Updated 07 February 2014

Belly dance your way to fitness

You don’t need to be super-slick or ultra-trim to be able to dance. You just need to be ready and willing.

You don’t need to be super-slick or ultra-trim to be able to dance. You just need to be ready and willing. After a few sessions the steps will start coming automatically – and so will the fitness rewards.

Health benefits of dancing


Dancing helps you stand tall and it spontaneously pulls your spine up straight. Walking upright eventually becomes a habit.


This is essential when you’re performing dance moves.


A good hour-long dance session can push your heart rate up to 120 beats per minute – the same as aerobic exercise. You’ll burn more or less the same amount of kilojoules when you walk briskly for 5km.


The exertion dance demands of your muscles helps to tone your arms and legs. Over time you’ll see your upper arms, calves and thighs firm up.  


Graceful dance moves keep bones strong without putting unnecessary strain on the joints. Dance promotes bone density and therefore helps to prevent osteoporosis.


Dancing for or with people boosts self-confidence. Few of us wouldn’t be proud of performing a faultless tango!

Body and soul

Many studies have investigated the therapeutic and meditative effects of dance on the body. According to psychologist Dr Melléta Louw, “The combination of music and movement brings your body and soul together in a world that often puts too much emphasis on the external world.

Read: Is belly dancing worth it?

The style: So-called belly dancing has its origins in Middle-Eastern ethnic folk dances. A common misconception is that its primary purpose was to entertain men. It is one of the oldest social dance forms in the world and involves movements from the torso, not so much from the legs and feet.  Belly dancers sway their upper bodies and hips in sensual circles, using flowing arm movements as emphasis.

In America, belly dancing became popular when it was performed at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. Since then it has become popular and there are belly-dancing classes, workshops and festivals all over the word.

“It leaves lots of room for creativity,” says belly dancing teacher Marissa Cuenoud. “What makes it so much fun is the combination of the traditional styles with modern knowledge of anatomy, movement and muscle conditioning. The dance is still linked to the traditional trimmed bra top and swinging skirt, although lots of men now do belly dancing too.”   

The challenge factor: A beginner needs to practise for at least an hour a week. And you don't need a supple waist to be able to belly dance; it comes with practice.

Why it's good for you: It's especially good for your upper body because your torso and abdomen have to work intensively. It improves your posture and reduces or relieves back pain while keeping the muscles flexible. The movement of the torso can also aid digestion and improve your balance.

Celebrity belly dancers: Shakira, Hilary Duff and Beyoncé.

REMEMBER: Check your dance teacher's qualifications. Also make sure you tell him or her if you have any injuries or health problems so your dance moves can be adapted appropriately. And listen to your body – take a break when you're tired and don't try to force yourself into positions you're not used to.

Picture: Belly Dancing from Shutterstock

Read more:
Belly-dancing for beginners
Belly dance for happy hips
Get fit, belly dance


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