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Boost your Body Image with Belly Dance

26 September 2014

As the weather warms up, and we emerge from our cocoons of winter clothing, some of us may be feeling uncomfortable about what is being revealed. Self-consciousness and dissatisfaction with our bodies is rife in modern society, especially for women; and springtime can usher in a wave of insecurity.

Comparing ourselves to others, and especially to the images of supposedly "ideal” bodies perpetrated in the media, can lead to poor self-image, low self-esteem and depression, says psychologist Dr Rachel Bond. But we can combat the problem – and it doesn’t have to be through expensive counselling sessions or intimidating bootcamps. As a teacher at Inspire Bellydance as well as a scientist, Rachel has long believed that this ancient dance form helps women to accept and value their bodies more. "We foster the attitude that belly dance is for every woman – old or young, large or small. It is a celebration of what is beautiful in every woman.”

Now, a study at Flinders University in South Australia has confirmed that women who attend regular belly dancing classes do view themselves more positively. Lead author Dr. Marika Tiggemann recruited 213 young women, roughly half of whom were experienced bellydance students while the others had never danced. They all answered questions about how they felt about their bodies, and how they thought others view their bodies.

Overall, the belly dancers had a more positive self-image and were less dissatisfied with their bodies. This was nothing to do with their actual size (women in both groups were, on average, slightly overweight). "Belly dancing is an activity associated with positive body image, because participants tend to focus less on their external appearance, and more on the experience and what they are able to do with their bodies," says Dr. Tiggemann. "It allows women a rare, safe and creative opportunity for exploring and expressing their sensual and sexual selves."

The findings are no surprise to anyone who participates in belly dancing classes. Students at Inspire Bellydance often report how much the classes have helped them, physically and emotionally. Julie, a mature age student, says "I treasure the day I discovered your classes. No matter how the day has gone dancing always, always makes everything brighter." Felicia, who has gone on to become a teacher herself, early on thanked Rachel for "creating a comfortable, friendly environment in which to learn, giving me great opportunities to perform and to grow and for believing in me so I actually believe in myself."

Of course, belly dance has physical benefits too: it improves strength, flexibility and co-ordination. But the psychological benefits are equally powerful. As the principal teacher at Inspire Bellydance, Rachel believes in creating a nurturing and safe environment for all women. "The goal of the school is to help women to flourish. As they learn to dance, they enjoy moving in beautiful new ways, and come to appreciate their bodies for what they can do. It is a safe and rewarding form of exercise and expression." And above all, as many of the participants in the university study said, it is fun!

Reference:

Belly Dance as an Embodying Activity?: A Test of the Embodiment Model of Positive Body Image, DOI: 10.1007/s11199-014-0408-2, Marika Tiggemann et al., published in Sex Roles, 27 August 2014. Accessed online at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11199-014-0408-2#


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