Shoulder dance

So I'm taking this belly dance class. It's level one. I took level one from the same instructor a year and a half ago, but I was bad and never practised. This time, the instructor is going to give us a CD of the music she uses. Especially after we have the home theatre moved out of the living room (Friday!), maybe I will take advantage of the extra space and move around a bit.

In belly dance, there aren't many parts of your body that don't get involved. Belly is the least of it. Usually, your core remains still in the midst of all this other activity. There are hip shimmies, drops, and bumps. There are steps and turns. There are chest movements. There are many arm positions, all of them (one hopes) graceful and beautiful.

And there is the shoulder shimmy, not side to side or up and down but forward and back. This seems to be the most difficult thing for me to learn. I'm getting the hip movements. I'm not doing too badly with the foot choreography. My arms make me feel like an albatross sometimes, but they're getting better, especially when I remember to work them from my upper back and not so much from the arm muscles themselves. Chest lifts, drops, and other isolations aren't great, but not terrible either. But shoulders? Oy! Awkward doesn't begin to describe what I see in the mirror.

My upper body is fairly strong but also tight. When I started belly dance class, I never realized that's where I'd need to do the most work. But then, I sit at a computer all day long for work and then spend far too much time at my other computer doing things like writing this blog. My upper body is in serious need of relaxing.

Fortunately, sitting here a bit more and doing some searching on the magical interwebs gives me tips on how to do better shoulder shimmies. It seems I'm not the only one with this problem. There's a technique I'm going to try that involves squashing a bolster under my back along my spine. I hope the foam recovers from this!

It really does go beyond shoulders though. When we're doing a stretch at the end of class, the instructor will sit on the floor with her legs in front of her and curl her spine forward until her head and hands are pretty much relaxed on the floor in front of her in a classic yoga posture. I can't get anywhere close to that. And yet there is nothing wrong with my spine. As far as I know, all my vertebrae and the discs in between are doing fine. So how do I teach my spine to flex like that? I don't expect to make it happen all at once. I just need to know how to move toward it! More searching needed, obviously. Searching for stretching, made all the more necessary because of all these searches.

As for the shoulder shimmies themselves, I notice that I can do them better when I don't involve my arms. If I let my arms drop to my sides, my shoulder movement isn't bad. So I know where the muscles are, and my body knows how to respond. But as soon as I put my arms out to the side where they need to be for dancing, the shoulder movement deteriorates. I think what I have to do is train that movement without the arms so I can reach a point where the movement is well engrained in my body and I can then add the arms back in.

At my age, I'm probably supposed to be practising gentle yoga, or doing tai chi in the park, or splashing around at seniors water aerobics. But no, not me. I insist on learning belly dance with women who are young enough to be my daughters (including the instructor, I'm guessing). But I'm not reaching for the rheumatiz medicine. I probably just need to work a bit harder, perhaps take it more slowly, and not get discouraged because I can't keep up with teh youts. And maybe some yoga wouldn't be a bad idea!


ering said...

You are so awesome. I love that you are choosing something interesting and different. Have fun!

Véronique said...

Aw, thanks. Belly dance is a challenge for me, but it's also fun -- especially when I get it!

Ellena said...

When my daughter spoke about her belly dancing lessons and experience I took notes such as these that make no sense to me now. Maybe you will know what she was talking about.
"Shut brain and let body do it. Feet have different beat than fingers. Impossible is out to lunch. One does accompagniment of dance with cymbals but body and feet dance at different rate - they learn to layer moves and disconnect body".

Dave said...

It is surprising the ways we can find that make our bodies perform better.
For example, when I was learning how to make tight turns and quick stops and starts on the ice, my uncle taught me a trick and that was to lead with the shoulders. Now this didn't seem to make any sense at all, but it worked!
More recently, trying to improve my golf swing, I was trying to loosen up my right arm (I am right handed) so it could move faster through the ball. It turns out that by relaxing my index finger on the club, my forearm tension disappeared. Not only did the ball travel farther and straighter, but my tennis elbow disappeared too!
Good for you taking on a totally new physical challenge.

Anji said...

I feel worn out reading that.

I'm with you on the shoulders, sitting in front of the computer all day. Just not sure that I could manage belly dancing.

Véronique said...


Some of that makes sense to me. You can't think your way through any choreography. Your body has to learn it and then just do it. As for hands and feet at different rates, I don't think I'm there yet. :)


Removing tension is key to any movement. Working on that!


I might never be very good, but I'm enjoying the process. And I managed some basic choreography last week, so I'm not hopeless. :)