was an absolute lifeline. One whole hour a week for me, where I wasn't caring for a tiny and perpetually hungry human.


I took my yoga teacher training during my second pregnancy. My teacher told me at the time that yoga teachers were far more likely to push themselves too far, maybe even without realising, because they felt the need to "keep up" or maintain a certain level to justify their position as a teacher.

I think that is something to be conscious of as a pregnant dancer too. You will lose condition, you will find yourself dancing more basic technique and fumbling movements that were previously easy.

You may even resent your body, or your baby for "taking away" something that is probably part of your identity. All of this is normal and OK.

When you come back, dancing will feel like driving an unfamiliar, and much less powerful, car. Your brain will know what it wants to do, but your body will not quite get there.

However, pregnancy did make me a better dancer. Living without dance, as I had known it, made me yearn for it more, and work for it harder once I could again. It made me less inhibited because I understood what I really had to lose. It made me dig deeper. Losing the edge on my skill made me reflect harder on the artistry, musicality, storytelling and emotion of dance. Don't be afraid of taking a little sabbatical, the dance will always be waiting for you.

Tasty metaphors....

No comments:

Post a Comment