Christine Olfus, Belly Dancer By Regina Jeter
Q. Tell about how you got started.
My personal journey with belly dance began in 1997 after a friend invited me to attend a dance class at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Hyattsville, MD. Camila Karam, an accomplished North African Dancer and one of the few “black women pioneers” of belly dance in the USA, taught the class. We toned for one hour prior to dancing. The results from this discipline were incredible and almost immediate. My legs, waist and arms benefited greatly. Due to a move from the area, I did not dance for almost 2 1/2 years. However, I ventured back and have continued on until now because this dance form has provided me with internal fulfillment and relaxation.
Q. Please give us some history on belly dancing.
Danse du ventre (French) or the deliberate Western and American term, “Belly Dance” has lead many to believe this exercise is primarily for the stomach when in fact the entire body benefits from it. Raqs Sharki, the Arabic name for one of the oldest dance forms known, predates biblical religious rites worship. Also in ancient times, it was a ceremonial dance honoring women who brought forth life through childbirth. Very few movements like “belly rolls” can be beneficial in preparing for childbirth and as a pain reducer during labor and delivery. Engaging these muscles during this time is a serious matter and should be practiced only after attending a class for this purpose. The benefits from this method are known to alleviate pain, stress and gently bring forth delivery.
Q. Is this exercise primarily for the stomach?
The hip drops, pivots, and rolls work together and not against the muscles in the abdomen, pelvis, trunk, spine and neck. These movements strengthen muscles supporting the skeletal system. Over a short period of time, muscles are toned in the stomach and abdomen and posture improved in the upper torso. Arms and shoulder muscles are toned quickly because an essential element to the dance includes holding the arms aloft, and also from arm lifts, circles and rippling snake arms. The basic posture of the dance tightens the glutes and rear.
Q. How do you encourage people to give this form of exercise a try?
Many people are bored with the typical exercise routines. Dance of any kind can be very exciting. Belly Dance is not only exciting but also therapeutic, fun, feminine and strong! Learning a choreography and executing are fulfilling and brings much joy to the dancer!
Q. What are some of the benefits?
Dance is considered a load bearing exercise because the dancer is on her feet. As with any load bearing exercise, the benefits can prevent osteoporosis by strengthening the bones, toning and providing balance.
Q. What is the technique or form one should have to perform this dance gracefully? (muscle control, fluidity, tightness and tone, etc)
I always tell students to leave their inhibitions and negative thoughts about their body at the curb outside the studio and relax and clear their minds!! Many of the movements involve isolating the upper body (rib cage) while keeping the lower body still. As with most dance forms, having proper body alignment or dance posture greatly helps with executing the movement. If the various movements are executed while not in dance posture, you will work against the muscle group which is quite the opposite of this dance. Belly dance works with the muscles natural flow of movement not against them.
Q. Do you need a certification to teach and where would one get it from?
While you do not need certification to teach, some places do require an exercise certification to teach. In those cases, belly dance instructors obtain an exercise certification and it is great to have. However, in the dance community, you are respected greatly through your style of teaching and mastery of movement as opposed to a certification.
Q. Do you think this form of exercise can prepare you for another, like yoga or pilates? Do you think they may be interrelated?
Yoga, pilates and belly dance are very related. In fact, I try to practice yoga as much as possible because it provides more strength and fluidity to my dance movements. Also, pilates and belly dance both engage and strengthen the core.
Q. What other exercises or fitness activities are you involved in?
Yoga and good ole D.C. hand dancing are the only thing I do for exercise. I may take walks every now and then doing a mile or two. If I could fit in a hip hop class I probably would. I love dancing and find it to be the easiest and joyful form of exercise! I am thankful to God for having the ability to move!
Q. Is there anything you would like to share with us about yourself outside of belly dancing that we really would find interesting?
Yes! I am 53 and a grandmother! My 7 year old granddaughter was blessed this past November with a brother who is my first grandson, AND blessed with another grandson in June! I am also a full-time real estate agent who loves helping people find rentals or purchases. In addition I often work with investors.
Q. Are there any words of encouragement you would like to share with our readers?
Since it is imperative that we engage in some form of physical activity for at least for 30 minutes, 3 to 4 times each week, find you enjoy doing. This way you are more apt to stick with it. Even if you are on bed rest for an extended period, if you can, make circles with your arms, lift your arms, wiggle yours toes, make ankle circles, engage stomach muscles with belly rolls and isolations, and do leg lifts. Do whatever you can and in doing so your body will love you back. Until next time, “Keep It Moving”!
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