The key with the belly flutter is to get relaxed and practice. It is a contraction of the muscles that control breathing and not actually the abdominal muscles. Usually these muscles are referred to as the diaphragm. Strictly speaking the diaphragm is actually a set of involuntary muscles (meaning you can not control them) and the muscles you are using are called the intercostal muscles. These muscles, just like any other group of muscles, needs to be stretched and exercised to be effectively used.
This is a simple E how article on how to do the basic belly flutter. Below that are two videos. The first is a short explanation on flutters and the second goes in a bit more depth.
If you are practicing the belly flutter I suggest you start laying down or sitting. Doing this will help you relax you abdominal muscles since you do not need to focus on posture or layering. Also laying down forces your intercostal muscles to work more effectively which can help in isolating and practicing this move. The most important thing about this step is to practice, which I plan on doing as much as possible.
Note: How to stretch you breathing muscles
I learn this one in Drum Corps years back. Stand up straight with you hands clasped over your head. Take a deep breath in and hold it. Take two to three more little sips of air. At this point you should feel full to the brim with air. Now hold the air in and slowly do a side bend stretch. You can do this to each side and if you have enough air, you will be able to stretch the muscles that are used for breathing. I find this is good to do beforehand after practicing the belly flutter. (Warning some times taking in that much air can make you dizzy. Its normal. Just resume breathing regularly and it should pass.)
Ouch… not again. My feet are killing me … again.
This is a common problem for most dancers. Belly dancers are no exception. We like to dancer barefoot or if we are being fancy in painful heels. I have a few great ideas that will help your feet feel better and your whole self in the process.
1. A good soak. I know this is an old fashion idea, but it works. Giving your feet a good soak will do wonders for you whole well-being. I like to use warm to hot (pretty hot, but not burning your feet) water and I like to pamper myself with bath salts and scented soaps. If you have the money invest in one of those expensive foot spas (worth every penny and not as expensive as you think).
2. Loofah/ Scrub – Give your feet a good scrub to get rid of the extra skin and dirt that gets stuck on your feet. I know this is gross, but as dancers our feet can get dirty just from dancing in the classroom. Also scrubing has an added bonus of acting like a short massage for you feet. So get in the shower and scrub, scrub, scrub. Do it every chance you get.
3. Avoid flip flops – I know you’re a dancer and putting on shoes and socks every time you go in and out of class is a pain. I didn’t say avoid sandles, I said avoid flip flops. Flip flops are terrible for your feet. They pull on the muscles and tendons of the foot while giving little to no support. They will hurt your feet over time. I challenge you! Try two weeks with no flip flops. See if it helps.
4. Stretch your Toes: Get those nail polish spacers and stick them in. You can also stick your fingers in between and stretch them (this bothers some people). Wiggle you toes around. You would be amazed how crammed our toes get in shoes all day. Give them some space.
5. Self massage – This is the big one. Its best to use a little lotion or oil to do this. Doing little circles with your thumb, start at the top of the foot and move your way down to the heel. Stop and focus on any knots you feel also spend some time on your heel and arch (big one for dancers). I find that a little massage on the feet goes a long way. I know a few of you out there is thinking, “There is no way I am touching my feet!” Well I suggest you start slow or try using your elbow (no kidding it actually works).
6. (One Extra) Invest in Good Shoes or Arch Supports: Most of the shoes women buy are horrible for the feet. So, I suggest you spend a little extra money, not on the cute shoes but on the shoes that will make you feel better. Good arch support can solve foot pain as well as back and neck pain. I know some of us can’t get rid of our pretty shoes, but maybe we can invest in arch support inserts. They work just as well and help so much.
Try one or try them all. A good dancer takes care of his or herself. So lets not forget our feet.
So one of the most difficult things about belly dance is layering. You need to do the grapevine, while doing snake arms and shimmy (don’t forget to smile). The key to good layering is the dreaded word “practice” and its true. You need to practice, practice, practice. You need to build up muscle memory.
What is muscle memory? When you learning to dance you are teaching your muscles what to do and where to go. Think about the snake arm. The snake arm is a basic belly dance move which is taught in all forms of belly dance. It is a wonderful example for me because it uses so much muscle memory. The basic snake arm is broken down into many parts and when a beginner dancer learns the move, they learn them all. Slowly they speed them up and put them together. The body learns where to move and put the muscles. Over time the student no longer needs to tell the muscles where to go. The muscles have practiced enough that without thinking the body can just put the arm in the right place. Instead of thinking of all the different places to put the arm instead the dancer thinks snake arm. The dancer has acquired the muscle memory for this step.
All dancers use muscle memory when learning steps. It helps to simplify the basic steps so the dancer can focus on learning more difficult techniques. Belly dancers use this ability in a special way when they layer. To layer well a dancer needs to acquire the muscle memory for all the steps separately before they are performed together. It is important that dancer has the full understanding of each step (snake arm, grapevine, shimmy …etc) and can perform them with out much thought. This way the dancer will have the mental space in their head to focus and putting all the steps together.
What should take home from this?
1. Practicing the individual steps (drills) is useful for layering.
2. Do not try to do too much at once or your brain can’t able to handle it and it will show on your body.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice.