Last year, Danielle Camilleri from the University of New England conducted a survey investigating the relationships between belly dancing, body appreciation and well-being as a part of her honours thesis in psychology. And now the results are in!
As anyone that writes about belly dance is probably aware – there is so little hard evidence to back up our claims to how great our dance is for the individual.
From discussions and observations with my friends, colleges and students over the years, it was clear to me that belly dance did wonders for a women in terms of her self-esteem, her acceptance of her body and reproductive health. (Sorry guys – I haven’t had enough men in my classes to have formed any opinions about how it impacts on male dancers). But was I operating from an inherently biased position? Was I seeing what I wanted to see?
Apparently not! YAY!!
Danielle collected data from 413 amateur Australian belly dancers aged 18-67 years old via an anonymous online survey. The survey included measures of belly dance experience, body appreciation and four indicators of well-being: life satisfaction, subjective happiness, the presence of life meaning and the search for life meaning.
“Results indicated that belly dance experience was significantly related to body appreciation, (i.e. that the longer women had been belly dancing, the greater their appreciation for their body, regardless of their shape and size).”
Well this certainly was true for me. The longer I danced, the more I realised I was beautiful. I really hadn’t known this at all. When I first started belly dance I could not do it facing the studio mirrors. I was so distressed to see myself reflected in them. I felt I was too tall, with bits that were too small and other bits that were too big – my body appreciation was pretty damn low. My very first teacher, Karen Tollan (who will always be close to my heart for her fabulous insight), recognised my distress and turned the class around so I didn’t have to face the dreaded mirrors! If she hadn’t done that one simple thing 13years ago – I probably would never have danced again. (In future blogs I will tell you more about my unlikely dance journey and how I have overcome some of the challenges that a seriously shy, potential dancer faces – follow my blog either by email see follow button on right or as a wordpress user).
It also seems to be true for my students. Usually their first performances involve them trying their best to find clothing that will cover all of their perceived faulty bits. Curiously, it is some of the best looking women (from a conventional media stereotype perspective) that panic the most. The longer they associate with belly dancers the bolder they seem to get. They seem to forget to hate their stomachs, arms, hips, breasts or whatever and start looking for ways to enhance their looks, love their bodies and make the most of what they have. When you go to belly dance events, one is inundated with women of different shapes and sizes looking glorious and I believe that may be one of the reasons belly dance improves our body appreciation. Once you see a woman look fabulous on stage and then realise that she isn’t super thin or that she has a stretch mark on her stomach, it helps you realise that you don’t have to ‘perfect’ to shine. It is your uniqueness that makes you special.
OK, back to research –
“Body appreciation was also significantly associated with well-being (i.e. indicating that the greater a woman’s appreciation for her body, the greater her self-reported level of well-being).”
“although my research did not find a direct positive relationship between belly dancing and well-being, it seems belly dancing has great potential in increasing the well-being of women, through its effect on increasing women’s body appreciation, regardless of weight or body shape.”
So what does this mean? Here’s my spin on things – Belly dance definitely has a positive impact on a dancers body appreciation and the more you appreciate your body the more likely you are to experience feelings of well being and happiness. If you can wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and are happy with what you see – it’s not a bad start to the day!
Belly dance is not some panacea for all your troubles however and it won’t stop you having bad days (sigh, I wish!). It will however help you accept and love your body more and this in turn seems to build resilience that does impact on your general well-being.
I do wonder if these findings would apply to other dance styles. I think that it probably doesn’t. 18 months ago, when I participated in a series of kick arse Bollywood workshops with Ramona Lobo (choreographer for the Australian version of so you think you can dance), we were trying to get a bit of a costume together and I happened to own several velvet embossed Indian choli tops that I offered the group. It was a part of the Utopian Dream dance festival where dancers from many genres got together for some high level training. I was stunned that some of these gorgeous multi-talented women went into a panic over showing their stomachs in performance!!! Here I was, among some of the best and brightest dancers in the country – fit, young, strong dancers – and they were bigger chickens than my beginner belly dancers!
Also for consideration is the fact that the research was only of Australian belly dancers. It is possible that Aussies foster a different kind of learning environment that facilitates better body appreciation but from my travels I think not. There have been a few exceptions over time but overall most dancers and teachers are overwhelmingly encouraging of women and their bodies whatever their nationality.
Physical well-being and a myriad of other aspects that belly dance could impact upon in a positive way were not assessed in this research. It would be too big a study to try to incorporate everything, so that means there are many other great findings yet to be proven. I was happy to support Danielle in her attempts to contact as many dancers as possible for her research and am happy to do so for any other academic that needs contacts. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will leave you with this little post script :-
P.S. Keep dancing… and most importantly, make sure you appreciate your belly dancing body, regardless of your age, your weight or your body shape… there is now empirical evidence suggesting that it really is good for you!! Kindest regards,
Danielle Camilleri xxx
How about you? Have you stumbled across any great research related to dance?
What benefits have you experienced from Belly dance?
Please comment below..