8 Essential Stretches for the Bellydancer
So much goes into being your best as a dancer, and an important part of any dancer’s rehearsal must include stretching. Stretching keeps the body supple, reduces the risk of injury, and increases range of motion for a more expansive, fluid performance. The following 8 stretches are extremely valuable for any belly dancer, and can be incorporated into your stretching routine. Best results will come if you use them at least three times a week in conjunction with your other exercises and drills.

1. Active Shoulder Stretch: It takes a lot of strength and flexibility to have beautiful arm movements without allowing your shoulders to ride up into your ears! This stretch builds the muscles in your upper back and uses them to open up your shoulders and chest for beautiful posture and control.

2. Pectoral Stretch: Opening up the chest will free your upper back and shoulders. Tight pectoral muscles are often guilty of pulling your shoulders forward and restricting your arm and neck movement. This stretch works with the shoulder stretch to enable more freedom and movement in your arm work and upper back.

3. Calf Stretch: After all those hours of dancing on demi relevé your calves can get sore and tight! This is a pleasant, relaxing calf stretch that you can feel all the way up into your hamstrings, and it feels delightful both before and after dancing to keep your calves long and strong. All you need is a yoga block, a fat book, a low stair, or some other small object to support the ball of the foot as you stretch.

4. Side Lying Quad Stretch: It’s so important to stretch the quadriceps and hips, but so many of the quad stretches can put pressure on the knees. This is the gentlest of the quad stretches as there is no weight on the knee, but it also really works by isolating the muscle and supporting the joint much better than the traditional standing quad stretch.

5. Active Hip Flexor Stretch: This stretch builds some serious strength in your legs and abs, and uses that strength to open up your hip flexors. Those hip flexors are often tight and cranky, and you need them to be long and flexible to have healthy, impressive backbends, splits, and lunges. Learning how to hold your hips square while you stretch them will help to improve muscle imbalances, increase your hip flexibility, and give you a really strong butt!

6. Standing Lateral Stretch: Belly dancers need a lot of length through the sides of the body for hip work and rib cage isolations. This stretch lengthens the obliques and the outside of the hips while strengthening those muscles for more control in your movements. Long, strong side muscles will also help with your backbends.

7. Kneeling Backbend: Want to do a beautiful layback with your sword on your chin? This is how you train to do it safely and smoothly without putting undue pressure on your lower back. Its easier to work on backbends from your knees and perfect the technique without worrying about pitching over backwards onto your head. If you have pain in your knees, be sure to wear knee pads or find a good squishy mat.

8. Standing Backbend: Its so much fun to wow your audience with a beautiful backbend! With sword, veil, or transitioning into a Turkish Drop, backbends are a wonderful part of the dancer’s repertoire, but without proper support the back can get achey and sore. This backbending technique shows you how to do a standing backbend without putting pressure on your lower back. The strength and control will make your movement appear effortless.

All of these stretches and many more are available on my DVDs:

For the beginner, Bendy Body: A Flex-Stability Workout and taking it to next level, Get Bent: Circus Style Flexibility Training. Both of these DVDs are designed for the active body, to help you achieve your flexibility goals with strength, control, and grace. The music used during this workout is from the CD Desert Chill by DJ Nader.

Kristina Nekyia is a flexibility fitness coach in Los Angeles, California. She has been belly dancing since 1999 when she started performing with tribal fusion pioneers, Ultra Gypsy, until forming her own company The Nekyia in 2004. She is now a circus contortionist, dancer, and Pilates instructor, and she draws on these disciplines to create an effective approach to increasing flexibility. For more flexibility tips and classes visit www.fitandbendy.com