Belly Dancing 101: How to Belly Dance

Belly dancing is a unique form of dance that is performed solo or in a group to Middle Eastern music. It focuses heavily on isolated movements of the torso with flowing arm movements that make the dance come together beautifully. Belly dancing is typically performed by a woman as the slow, sensual movements are made to naturally highlight a feminine body. You can learn how to belly dance with professional dancer Irina Akulenko in these free video lessons from Howcast!

History of the Belly Dance

Belly dancing has an exceptionally long history, being one of the oldest forms of dancing ever created. For reference, records indicate that the dance may have been performed as far back as 6,000 years ago! The exact reason for its creation is hotly debated, but some theorists say that it was used to help women prepare for giving birth.

On the other hand, modern belly dancing typically refers to the dance that originated from the Middle East in the late 1800s. It was first performed by Egyptians and then by Arabs a century later. The new Arab version of belly dancing incorporated various other dances like ballet, folk, and even Latin styles with the Egyptian version to create the style of belly dancing that is well known today.

How to Belly Dance

There are many moves to belly dancing and there is ample room for improvisation including these movements. Many focus on shaking the hips and rolling the shoulders, so it’s important to understand how to do these moves with ease. This will create a great starting point for you to gradually add advanced moves once you feel comfortable.

How to Move

You should start with your knees slightly bent. This is essential to allow you to perform hip lifts, which we’ll cover below. Place your arms above your body and focus on your stomach muscles to help you move. You can use your back to start with, but you should switch to your abdominal muscles once they become stronger.

Learning to isolate various parts of your body is also very important for belly dancing. In belly dance, dancers often layer in different isolations in unusual patterns with each other to create a truly mesmerizing movement. Isolated movement can take some time to master and build up range of motion, so stick with it and practice as much as you can!

Counting

Belly dance songs can vary in timing, but most follow a similar beat pattern. To count this, you’ll need to say: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and—repeating the rhythm in time with the music. You’ll typically emphasize movements made on a count (1, 2, 3, 4), while movements during “and” counts are more subtle.

How to Do Belly Dance Hip Lifts

Now that you understand the basic form and timing of belly dancing, you’ll need to learn how to perform the most important movement: hip lifts. This move will make your hips “bounce” from side-to-side, which will also slightly wiggle your stomach. Here’s how you can perform Belly Dance Hip Lifts:

  • Start with both of your knees bent and stand in a slightly arched position.
  • With your feet kept on the floor, slowly straighten your right leg while keeping your left leg bent. This should cause your right hip to raise.
  • Slowly bend your right knee again to return to your original position. 
  • Now straighten your left leg, keeping your right leg bent. This will cause your left hip to raise. 
  • Bend your left knee again to return to a neutral position. 
  • From here, you’ll continue alternating between straightening and bending knees to cause each hip to raise in succession. 
  • Once you feel comfortable, try picking up the pace so that your hips begin to shake. 
  • This concludes the basic hip lift. Remember to use your stomach muscles to “pull” your hip into the air!

Start Belly Dancing Today!

We hope guide helps you learn how to perform the exotic belly dance! To learn even more moves and techniques, explore the rest of the videos in this series below.

ABOUT THE EXPERT

Irina Akulenko

Irina Akulenko is a New York City-based performer, teacher and choreographer with a burning passion for arts of all genres. Although she discovered Middle Eastern dance purely by chance, her interest in expression started at an early age and was channeled into ballet training, in addition to piano and voice lessons as well as visual arts. Today Irina travels extensively teaching and performing Middle Eastern dance throughout the United States and abroad.