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Belly Dancing Exercises, 1-4

by Delilah

In these exercises we will be referencing many things. The goal is to work in a fluid exploratory manner. We are referencing the Transaxial pattern pieces as if they are parts of your body. Jump back and forth from the model to your body whenever you like.

The pattern = the form, symbol, shape or design

The paper = the imagined plane or medium you are attending

The pencil point = the point through which your mind is concentrating its dynamic attention

The Transaxial Model = a tool to illustrate the alignment and objectives in constructing the movement

Your physical body = the living medium of communication for the dance move.
We are starting with some of the easiest moves in belly dance first to understand how our Transaxial model can be applied to bring greater understanding to the dance. The Transaxial method will help teachers and students understand how the weight changes and shifts in the body and feet. Remind yourself to focus on your breath from time to time. This will help you strengthen your right brain concentration and avoid getting caught up in the left brain mechanical side of the model.

Engaging your hands in the learning process is an important ingredient to strengthen your mind-body connection. Sometimes you may need to just point your finger in the air and draw the shape in space. Sometimes you may need to draw it on paper with a pencil and actually see the lines and how they interact. Explore the exercises in relationship to the other Transaxial levels: feet, belly, ribcage, head. As you push the pattern pieces around on the map with your fingers, you should be able to feel how you will translate the weight changes and body stretches in relationship to the other levels. This will be a visceral and kinetic experience for the student. Once you get the hang of these physical, mental, and artistic associations in right brain harmony with the basic alignment principles, you’ll be able to create and dissect all sorts of future belly dance moves.

IMPORTANT: Even if you already know the move, do all exercises slowly and in order, so you can learn to use the model on more difficult movements. Tackle each exercise one at a time. The first exercises will introduce concepts, the later ones may assume you already know those basic concepts.

Using this model, Delilah and her assistants developed new movement combinations, resulting in an improved execution and understanding of belly dance .

Exercises 1-4

LESSON ONE: Similar but different movements

  • Hip Circle and a Half
  • Half Circle and a Loop

LESSON TWO: Figure eights or the infinity sign

  • Forward
  • Backward
  • Floating Figure 8


FIRST LESSON; Similar but different movements

You should be familiar with the basic hip circle as presented in “Mapping the Internal Realms”, with the crossroads and clock face exercises. Try recognizing some of these patterns on our Dance Map Puzzle.

#1a Hip Circle and a Half PTF

Start: Basic alignment.
Core: All levels are lined up over the core pole. Using your Transaxial model first, line up the center core of piece B (hips) over the center core of the dance map. You will keep the center front arrow forward. All the other levels (feet, ribcage, head) are going to stay lined up with the center pole, even though the hip level will be moving out of alignment.

Begin: Slide the core point of piece B to 9:00. Focus your pencil point through the core point of the hip level and trace a comfortable size circle around the core pole .
Design: Start clockwise, 1 1/2 times in this order – 9:00 to 12:00 to 3:00 to 6:00 to 9:00 to 12:00 to 3:00, rest a beat, then follow in reverse order 1 1/2 times – 3:00 to 12:00 to 9:00 to 6:00 to 3:00 to 12:00 to 9:00 rest. Repeat back and forth.

#1b Half circle and a loop PTF

Start: The same as above
Core: Move your center core at the hip level to 9:00. Draw the pattern similarly, except the rotation of the loop is in front of the core pole and the entire movement is done in front of the plane that runs right to left (I like to call it the side seam demarcation).
Design: The two ends of the pattern stop and start at 9:00 and 3:00.

Study: After examining these two movements with the Transaxial model stand up and draw it with your body. Whether drawing with you pencil, your finger, your pattern piece, or your body, notice the rhythm contained within the design.
Feet: The weight will shift from one foot to the other intuitively.

Extra: Keep the knees bent so you have lots of slack to use in the movement. Your feet will gradually exchange weight as part of the rotation. Keep your sternum and head levels lined up over the center core, facing forward. The chin and eyes look out and straight ahead. Do not look down at your hips. To help keep the movement isolated at the hip level, use a mirror or visualize your body’s alignment.

Challenging Exercise #1c, Change the planes

PTFW: Challenge yourself by changing the plane in your mind. Focus the pencil point through the core of your body and explore drawing the patterns parallel to the front wall.
PTSW: Try dancing it parallel to the side walls.

Challenging Exercise #1d, Use the hips individually

Explore drawing the pattern on each of the planes with one hip, by focusing the pencil point through the hip points referenced by the diamond points on pattern piece B, the hips.

Challenge Exercise #1e, Use other areas in the body

Now explore drawing the patterns with the core center of piece D, the ribcage, while keeping the head and hips aligned over center. Next, try initiating the two patterns, with the side reference “dart points” indicated on the ribcage pattern piece D.
In using the ribcage be sure to develop the back half of a circle.

SECOND LESSON: Figure eights or the infinity sign

Exercise #2a Forward Figure 8, PTF

Transaxial Model: First, place piece B over the center core. Line up the two “Diamond Points” on the figure 8 pattern so the center front arrow faces the left corner of the Dance Map. With the left Diamond Point, trace the left loop of the figure 8 until the left Diamond point is at the right corner of the dance map. Your pencil point focus is on the left hip. Now, send the emphasis through the intersection of the 8, crossing the core to the right Diamond Point at the right rear corner of the map. Now trace the right loop of the 8 around to the front, so the center arrow points to the left corner of the Dance Map, where you began. Slowly and smoothly repeat the figure over and over again. As you continue, notice the core is tracing a smaller figure eight close to the center. As you gain control of the shaping of the figure eight you can bring your hipbone completely under the ribcage at core center.

Feet: When you translate this movement into your body, you’ll be on the balls of your feet, with heels slightly raised, knees bent. You will notice that your weight is greater on the side that is drawing the loop. Although weighted, your feet, ankles and knees will gently twist and turn under the movement of the hips. As the weight is exchanged through the crossroad of the 8, the tension stays strong.

Waistline: Your face and sternum should be toward 12:00 as much as possible. Resist the inclination to twist the upper body along with the hips. You want to isolate just the hips so the upper body is working hard to hold its position as best it can. The 8 should stay parallel to the floor. Resist lifting the hips. Notice that the energy of the move is drawn forward and in, toward your navel. This is good for the waist line.

Exercise #2b Backward Figure 8, PTF

This is the Forward Figure 8 in the reverse direction.

Start: Line up your hips or pattern piece B as described in the above exercise. Start with the right diamond point. Draw the figure eight in the reverse direction from the above exercise.
Design: The energy is moving outward from the navel around toward the back, through the center of the eight and into the left hip, where it draws the other loop .
Feet: Your weight is on your heels instead of on the balls of your feet. Allow the front part of the feet to rotate outward as you trace the figure 8.

Exercise #2c Floating Figure 8, PTF

While we are going to do a lot with our feet in this move, the emphasis is still on the hips. Keep your ribcage and head aligned with your core as much as possible.

Transaxial model: You’ll be using pieces A (feet), B (hips), C (belly) and D (ribcage). Place pieces A and B on the Dance Map, aligning the core at center in such a way that the center front arrow faces the right back diagonal — a definite tummy twister.
Design: Trace a small forward figure 8 with the center core point of both pieces. Notice how the hips twist and turn to sculpt the pattern PTF.
Feet: The feet move in a “choo choo” shuffle step, also tracing the figure eight pattern.
Advice: Strive to keep the ribcage and the head lined up on the pole facing center front. However, piece C, the belly, is caught in the middle of the two forces, creating a transition zone between the two objectives – a figure eight in the lower body and stillness in the upper body.
Arms: Utilize your arms to help brace your ribcage and head. Keep in mind the steps of the feet are small underneath the figure eight.
Traveling: You can do this in place or start to meander the figure eight pattern around a bit for a traveling step.

Exercise #2d Outward Figure Eight (Maya)

The outward figure 8 calls for both strength and balance. A light hold on a chair back may help at the beginning. Many people prefer to specify that a “Maya” keeps the heels firmly on the ground. However, allowing the heels to float increases the articulation and is equally beautiful.

Design: Maya is a figure eight drawn parallel to the front wall. Draw one loop and then the other while keeping your rib cage over core pole and resist changing height.
Start: Basic alignment

  1. Lift the right hipbone as high as you can into the ribcage without letting the ribs move away from it. As a result, the left hip will drop down toward the ground.
  2. The right hipbone will describe the loop of the figure 8 by curving up, out to the side, down and tucking under. Simultaneously, the left hipbone lifts into the ribcage (don’t let the ribs move away from it).
  3. During the transition, the pencil-point focus moves from the right hipbone, though the core, and up into the left hip.
  4. The left hip will now draw the outward loop of the figure 8. The ribcage stays level, aligned with the core, and the dancer’s head does not change height. Use the arms to help brace the ribcage against tilting to the side.

Knees and Ankles: Deeply bent, to draw the pattern.
Advice: Articulation of the lower curves of the 8 is what makes this move exotic and beautiful. Feel the stretch of the waist muscles as you extend each hip outward and down.

Exercise #2e Inward Figure Eight

The inward 8 is the reverse of the outward 8 or Maya.

Arms: Challenges for Eights

When you feel comfortable with these moves, add your arms.

  • Forward figure 8 — reach out to the diagonal as the hip is extending forward. Grasp an imaginary rope and pull it inward as the hip draws in.

  • Backward figure 8 uses a wrist rotation with a very different dynamic emphasis. Instead of pulling inward with the whole arm, the fingers press out and back, following the direction of the hip.

  • Floating figure 8 is very busy, you should add only a small fingertip rotation. More arm work would distract from the move.

  • Outward 8 or Maya needs an outward arm movement. The elbows are close to the body and the hands press outward in a circle, with the outer edge echoing the primary move.

  • Inward figure 8 pulls upward and inward, the opposite dynamic from the Maya. The elbows are again close to the waist, with the hands and fingers describing circles inward, toward center, and down.


A Companion to Delilah's Bellydance
Workshop Series,
Volumes I, II, III

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