How I Learned To Undulate

The torso undulation (often called a ‘camel’) is one of the most important, traditional, and ancient moves in bellydance.  As a beginning belly dance student, I really struggled to learn this move.  However that struggle, while very frustrating, eventually led me to some important lessons and rewards.

I started learning bellydancing in the mid ‘70’s and there was far less information available on bellydance than there is today.  My belly dance instructor had a certain way of teaching the torso undulation, but I simply couldn’t master it using her directions.  I devoured every book written on the subject and still had no luck in being able to do this important basic move.  I also studied with master teachers at various workshops around the country and had no luck with their approaches either (although other dancers were certainly able to learn the undulation from these great instructors).

I’ll never forget the day I finally ‘got it’.  It was about 7 months into my instruction and I was practicing alone at home.  I was dutifully remembering all the instructions I had ever received on the move, but when I looked in my mirror, I saw myself still unable to gracefully undulate my torso.  I was so frustrated I started to cry and finally said, “To heck with this, I’m going to try it my own way!” (Well, I said more than that and the language I used was a lot stronger).

It was at that moment that I decided to empty my mind of all the verbal and written instruction I had so far received and just visualize the move in my mind’s eye and feel it out with my body.  I closed my eyes and imitated the move that I was visualizing in my head.  Lo and behold, when I opened my eyes and looked in the mirror I was doing a beautiful, fluid undulation!  I almost cried again, this time with happiness!

I kept doing the movement for a while to cement it into my muscle memory.  There was no doubt about it  – I had the move.  So then, I decided to figure out just what it was that I was doing and realized that the major component of the torso undulation (specifically, the upper torso undulation) was a vertical circular motion of the ribcage.  By rolling the ribcage in a circle that was vertical to the floor, it forced my lower torso to move in an opposite direction, creating the torso wave that defines the undulation.  I was able to break down the undulation even further and create a simple, but thorough method for mastering it.  (For this breakdown go to my page on  undulation)

When I started teaching belly dance classes in 1976, I used this method to teach the undulation and right from the start it was a great success.  Most of my students were able to ‘get’ the undulation from their very first lesson!  In 1985, I presented this method in my first belly dance instruction video “Bellydance! Magical Motion”.  “Magical Motion” became a national and international bestseller. It was one of the first belly dance videos (and quite possibly the first) to be distributed to the public-at-large by major distribution companies in the U.S. and Europe (even being dubbed and packaged in foreign languages).  It’s been very rewarding to see how many instructors around the world are now using this method for teaching the undulation – all because one day long ago I finally said, “to heck with it, I’m going to try it my way”!

So, perhaps the most important lesson I learned from the frustrating experience I had in learning the undulation is that sometimes you just have to let go of everything the experts tell you and find your own way, trusting your own ability to visualize, feel, and intuit what it is you’re trying to do.  Who knows, by trying it your own way you may even be able to inspire others as well as yourself.  What the heck, it’s worth a try!

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