Rituals and History
Although “Belly Dance”, as we know it today, was developed over much time and in many different countries, the event of labor is also a source of Middle Eastern Dance. Different movements were used during labor to control the pain of contractions by the mother-to-be. Other women (friends/family) would gather in a circle around the laboring woman and undulate (roll their stomachs) to help her keep her focus and rhythm. Although today “Belly Dance” is not taught in standard hospital birthing classes some of the movements are, such as the Omi (a very contained small hip circle).
The Benefits for Expectant Mothers
Having personal experience with pregnancy and labor I would like to share some of my insights to expectant mothers.
The biggest benefit was great general fitness. I felt wonderful during my pregnancy and I attribute that to regular exercise. I had a high energy level overall. Yes, there was a few naps during my pregnancy (certainly my energy was shared with the creation of another human being), but I was able to tackle the day with stride. I was in “hard labor” for about 12 hours and if I had not been in great shape I don’t know how I would have gotten through without that famous epidural, which I was dead set against (although honestly, it crossed my mind toward the end). Most of all, dancing was beneficial in low weight gain and a quick loss of those dreaded pregnancy pounds.
During labor I did try several belly dance moves to help deal with the contractions. I can say that some worked and some had no effect at all. Hip circles (the Omi) tended to be the most effective to keep the rhythm of basic Lamaze breathing patterns. Undulations worked at the beginning, but the more tired I became the less I was able to concentrate on complete Undulations.
These were my experiences. Every pregnancy, labor, and woman is different. I would encourage women to start classes before they become pregnant (which works if you are “trying”) and continue through their pregnancy. With any exercise program, please consult your doctor before you begin.
Professional Dancing During Pregnancy
Most professional dancers wish to know when to stop dancing professionally if they become pregnant. There is no rule about when to stop dancing. I kept dancing in the restaurant for the first two months of my pregnancy. After the first month I let my employers know that I was pregnant and that I might not be able to do my high energy 45 minute set without a break, and that I would be taking a maternity leave. My employers told me I could keep dancing as long as I wished, but for me a leave of absence was the right thing to do. When to stop is certainly a personal decision. I felt that since I was being paid to entertain people, that I should do just that. Right or wrong our American society has a certain view of a “Belly Dancer” and unfortunately if you move too far away from that view some people stop being entertained. For me, it was the difference between dancing for myself and the love of dance, and dancing as a professional for the audience. I also did not feel that I could perform up to my best abilities and wanted to be fair to my employer.
Although I stopped dancing in restaurants and took a leave from private parties, I did still perform. Student nights or theatrical belly dance shows are great ways to still perform while pregnant. If you have not already, check out an amazing performance by Delila which she titled “Dance to the Great Mother” and performed and put to video while eight months pregnant. People within the dance community are very open and appreciate all dancers (all races, shapes, and sizes).
I also continued teaching throughout my pregnancy, in fact I taught my last class one day before I went into labor.