Belly dance has a long but largely undocumented history as a birth dance, a pregnancy dance and a rite of passage. Originating in the Middle East and dating back thousands of years, belly dance was practiced primarily in the private realm of the women’s quarters.
Girls were taught a pelvic-centered dance during the puberty rites that followed their first menstruation. Women practiced these dances with the girls to tone the girls' bodies and prepare them for pregnancy, birth, and the healing that followed. Belly dancing was an enjoyable bonding experience for women and girls.
Women would gather around the laboring mother to dance, encouraging the mother to imitate their movements. The dancing women would alter their movements to correspond with each stage of labor. There were dance movements to lessen the pain of an intense contraction, dance movements to help the mother focus, and dance movements to encourage the baby downward into the birth canal.
Practicing dance movements during labor helped the mother to relax. The women dancing around her also encouraged the laboring mother to remain calm and focused. Relaxing her body and remaining focused, the mother was able to minimize pain, discomfort and damage to her own body as she gave birth to her baby.
Belly dancing to prepare for giving birth provided an exceptional benefit overlooked by modern medicine. Practicing the dance before and during pregnancy toned and strengthened the abdominal muscles and facilitated coordination of the muscles needed to give birth. This practice eased the natural birthing experience.
The practice of traditional birth dance began to disappear as westernized medicine became prevalent in the Middle East. A fortunate western belly dancer named Morocco (full name: Carolina Varga Dinicu) witnessed a traditional belly dance birth in 1967. Here is her remarkable and inspiring account of the dance of birth.
During labor, you probably will not be surrounded by a circle of loving female relatives and friends encouraging you to “dance the baby out.” But why let that stop you from enjoying the benefits this historical birthing tradition provides? You can reduce pain and discomfort during pregnancy and birth by learning and practicing the age-old and intuitive motions of birth belly dance.