Being a bellydancer is a rewarding and yet challenging career that takes stamina and endurance. Once you have gone professional your days could be full of shows, festivals and parties which can be just as taxing as any job or more. As with any form of dance, there are physical issues that come with being a performer. Belly dance is easier on the body then most forms of dance, but that doesn’t mean as a practitioner you should slack off in taking care of your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Here are some ways to stay healthy and keep healthy:
Get A Good Night’s Sleep.
A good night’s sleep should be a priority no matter what your lifestyle, but often we ignore the signals our bodies give us by staying up late to watch television or play on the computer. Sometimes family life and damanding careers keep us from getting much needed rest. Despite the abundance of makeup, under eye bags, sags and pimples do not look good under any light. Fatigue stresses the body, making weak muscles causing, lack of coordination, stamina and balance. Fatigue affects your comprehension and perception, so trying to learn or remember choreography will be more challenging. Performing can become hazardous when balance and perception impeded. As for looking your best: sometimes makeup cannot hide puffy eyes, dark circles, wrinkles and sallow skin that come from not getting enough sleep. If you cannot manage 8 hours a night, then grab a 10-30 minute cat nap during the day as a refresh before a performance.
Stretch and Strength
There is an abundance of dancers no matter what the genre with knee, back and joint issues. When it comes to being a dancer, this seems par for the course. However, for those of us who are unable or unwilling to do Turkish Drops or backbends, staying limber and strong will help keep you from being injured by protecting muscles and joints. Take enough time to warm up and stretch before classes or performing. Cold ligaments and muscles are more likely to tear causing painful debilitating injuries. All parts of the body should be stretched, especially the larger lower body muscles, since belly dance involves more than just the belly. In addition to stretching, strength exercises will help improve stability, balance and endurance. Weight lifting, bodyweight exercises, yoga, bicycling, swimming, etc., are all ways to enhance your dance practices by building strong, sculpted muscles inside and out.
As a bellydancer we should embrace our bodies as they are whether short, tall, thin or full figured. Some of us have more to shimmy, some of us want less but a “perfect weight” should never come at the cost of your health. No matter your body type, eating healthy gives you energy, glowing skin and a strong body especially if you are physically active. Dancing takes a lot of work and energy; without food as fuel the body begins to take nutrients from fat, muscles and then organs. Having less fat may sound like a good idea, but the body is made to use food as fuel not fat. Starving yourself to be thin is not only dangerous, but sends the wrong message that thin equals beauty or that you should be thin to be a bellydancer.
Eating too much, especially of the wrong foods can make you feel sluggish and irritable, diminishing your performance and health. Eating 4-6 light and healthy meals a day is enough to keep blood levels stable and give your body energy. I’ve been around enough bellydancers to know how much they love to eat good food and with the abundance of cultural events, celebrations and shows it is easy to pile on the cholesterol-I mean calories. Everything in moderation is key to good life, but when eating apply this premise to white flour, sugar, alcohol and fatty meats. You never want to eat heavy before a performance, but a light protein rich snack will give you energy to perform without making you feel overly full or make you crash before the event is over. Whole grains, fruit, nuts, vegetables and lean meats in combination with exercise will keep you healthy no matter your body type. Drink plenty of water daily to flush out toxins. With all the makeup performers use, skin problems such as acne, dry skin and rashes are common. Water not only flushes out toxins keeping the skin clear, firm and supple but also keeps you from dehydrating. Eight ounces or more of water are recommended daily.
Stay Away From Scales.
Unless a doctor has specifically put you on a weight regimen for health purposes, stay away from scales. Scales have been used for years to place people (especially women) in a box that should be “typical” for his/her age, weight, height etc. However, we all have different genetics and lead different lifestyles. What was the “typical” weight 50 years ago does not and should not apply to people today. Scales do not take into account height, muscle density and many other factors. It is too easy to become obsessed with weight as a dancer and forget the important aspects such as stage presence, interpretation and skill. Although Westeners have adopted and changed aspects of Middle Eastern dance, practitioners should be aware that Middle Eastern culture embraces a curvaceous and healthy physique. The audience does not care how much you weigh even if you do. How you present the dance is most important. Attitude is everything.
Look Your Best, Be Your Best
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” This is true because no matter where you are there will be upsets in life that leave us feeling tired, depressed, upset and out of sorts. Poor audience participation, demanding clients, unslightly venues and personal issues can drain you of energy and leave you feeling down. Being a professional whether on stage or off means leaving those upsets at the front door. No one wants to see a sad clown and a sad bellydancer is even worse. No matter how bad you feel make sure to look your best. Your dance persona is part of the profession, so if you pride yourself on being a professional then you should always look the part. Take time to pamper yourself by getting your nails done or try out a new makeup look. Buy a new costume or change your hairstyle. Putting on this “armor” will not take away your problems but you will feel better when you look in the mirror. Looking beautiful goes a long way towards feeling beautiful. The show must go on . . .
Positive In, Positive Out
No matter what you do or where you go in this life there will be negative and destructive people. Do not be the dancer who gossips, criticizes and puts down others. Do not be that dancer who is demanding, difficult and arrogant. Do not be a dancer who unwilling to learn and grow because of extensive experience and positive praise. Instead be the dancer who is supportive of the community and its dancers. Be the dancer that is kind, considerate and cooperative. Be the dancer that is humble and willing to learn more because she/he knows that to be a great dancer or teacher you must always be a student. The Raqs community can only stay a great community if we remain positive and cooperative with each other. We should all have the same purpose: To grow as artists and spread the history and knowledge of Middle Eastern dance and culture without the need for drama and petty differences.
Your body is your temple and also your instrument of expression. Your body should be treated with the utmost care and respect. Although some of these “simple” rules are easier said then done if you do not practice the already, it is never too late to develop positive and healthy habits. Always give yourself a little wiggle room to enjoy life’s pleasures, so that you stay on track. Just make sure those pleasures are for the good of your body, mind and spirit.
Stay positive, stay healthy and keep dancing for as long as you are able.