Burn Calories with Belly Dancing?

I recently started taking a belly dancing class. I was surprised at how good I feel after the class (which includes stretching and meditation at the end of each class). Is this a good way to get fit?

– July 18, 2003

Updated 4/01/2005

Absolutely! Dancing of any kind is wonderful for your body. Aerobic exercise promotes general fitness, conditions your heart and respiratory system, stimulates immunity and increases stamina. It also tones your nervous system, reduces stress, increases oxygen flow throughout the body and gives you a sense of well being and empowerment. Dancing is one of the best aerobic activities of all because it’s upbeat and enjoyable, and provides a thorough workout.

In most of the world, belly dancing is called Danse Orientale, or Oriental Dance. It is a form of artistic expression inspired from such varied places as Morocco, Spain, Egypt, even Russia. Contrary to what many Westerners believe, belly dancing did not originate as a seductive dance, but rather as a form of everyday expression. In fact, the role of Oriental Dance in Middle Eastern society has been that of a folk dance, which people did at joyous occasions like weddings, births, community festivals, and other events that brought people together. For centuries, it has been a dance that men, women, and children did for fun, not a “performance” to entertain an audience.

Belly dancing has now emerged as one of the hot new exercise trends according to the American Council on Exercise. It has evolved from traditional forms to heart-pumping workouts seen in gyms across the country. Belly dancing can be soft on the joints and at the same time be highly energetic, and work muscles that most people don’t use with regular workouts. It’s a great opportunity for people to learn about the music and traditions of unfamiliar countries and cultures. It can also give your body a beautiful shape and be an excellent alternative for people who don’t like to run, bike or go to the gym.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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