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Dear Shira


Dear Shira:

Squeezing The Glutes



The Question

Dear Shira:

I recently purchased a video of Middle Eastern dancing, and when I am supposed to squeeze my right glute, then my left glute, I am not able to get that down. I feel like this is important because I don't want to learn the moves a wrong way, I feel like it will be harder in the long run if I do the movements but they are wrong. I feel like I am using my calf or my back thigh to lift my rear, and not my actual glute. When I try to not move anything and practice squeezing one glute and the other, it seems like I barely move at all. I think it is because I must have no developed glute muscles. I go to the gym during the week and I was wondering if there were any specific excercises I could do that would address my problem.

--Gluteus Minimus



Shira Responds

Dear Minimus:

For the benefit of readers who are not familiar with the word "glutes", I'll briefly mention that this term refers to the gluteus maximum muscles, also often known as the "butt cheeks" or the "buttocks".

If glute squeezes are done by themselves, without the side-to-side motion of a hip bump, they will move the hips in an up/down direction. Alternatively, the glute squeezes can be added to moves such as hip bumps (side-to-side hip movement) to make them crisp.

Finding Your Glutes

The easiest way to connect your conscious thought to your glutes is to thrust your hips forward and upward, then relax. Note that as the hips thrust forward and upward, the glutes both squeeze from behind. Now, I wouldn't normally teach this as a belly dance move, but it's a useful exercise to help you link your thoughts to your butt cheeks. Once you understand how it feels to clench both glutes together, it becomes easier to learn to clench just one at a time.

Try Sitting

Sometimes it's easier to isolate your "gluteus maximus" muscles when sitting down. As you read this, clench your right butt cheek, then relax it. Now, clench your left butt cheek, then relax it. Do this 8 times on each side. Make it a small clench. Try to keep the thigh and lower leg relaxed. You won't find your body "rising" on the clenched side, but that's okay. The point is to feel the action of the muscle and learn to control it. Practice this exercise until you can isolate the gluteus with confidence.

Review Correct Standing Dance Posture

Once you stand up, the first thing you'll want to check is your posture. The wrong posture can make it difficult to do a move properly. This is the checklist I use when describing correct posture to my own students - I build it from the feet up:

  • Place your feet about 8 inches or less apart.
  • Your toes should point straight forward.
  • Your knees should be relaxed, not straight. You may need to bend them slightly if you have trouble relaxing them. This is a common mistake and will make it more difficult to do your glute squeezes.
  • Your pelvis should be above your feet.
  • Your pelvis should not be tilted back. Many women, in their everyday lives, tilt their pelvises to the rear and their chests forward, because this is the posture that makes it easier to balance on high-heeled shoes. Unfortunately, this position can cause lower back pain, and if you belly dance with the pelvis tilted to the back it can lead to injury of your lower back and your sciatic nerve. To correct this common error, I ask my students to make one good pelvic thrust as far forward as possible, then relax the pelvis slightly but still remaining tucked as compared to what they may be used to. I then ask them to feel a lengthening of their lower back muscles, and try to push their tailbone toward the floor without bending the knees.
  • Pretend there is a puppet string on the breastbone, just above the top of your cleavage, and pull straight upward with it. Feel the separation in your waist as you raise your rib cage with this upward movement.
  • Do an upside-down U with your shoulders to move them from a forward position to a back position. Do not try to squeeze your shoulder blades together, just place the shoulders themselves in a farther-back position through using this U-shaped movement.

Follow the above steps to check your posture, with special attention to the underlined points. Foot placement, relaxed knees, and pelvis tuck are all important items for you in particular to consider, because all of those are important to being able to do hip moves correctly. If you pay close attention to these details, you may find that your problem is solved!



Try It Standing

Now, it's time to get used to the clenching while standing up.

In the section titled "Finding Your Glutes" above, you practiced squeezing both butt cheeks at the same time. Your next step is to do just one at a time. By now, it should be easy to isolate the gluteus maximus from other muscles.

Review your posture, paying special attention to the underlined points above. Take extra care to avoid locking the knees.

Now, squeeze just the right butt cheek, and you should feel the right hip move upward. Relax and let your pelvis return to its centered position. Now, squeeze just the left butt cheek, and let the lift hip move up. Relax and let your pelvis return to center. Repeat right, left, right, left several times, until you feel confident with the move.

Once you can do the above with confidence, try doing doubles. Do squeeze, relax, squeeze, relax on the right hip, then do the same on the left.

I hope this helps!




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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