Conditioning

“Conditioning” is one of those fitness buzz words that you find in class descriptions of all kinds, not just bellydance. It’s a fairly nebulous term though and can refer to a number of different things.

Conditioning can be something you do to your muscles. You might want to condition your muscles to make them stronger, more powerful (improved strength and speed of movement), to have better endurance (contracting repeatedly for a longer time), to improve your balance and stability (core strength). Of course the heart is a muscle as well so you might be trying to condition it to be more effective at getting blood to your muscles (cardiovascular endurance). Aerobic conditioning refers to improving your cardiovascular endurance and lung capacity. Conditioning is also used to describe trying to increase flexibility and range of movement. The purpose of conditioning can be to achieve an overall improvement in fitness, for injury prevention or to make your body do a particular activity more effectively.

So there are a lot of ways you might be “conditioning” your body. How do they relate to bellydance?

Bellydance For Body Conditioning

The NHS website suggests that dancing is good for “losing weight, maintaining strong bones, improving posture and muscle strength, increasing balance and co-ordination and beating stress”, so definitely covering some of the aspects of conditioning I’ve already described. There are plenty of classes and DVDs out there selling bellydance for fitness. Hey, I’ve used that aspect of it in advertising too, especially around the New Year when people are feeling the effects of holiday excess! I think that bellydance can be a good way to improve aspects of your fitness. Depending on how the class is taught it can offer a cardio workout – obviously an introspective session on taqasim is not going to do this but practicing travelling steps can raise a sweat. And what better example of improving muscular endurance than a shimmy drill? 1 minute, 2 minutes, 4 minutes…From my own experience, when I jumped from teaching 2 classes a week to 7 classes a week I really noticed a difference in my overall fitness and body shape.

Body Conditioning For Bellydance

When you first start bellydancing you are probably using your body in new ways, unless it is part of your culture and you’ve grown up with it. It takes time to train yourself to move your hips on their own, and so you do exercises to condition your body to isolate your hips – this is a way of moving specific to bellydance. If you’re working on challenging moves like backbends or floorwork you’ll probably want to spend some time preparing your body (strength and flexibility) before attempting them. But that’s not the only way that you can condition your body for bellydance. Everything I mentioned in the second paragraph impacts your dancing – muscle strength, power and endurance, cardiovascular endurance and flexibility. Improve these and you will improve your dancing. Of course you can be a good dancer just by going to bellydance classes, and there is more to being a good dancer than having a well-conditioned body, but it’s something to consider if you’ve hit a plateau and are not sure how to progress.

Cross-Training

Another buzz word! Generally used by bellydance teachers to mean “doing something other than bellydance to improve your bellydancing”. Now that you know the various ways in which you could be conditioning your body you can make a more informed choice about what to do. When I first took a workshop with Randa I realised that I needed to work on strength, power and cardiovascular endurance if I was going to have any chance of keeping up with her, and so I planned my non-bellydance training accordingly. There are so many options for aerobic activity to improve cardiovascular endurance! Running, swimming, rowing, cycling…indoors vs. outdoors, competitive vs. group class vs. solo activity, low impact vs. high impact… you’re bound to find something to suit you. A lot of the same activities will condition your muscles in various ways too. For further strength training you have exercises that use your body weight such as squats, lunges, crunches and press ups (but go on, make it interesting, add some weights!). I found Pilates to be an excellent way of complementing my dance training, my core strength improved and it got me thinking about isolation in a new way. Cross training by doing another form of dance such as ballet or jazz offers all the benefits of bellydance as well as introducing principles like extension and line, step patterns and stagecraft that you might not find in your average bellydance class.

In class I help my students condition their bodies for bellydancing by….bellydancing!
No strength training, no flexibility training, no cardio other than really fast class choreography. I think cross training is good, and I encourage anyone who wants to improve their dancing to improve their all round fitness, but I’m not going to do it in class. A quick search on Classfinder shows me 165 yoga classes within 20 miles of Cambridge, and 14 bellydancing classes. Very simply, there are hundreds of other classes where you can work on different aspects of body conditioning, but not that many where you can learn bellydance technique. If you want squats and press ups, I’ll see you at the gym!

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