The big belly dancers

Ten women walk into a large, mirror walled room dimly lit by tiny floor lamps.They tie colourful georgette scarves embellished with rows of silver coins, around their hips. As the group begins swaying, the coins shimmer and jingle in a rhythmic beat.

Move your hips to the right, push your pelvis out, now hips to the left and pelvis in, instructs a petite girl in leopard-print pants with a black, tasseled hip scarf. The class follows, gyrating their lower bodies provocatively in a circular fashion like belly dancers.

The women are not rehearsing for a performance at a lounge bar, they are preparing for labour. Behold the bulging bellies and you realize that all participants are in different stages of pregnancy -one is just days away from her due date. Be g e n t l e, d o n’ t jerk, the teacher repeats every few minutes. belly

Bored with yoga and Lamaze, a growing number of pregnant women in metros are turning to the Middle Eastern dance form in order to stay fit through the nine months and have an easy delivery thereafter. The desire for natural, drug-free births has made belly dancing a popular prenatal exercise in the US, Europe and Australia over the past few years. Zaazen was the first to bring it to the capital. We have held eight free workshops and two paid classes since June. The response has been very encouraging.

In Mumbai, belly dance instructor Chaitali Kohli conducts a weekly class at FitforBirth, Mulund. “Some wom en also call me for private lessons at their homes and at least 30 to 40 turn up for the free workshops I hold in various cities.

Kohli showcased her moves on `India’s Got Talent’ when she was seven months pregnant with her second child and also gave a demo on a Marathi TV channel.

Regular belly dance schools too say they have seen a rise in requests from expectant moms over the past few years. Earlier, women used to believe that dancing of any kind, and especially belly dancing, would harm their baby. But awareness about its benefits has increased.

Any woman who has entered the second trimester can belly dance provided she does not suffer from complications such as preeclampsia, low-lying placenta or a history of premature labour, say instructors.No shimmy, no pain The belly dance taught to pregnant women is different from what we see in movies and nightclubs. It is softer, more cradle-like, not hard-hitting. Moves like the shimmy (wriggling of the entire body) and undulations (making waves from the pelvis) are a complete no-no for expectant moms. The classes focus on chest and shoulder moves as well as gentle `hip circles’ and `figure 8s’.

Instructors say regular belly dancing helps alleviate back and leg pains that are common during pregnancy as it improves posture and relaxes muscles.

Thane resident Fency Maru who took private lessons says she has not experienced any aches despite entering her seventh month. Belly dancing for 20-30 minutes daily since the beginning of my fifth month. Dancing the baby out Practitioners say belly dancing strengthens the pelvic and abdominal muscles which are exerted during birth. “During delivery , the baby doesn’t just slide out of the mother’s body . It rotates and moves down much like a corkscrew. Belly dancing teaches the woman movements that facilitate this natural process.

If the body is loose, and especially if there’s a sexy feeling throughout the labour, the birthing muscles open like a flower and the powerful hormone cocktail that floods the system is free of adrenaline, which can slow labor. This mother-of-three has uploaded You Tube videos, showing her, literally, dancing her baby out.

Belly dance instructors assert that dancing during labour can help put the baby in the optimal position for delivery .However, senior gynaecologists are not convinced by such claims. Like any other physical activity , belly dancing may be beneficial in keeping the expectant mother fit.But we need studies to prove its safety during pregnancy and show whether it can truly lessen the trauma of labour, the women say the class helps them feel good about their changing bodies. When the instructor shows them to thrust their chests in and out, as she calls out “tak, tak“, many burst into giggles.


Practitioners say belly dance had originated as a dance of fertility and childbirth, not seduction. Centuries ago, girls in the Middle East were taught the dance at puberty to prepare their body for the rigours of pregnancy. When a woman was in labour, fellow tribeswomen would gather around her and dance, encouraging her to mimic their moves in order to reduce the pain of contractions and speed up the delivery.