Belly Dance for a Lifetime of Pelvic Health and Pleasure
Belly dancing is a low-impact exercise anyone can do. Regular practice can improve posture, flexibility, strength, balance and coordination. Plus, belly dancing has a special affinity for healing the pelvis.
Most women experience dysmenorrhea—pelvic pain during their periods—at some point in their lives. And belly dancing has been used for centuries to provide relief from menstrual symptoms, whether they're sharp cramps or a dull ache that spreads to the lower back and thighs. Signature hip and torso movements such as figure eights, undulations and hip rolls increase blood circulation in the pelvic region, dispelling stagnation and relaxing muscles.
You can belly dance as vigorously or as slowly as you want. On days when the thought of moving makes you whimper and you'd rather curl up on the couch, try a short, soothing belly dance session in front of your bathroom mirror. It can work wonders and you can do it in your sweatpants.
Belly dance for your sexual health
Let's get something out of the way. There is almost nothing as sexy as how you'll look when you're trying out some belly dance moves. And that's only the start. Here are four ways belly dancing is going to impact your life and your sexual pleasure:
Strengthens your pelvic floor
Belly dancing is a sensual form of movement that can help strengthen muscles used in the bedroom.
It is an excellent way to tone the pelvic floor muscles—the same ones you work on by doing Kegel exercises and the same ones that contract during orgasm. Exercising these muscles increases the blood flow to the pelvic area and allows the muscles to contract more tightly.
Some people notice an increased sensation of pleasure and longer orgasms after regular belly dancing (or Kegel) sessions.
Encourages exercise on a regular basis
Women who exercise regularly—about six hours a week—scored much higher in several categories of sexual satisfaction, including desire, arousal and lubrication, and showed increased blood flow to the clitoris, according to a study published in September 2022 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
"Belly dancing is a total body workout," said Jennifer Sobel, a professional belly dancer in San Francisco. "When people think of 'belly dancing,' they focus on the 'belly' part. While belly dancing is an incredible workout for core muscles, it also targets your upper body, strengthening your arms, shoulders and back, as well as your lower body, giving you a great glute workout."
Typical abdominal exercises focus on movement in one or two planes of motion, which limits the muscles engaged.
"Belly dancing is one of the most effective core-strengthening workouts you can do because it works your abs from all angles in a very organic and functional way," she said.
The 2022 study indicates that one reason exercise improves sexual satisfaction is because of improved body image.
"Belly dancing helps you accept your body exactly as it is and encourages body positivity," Sobel said. "It is perfect for all women regardless of age, size or shape. There's something magical that happens when you belly dance that helps you feel better in your own skin and love your feminine curves. You're able to tap into and connect with your feminine energy and deepest self, which increases your confidence and self-esteem."
It's harder to be in the mood for sex when you are mentally occupied and stressed.
"Belly dancing is a great way to relieve stress and leave your worries behind. It's almost impossible to be in your head while you're belly dancing," Sobel said. "Belly dancing grounds you in the present moment, connecting you to your body, where you can find a refuge from your daily stress. You'll leave a belly dancing session feeling rejuvenated and with a fresh perspective on life."
Sex is bound to be better when you feel invigorated and focused on the present.
Belly dance can help prepare your body for childbirth
Belly dancing is a good exercise for pregnant women, providing a gentle form of movement that strengthens the muscles stressed by pregnancy and childbirth. After delivery, belly dancing can help with postpartum healing.
"Researchers and belly dance scholars have found evidence supporting the theory that belly dancing is a fertility dance done by women for other women—not men—encouraging, emulating and celebrating childbirth and maternity," said Marci Darling, a professional belly dancer in Massachusetts who continued to dance throughout her pregnancies. "They have found it to be an essential ritual component of childbirth, still intact in rural communities in North Africa and the Middle East."
Anyone who has watched a belly dancer can see the connection between the dance movements and childbirth, she added.
This ancient, sacred form of dance can be used to strengthen and tone the muscles needed for childbirth through the following movements:
- Chest circles and lifts. These can be effective for the frequent indigestion problems many women experience during pregnancy from crowded body organs.
- Figure eights. This exercise strengthens the hips and thighs.
- Hip circles. These help tone the abdominal muscles and strengthen the back.
- Isolations. These movements help mothers-to-be to relax the muscles that are not working, which is helpful in childbirth.
- Shoulder shimmies. These exercises should be done slowly and loosely. They can relax the upper body and even encourage breast milk to come down.
- Shoulder and hip shimmies. These can relax the entire body, a powerful antidote to the experience of labor.
- Undulations. This movement relaxes the body and emulates the pushing part of labor, preparing the body to dance the baby out into the world.
Prevent incontinence and prolapse
Urinary incontinence and vaginal prolapse are common problems for women. A weak pelvic floor can cause or worsen these conditions.
"Most people don't know this, but belly dancing is an incredible and fun way to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles," said Sobel, who created the Belly Dance Solution, a program that helps women alleviate urinary incontinence through belly dancing. "The different belly dance movements naturally engage your pelvic floor muscles without you even needing to know where your pelvic floor muscles are. No need for boring Kegel exercises."
YouTube has plenty of free belly dance classes to introduce you to basic movements. You don't need any equipment or particular clothing to start reaping the benefits of this low-impact exercise. Then, when you're ready, there are online programs and in-person classes to take you to the next level.