It’s official! Belly Dance improves body image!

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.

Jade Mirage's Ashwara

Ashwara proving you can be stunning at any age!

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).

Jade Belly Dance tribal

Can you believe some of these lovely ladies were hesitant about showing their tummies?? But they got over it and did a stellar performance.

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!


Myself and Kristy Pursch (awesome local swing dancer) and Ramona Lobo chillin’ Utopian Dream Festival 2011.

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

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..

What I learnt from my biggest belly dance performance fails…

Getting a belly dance veil wrapped around your hand so its like a club you can’t get rid of, having your one of your zills swing around to the other side of your finger, making a mistake in a group choreography. Are these my biggest performance fails????– No. When I think back through all my performances I am happy to say that there have been no occasions where my on stage actions were serious enough to consider epic fails or true fails at all. I have usually managed to cover quite well for small errors and have finished feeling very pleased with myself for not panicking and handling the unforseen situation.

No, on reflection my biggest fails regarding performance have occurred off stage.

It’s what I say after my dancing that has given me the most cause for regret.

cute buny

Fails aren't fails if you learn from them...

This mistake I made quite a bit when I first began performing –

Audience member: “Wow, what a great performance, I loved how you danced”.

Me: “Thanks, but I really am not happy with how I did (blah, blah) move/dance.

     or “I can do better”

     or “The sound was terrible I could hardly hear it”.  Etc, etc.

Talk about totally ruining the moment!!

Here is a fan enthusiastic enough to approach me and say something nice and I would take the wind out of their sails! Being a perfectionist, I often run over what I did after each performance and what I could improve upon or try differently next time. But what I have learnt is that while internal dialogue can help improve one’s dancing (if you keep it constructive and positive)– it should stay internal! Don’t share it with the audience. If someone really loved what they saw, pointing out everything that could have been better is akin to saying “you have no taste”. Next time they want to compliment you or other performers, they might hesitate and choose not to. It’s particularly a big deal for someone to offer praise in Australia. Our culture is very much against tall poppies. People (particularly in country areas) may love what you do but feel anything more than a friendly nod or smile would be inappropriate, they don’t want you to get a big head and think that you should know if you were good – no need to say anything more. We need to cultivate those willing to break with tradition! So years ago I made a point of saying “Thank you very much” when complimented. I feel better, they feel better.

Don’t tear yourself down. – Lesson Learnt

My second biggest fail is on a similar theme. I am still so annoyed with myself because I have managed it more than once. A few times, I have unexpectedly found myself either on-stage at an event or on panels of choreographers being asked questions regarding dance. This is when you are supposed to answer the questions in a succinct and preferably funny manner and try sell yourself a bit. Boy have I struggled with this! I prepare for performances but didn’t realise its worth preparing for this too! While other dancers were glibly mentioning their credentials and places they had danced, I managed to NOT mention that I had been studying Middle Eastern dance for 13 years, that I had taken workshops with some of the best and brightest dancers and that I had travelled to Egypt to further my study!  WTF I did say I have no idea but I managed to sound like a country hick.

Jade Belly Dance with veil

I think I will go hide in this corner now...

So embarrassing!

Another time I managed to mention something about getting drunk!!! I am a tea-totaller, I rarely go anywhere near alcohol but somehow managed to infer that I like to hit the bottle!!! Where those lines came from I have no idea but let’s just say I came off in a less than optimal fashion.

The lesson?? Write down a few key points about yourself, what you love about your style and why you dance – you never know when someone will call on your expertise and you don’t want to ruin an excellent performance with sub-par remarks.

Can you relate? Any epic fails you would like to share?  Please comment below 🙂

Before you go, as a bit of a pick me up have a look at this short clip of famous failures. It seems many people ‘fail’ before they succeed.

I would like to thank Nichelle from Dance Advantage for suggesting this topic.

I would love to belly dance but….

If I had a dollar for every time I heard this!! I  have written previously about body image but now realise that that is not the whole story.

So many woman approach me and tell me why they can’t belly dance – since I am not advertising at the time I can only assume it is because they secretly like the idea but really think they can’t. Today for instance I heard, ‘I can’t because I don’t have a good sense of rhythm’. Well if you don’t dance or play music where are you going to get one from?? Everyone starts somewhere and its usually not perfectly executed in time to the music! In fact there is only one person I can think of in 12 years of dancing that really did not ever get a sense of rhythm eventually – was she wasting her time?  She was so upbeat and uplifting and when music was played without a beat – she became a goddess! She soared and all those dance moves that were a little jerky when she tried to hit the beat became fluid and magical. She danced her style and was magnificent.

Last week at the end of Travers Ross’s  hip hop class  he was telling his students to ’embrace their unco-ness’. He said ‘no one can dance like you as well as you can!’ He went on to say that it wasn’t until he found his own style (& danced like he had a carrot up his arse..his words, lol!) that he became famous and went on to do things like choreograph for So You Think You Can Dance.

World belly dance day bellingen nsw jade and maeve

It's all about having fun and growing!

This applies to Belly dance too. ‘I would dance if I was as tall and graceful as you..’ – is another style of comment I hear so often and I am shocked. I once felt this way too though. I thought I would never be a great dancer unless I looked more like my teacher. She was medium height, busty and hourglass shaped. I thought I looked like a big, gangly uncoordinated dork next to her. To start with I fell over in turns, I struggled with steps, I even cried a few times but I kept working at it and I got better. Now people think they can’t belly dance because they don’t look like me! It’s not about dancing like me, you will dance like you because that is who you are. Belly dance is a wonderful style to learn because you can be any shape or size or age and still have a great time.

So if you start to think I can’t because…. (I am not great at moving my hips, I don’t want to perform, my belly is too big or too small, my rhythm is not perfect, I’m too old, etc)… consider who are you comparing yourself to. In the beginning everyone feels a little unco and it takes time to learn and refine your moves but eventually you get to embrace your own unique way of moving and being. You won’t be too anything to dance because your style will suit you perfectly.

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