The Belly Dance Paradox

When teaching students on belly dancing I often have to explain about the “Belly Dance Paradox”, which refers to the instances where moves, which look easy are often extremely strenuous, and those that look immensely challenging are fairly easy to master. One of the moves that looks easy but is really hard is Snake Arms. Audiences see a graceful, elegant flowing arm move, while the dancer feels a lot of effort and strain in her upper arms, shoulders and pectoral (upper chest) muscles. This is because in order to do Snake Arms it is necessary to use the muscle on the back of the upper arm to lift the whole arm, simultaneously keeping shoulders down, and lower arms relaxed. The arms need to extend directly out to the sides, except in short expressive versions where shoulders can also be raised. There is also the timing of having one arm raise as the other lowers. It can be quite challenging to both relax and tense the arm to get the smooth curve. The visual cue I use is to imagine that a fit ball is coming up under your arm as it raises and it rests on your arm as it lowers (I even ask what colour the ball is!). This encourages the soft curve.

On the other end of the spectrum is the shimmy. Audiences gasp with amazement when a dancer shimmies in a prolonged fashion using various parts of her body. The thing is, while technique is important, the hip shimmy is fairly easily learnt, but bending and straightening (though not fully) alternate knees. As I have mentioned in the article The Shimmy or “Wobbling With Style” there is a certain “letting go” to the process. However the shimmy can be mastered quite early on in the learning process. It is harder to maintain a shimmy for long periods, however that is mainly due to fitness and stamina which increases naturally through practice. Adding a shimmy on top of other moves can be challenging, but the basic shimmy is “doable”.

Why the paradox? I don’t know, for these two moves are not the only ones that back up the idea. I know that it is absolutely discouraged to grimace with effort during a tricky move (how funny and distracting would that be to watch?) but that doesn’t explain how they look effortless. Well, next time you are watching a belly dance performance, I hope it gives you pause to think that some of the graceful moves are requiring a lot of effort and skill and maybe it will enhance your enjoyment of the performance, or at the very least cause you to applaud extra hard!

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