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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Dear Shira

Shira

Dear Shira:

Belly Dance While Pregnant?

 

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The Question

Dear Shira:

I started learning how to belly dance a couple of months ago, and I love it! It makes me feel strong and feminine at the same time!

Last week, I discovered I'm pregnant, and I'm overjoyed! But some of my friends have expressed concern over whether I should continue dancing. They said it could cause me to go into premature labor because it mimics childbirthing. Someone else said I should continue belly dancing throughout my pregnancy because it develops muscles that will make my labor easier. I'm so confused — what should I do?

--Expecting In Exeter

 

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Shira Responds

Dear Expecting,

A woman who is having a normal, healthy pregnancy should be perfectly capable of continuing her belly dancing throughout the term. Of course, you should check with your doctor to be sure, but as long as your doctor says it's safe for you to get low-impact, moderate exercise, then belly dancing should be fine.

Continuing your dance might actually be beneficial! Some women have reported that selected belly dance moves such as figure 8's and hip circles were helpful during labor! Many midwives and doulas recommend belly dancing to their clients. So stay involved with the dance, and continue enjoying your classes. But always listen to your body.

Use Common Sense

You probably won't want to practice vigorous drum solos with aggressive hip locks during your eighth month. Undulations and moves involving twisting of the hips might be uncomfortable. If it's uncomfortable, or if it feels "wrong", don't do it. Listen to your doctor and apply common sense. Some belly dance classes are more athletic than others, with deep backbends, level changes down to the floor, and so on. Such classes may be unwise during pregnancy if you're not already accustomed to doing those moves, but they're probably fine if you already possess the muscle strength and flexibility to do them with confidence. Generally speaking, listen to your body, pay attention to how you feel when you do the various moves. Avoid any that feel "wrong". When in doubt, ask your doctor.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo of Leyla Billman, Columbus, Ohio, at 6 months pregnant. The photographer was America Ferral.

Leyla Billman at 6 Months

Possible Risk

There is one possible source of injury you need to beware of. During pregnancy, your body releases a hormone called relaxin whose purpose is to loosen the ligaments in your pelvis, to make it easier for the baby to pass through the birth canal. This hormone actually affects connective tissue throughout your body, so once you reach the third trimester it's best to avoid doing stretches that could put stress on these tissues. Treat your joints gently during this time, keeping your movements within the range of motion that you found comfortable before your pregnancy. If you're not cautious about this, you could cause injuries to your knees or other joints that could trouble you for the rest of your life. Of course, this applies not only to belly dancing, but also to yoga and any other flexibility exercises you might be considering. If you have any questions, discuss this with your doctor.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo of Leyla Billman, Columbus, Ohio, at 4 months pregnant. The photographer was Jamie Lombardi.

What About Performing?

Now, it's one thing to take classes. Performing may be another matter entirely. First, how is your self-image? Some women feel fat and ugly while pregnant, while others see their growing bellies as a mark of pride. If your pregnancy makes you feel fat and ugly, then maybe it's best not to perform — how can you possibly deliver a terrific show when you feel that way? But if you're at peace with your changing body, if you're in good health, and if your new shape doesn't bother you, then why not perform?

Leyla Billman

Dancing in class recitals should be perfectly appropriate, even if you've already begun to show. In a recital environment, the audience usually understands that the purpose of the recital is to give students a chance to show their friends and families what they have been learning in class.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo of Noelle Phillips, White Rock, British Columbia at 6 months pregnant.

As for more public performances, a lot depends on the nature of the audience, your costuming, and the venue. Some things to consider:

  • Performing for mainstream paid gigs such as restaurant shows, birthday parties, bellygrams, and similar shows might not be such a good choice once you've started to show. However, other mainstream gigs, such as baby showers or women's health events, could be perfect for you. Follow your instincts, and if in doubt, tell the person who is organizing the gig about your status and invite their feedback on whether your body would be an issue.
Noelle Phillips
  • If you will be performing at an event whose audience consists primarily of fellow belly dancers and their families/friends, such as a hafla or belly dance festival, then feel free to bare your midriff if that's what you would like to do. At such events, fellow dancers are nearly always quite supportive of their expecting sisters.
  • This is a wonderful time to look for opportunities to dance in a setting where the audience is likely to be celebrating the natural cycle of birth, life, and death, such as a women's center, a health clinic, a theatrical depiction of the goddess Isis, or a similar environment. For such shows, you're free to either expose or cover your midriff, whichever better suits your own preferences.
  • Even if you are proud of your pregnancy and the way it shapes your body, you may want to think carefully before wearing a midriff-baring costume for a generic public performance of Oriental dance once your abdomen has grown enough to be obviously pregnant. "General public" audiences are not always supportive. Are you emotionally strong enough to deal with that? Make the decision that feels best to you.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo of Leyla Billman, Columbus, Ohio, at 7 months pregnant. The photographer was Kat Deidrich.

Leyla Billman

 

In short, before you perform, really think about who your audience will be, and make plans to choose costuming and dance style that will represent our dance form in its best light for them. Ideally, you want them to remember that you interpreted the music beautifully, not that you had a fascinatingly large pregnant belly.

Before performing, consider that some dance classes are not very vigorous. They might involve dancing for two minutes, then stopping for an explanation, then dancing again for another two minutes, and so on. In contrast, a solo performance might involve dancing continuously for 10 minutes or more. For your health, be sure to practice at home regularly, building up to an activity level that is comparable to what you'll be doing in the performance. Please don't risk overextending yourself!

 

Can Belly Dance Help with Labor?

Much depends on your individual situation. In theory, it's possible belly dancing can be helpful. Belly dance, when done correctly, helps build strength and control in the pelvic floor muscles that are used to push during labor. Certainly, it's better to do some kind of exercise to build these muscles than to do no exercise at all, and since belly dancing is fun, it may be an exercise that you're willing to do more often than other workouts.

However, belly dance can't "fix" a high-risk pregnancy. It's best to think of belly dancing as just one of many tools that could be helpful to have in your toolbox as you plan your delivery experience.

When the time comes to have the baby, the belly dance moves likely to prove the most helpful are hip figure 8's (infinity loops), hip circles, gentle shimmies, and tummy flutters.

 

Resources

Would you like to explore this subject further? Here are some resources that you may find interesting:

Index to Resources

Videos

  • Prenatal Bellydance, an exercise video built on belly dance moves. Naia from New York leads the workout. For more information, see my review of it. The workout structure follows the guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists.
  • Dance To The Great Mother, a video featuring a performance by Delilah when she was 8 months pregnant. For more information, see my review of it. The dance portrayed on the video was specially created by Delilah to honor pregnancy and motherhood.

Articles on the Web

 

Good luck with your pregnancy! I wish you an easy delivery and a healthy baby!

--Shira

 

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Related Articles

Other articles on this web site related to belly dance and pregnancy include:

 

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About this Column

Shira has received many questions from readers over the years related to various aspects of the dance. In this column, she picks some of the more interesting ones to answer publicly. Details contained in the questions are sometimes removed or disguised to protect the anonymity of the person who asked the question.

 

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