If you’re a pro, you are probably spending all your time and energy practicing only belly dance. But limiting yourself to only raqs sharqi can cease your creativity and even your physical ability. The picture above is actually from my flamenco days about 5 years ago and although I’ve hung up my castanets years ago to focus more on my professional belly dance career, I still use flamenco as inspiration from time to time and I continue to expand my training by doing yoga, Pilates and a variety of other folklore and belly dance classes. Cross training is usually referred to as exercises such as running, swimming, hiking, etc. But throughout this post I am including attending other dance classes as part of cross training.
Here are 6 reasons why you should cross train:
1. Gain more flexibility, stamina & generally improve your movements
Unless you’re already incorporating modern dance or ballet movements into your belly dance practice, you are probably limiting your movements, both in variety and in how much space you actually cover. I remember Mahmoud Reda once said “you perform how you practice. I can tell what type of space students practice in by seeing how they dance on stage.” Take note next time you are practicing and see if your movements tend to match your dance space: are you going only back and forth because you have limited room to move side to side? Along with actually being able to cover the stage more with new movements to add to your repertoire, you will gain the flexibility and stamina from doing other exercises. I personally like doing yoga daily to keep my hamstrings and hips stretched.
2. Inspires creativity & new ideas
If you’re struggling for new & creative ideas for your next piece, you may not be thinking outside the box. You’d be amazed at how many ideas you can get by attending dance classes out of your comfort zone. And I’m not talking about ideas for fusion either, although you could very well do that, too. Taking Flamenco helped me get ideas on how to cover the stage with confidence; Polynesian helped me strengthen my hips and shimmies; Bollywood dance helped me think about quick energetic movements and where to place them within the context of the music. Don’t dismiss a class or exercise just because you don’t see the benefit at first.
3. Develop your own dance theories
Seeing how other dances work can inspire you to move and create in new ways. Moving your body in different ways can change how you look at your own style and push yourself to think about the bigger picture. And don’t worry, even if you claim yourself to be a “belly dance purist”, cross training won’t hurt you. The best dancers are the ones that can grasp the general feeling & essence of the dance and respect of the culture but add their own twist & stylization. You don’t have to dance like Dina to dance Modern Egyptian style and no one wants to see another copycat. Be yourself and find your own voice!
4. Build better body awareness
This is a fun perk of doing other exercises and taking more classes. You can visualize and feel how your body looks and moves the more your practice. Practicing in front of a mirror is great but you won’t always have that luxury (we’ve all been to workshops where there are no mirrors and 50 students are crammed into the same studio). You won’t have to rely on visually seeing yourself to be able to correct your posture, align your hips, etc.
5. Meet other artists
If you’re a professional, your networking and business focus is probably geared toward other belly dancers. But you could be missing out on a wide range of opportunities by not connecting with other artists. And not even just those in the performance arts, you could get the opportunity to connect with photographers, painters, graphic designers, etc. Try to see what other events are going on in your area and support your local art community. And who knows, you could get their support down the line at your next hafla!
6. Improve your overall health
The more you move, the healthier you will be! Of course make sure you are eating enough (and enough of the right nutrients) to accommodate for the extra calories burned and make sure to stay safe. Zerlina Mastin breaks down a dancer’s nutritional needs in her book, Nutrition for the Dancer. Our knees probably take the biggest beating from all the year of dance so make sure to keep them healthy & safe.
Some cross training dances & exercises to consider:
Yoga: great for overall flexibility & strength
Pilates: another great chance to increase strength, especially core strength
Flamenco: amazing for posture and arm movements
Another style of belly dance: (if you dance mostly AmCab, check out an ATS class and vice versa!)
Polynesian Dances: you’ll be amazed at how much sharper your hip locks will get after a few Tahitian dance classes
Ballet: if you’ve never taken ballet as a child, it’s not too late! Check out some adult ballet classes and improve your spins and balance
What’s your favorite cross training exercise? Share in the comment section below!