Perfecting Your Undulations

Torso undulations are a signature movement of traditional and modern bellydance.  In my method of belly dance instruction, I teach the torso undulation (specifically the upper torso undulation, often called a ‘camel’) as one of the core foundation movements.  In fact, if I had to choose one move as ‘the’ most important in the classic belly dance vocabulary, I would choose the upper torso undulation.

An undulation is a wave motion, a fundamental form of energy found in nature and throughout the universe.  Sound, water, and light move in waves and practicing undulations can entrain our mind and body to the symmetry and power of this universal energy.  On a more mundane level, the undulation is fantastic exercise for the physical body.  It manipulates the spine, vertebrae by vertebrae, in a gentle but thorough manner.  It targets core muscles and works many other muscles between the neck and pelvis.  Because it rhythmically moves and massages the spine and spinal cord, it has both a relaxing and energizing effect on the central nervous system, soothing and empowering your spirit and emotions.  In addition, the undulation is fun to do and is such a gracefully beautiful movement that belly dancers look and feel beautiful performing it.

Most belly dance instructors favor one method or another for teaching the upper torso undulation.  I developed a method in the mid-70’s that has been very successful in helping my students to learn the undulation quickly and easily.  In this approach I have the students first learn the focal point of the move – the vertical ribcage circle.  Once the vertical ribcage circle is accomplished, it’s easy to allow the lower torso to naturally follow the ribcage in opposition, completing the movement (for a more detailed break-down of my method of undulation instruction, go to:  The circular move of the upper torso followed by a similar, but opposite move in the lower torso creates the wave effect that characterizes the essence of a torso undulation.

The instruction that I (or other teachers) give is a basic roadmap to a movement.  Everyone is unique and each student needs to take that roadmap and modify it to her own body type, personality, and belly dance style.  So when I tell a student to create a vertical circle with her ribcage, it doesn’t have to be a perfect 360-degree circle.  For example, on some body types, a ribcage circle that is more oblong vertically, or more oblong horizontally, may look and feel better to that particular individual.  Or a slight change in the positioning of the feet may make an improved motion.  In any event, the basic points of a movement roadmap are very important to follow, but all moves can, and should, be slightly modified for each bellydancer.

To perfect your belly dance movements, it’s important to first follow the roadmap given by a competent belly dance instructor.  After you understand the basic roadmap, you can experiment and polish the belly dance move to best fit your body type and personality.  Once the move feels and looks right on you, you’ve got it mastered for your own personal expression of bellydance.  How perfect is that?

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