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Belly Dance is a traditional dance form from the Middle East, but if words like erotic, seduction, or harem come to mind, you're not alone. Belly Dance was first brought to the US during the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893 where Sol Bloom first coined the phrase "Belly Dance" with the specific intention of titillating the conservative Victorians of the time. That salacious image he used to promote the Middle Eastern folk dance was a huge success, and his marketing misinformation is still considered fact by many people to this day. In the Middle East, it's called Raks Sharki (the direct English translation is "Oriental Dance") and it's a form of everyday expression that everyone from grandmothers to children do at joyous occasions.

The following article was found on Dr. Weil's website. It was originally published on 7/18/03.

Question: I recently started taking a belly dancing class. I was surprised at how good I feel after the class (which includes stretching and meditation* at the end of each class). Is this a good way to get fit?

Answer: Absolutely! Dancing of any kind is wonderful for your body. Aerobic exercise promotes general fitness, conditions your heart and respiratory system, stimulates immunity and increases stamina. It also tones your nervous system, reduces stress, increases oxygen flow throughout the body and gives you a sense of well being and empowerment. Dancing is one of the best aerobic activities of all because it's upbeat and enjoyable, and provides a thorough workout. In most of the world, belly dancing is called Danse Orientale, or Oriental Dance. It is a form of artistic expression inspired from such varied places as Morocco, Spain, Egypt, even Russia. Contrary to what many Westerners believe, belly dancing did not originate as a seductive dance, but rather as a form of everyday expression. In fact, the role of Oriental dance in Middle Eastern society has been that of a folk dance, which people did at joyous occasions like weddings, births, community festivals, and other events that brought people together. For centuries, it has been a dance that men, women and children did for fun, not a "performance" to entertain an audience. Belly dancing has now emerged as one of the hot new exercise trends according to the American Council on Exercise. It has evolved from traditional forms to heart-pumping workouts seen in gyms across the country. Belly dancing can be soft on the joints and at the same time be highly energetic and work muscles that most people don't use with regular workouts. It's a great opportunity for people to learn about the music and traditions of unfamiliar countries and cultures. It can also give your body a beautiful shape and be an excellent alternative for people who don't like to run, bike or go to the gym.

Andrew Weil, M.D.Copyright 2003 Polaris Health, LLC All material provided on the DrWeil.com Web site is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a physician regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.

*Please note: my classes do end with stretching, but meditation is not a part of my standard classes.