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Belly Dancing your way through child-birth!!
« on: August 05, 2007, 02:40:35 AM »

New Labor Moves: Belly Dancing Hits Delivery Room
Connection to Childbirth May Have Ancient Origins;
A Shimmy and a Roll
August 4, 2007; Page A1

Helping Jennifer Wright through labor in the delivery room of a Columbia, Mo., birthing center in February were her doctor, her husband -- and her belly-dance instructor.

With the teacher, DeeDee Farris-Folkerts, by her side reminding her of the moves, Ms. Wright stood holding her husband while doing the hip circles and pelvic rotations characteristic of the ancient Arabian dance. She had readied a compact disc with classic Egyptian music, but didn't have a chance to play it before her daughter, Aubrey, emerged.

"I danced my way through labor," says the mother of three, who had been given painkillers and labor-inducing medication during her oldest child's birth and wanted a natural alternative. Her husband, Joe Walls, says he learned that belly dancing "is more than just entertainment. It has a much higher purpose."

These days, alternative techniques to ease labor run the gamut from hypnotherapy to "water births" in a large bathtub. But some women disillusioned with routine use of drugs and medical interventions during labor are turning to an unusual solution -- belly dancing. They're restoring the titillating dance of seduction -- frequent entertainment fare in night clubs and Middle Eastern restaurants -- to what they say were its origins in childbirth, while enhancing maternity wards with swirling motions and mesmerizing music.

Expectant mothers can choose from an increasing array of prenatal belly-dancing classes and educational materials. The first instructional prenatal belly dance DVD in the U.S. was released 16 months ago, with a pregnant dancer named Naia leading the class.

"Most of the women who come to me have given birth before and they want something different," says Ms. Farris-Folkerts, who typically has three to eight pregnant students in her belly-dance courses.

The belly dance arrived in the U.S. in the 1890s, according to belly-dance lore, when impresario Sol Bloom brought an "Algerian" village to the Chicago World's fair and introduced the dancer Little Egypt, who cavorted to improvised snake-charmer music. Incorporating elements of striptease and so-called "hootchie-cootchie" dancing, the belly dance gained its come-hither reputation.

British anthropologist Sheila Kitzinger, author of numerous books on pregnancy, says belly dancing originated as a ritual of childbirth as well as seduction. Among Bedouin Arabs, she says, girls are taught a pelvic dance during puberty to celebrate their budding sexuality and prepare for the physical marathon of childbirth.

Some belly-dance movements mirror those of labor. The idea is that the pelvic gyrations help disperse the pain of contractions, orient the fetus and propel the baby into the world. In early labor, when contractions are relatively mild, the expectant mother may find comfort in dancing slowly and hypnotically, using hip circles, crescents and figure eights. As labor gets more intense, the movements may progress to a rapid rocking of the pelvis from side to side -- a technique known as the shimmy -- to help position the baby correctly and relax the pelvic floor. In the final phase of pushing, a full body undulation known as the camel roll can help the baby move into the birth canal.

A New York dancer who calls herself Morocco popularized the link between dancing and childbirth in the late 1960s with a firsthand account of a birth and dance ritual near Casablanca. Two decades later, a troupe called the Goddess Dancing was formed in greater Boston to celebrate the roots of belly dancing and teach classes to pregnant woman and others

Chris Willow-Schomaker of Missouri taught herself to belly dance from a video before her second son was born at home nearly three years ago. When contractions started coming quickly, she played dance music and did full circles and swings moving her whole belly. "Then I would raise my hands high and tell the baby, 'Down baby down, come on down baby.'" A few hours later, Silas was born.

"The movements that women make when they're belly dancing are the same movements that I am trying to get them to make to bring the baby down," says her doctor, Elizabeth Allemann.

One difference between those who belly-dance on stage and in delivery rooms is belly size. When Stefanie Masters teaches her prenatal class at a maternity clothing store in Brookfield, Wis., she waives her usual dress code for belly-dance students, which calls for exposed bellies. "Thirty to 70 pounds in pregnancy can be pretty emotionally traumatic," she says. "I want the women to feel good about themselves and enjoy the process." Her pregnant pupils do wear hip belts, with tiny dangling coins that "make a beautiful jingly sound when your hips move."

Susan Swearingen, of Waukesha, Wis., says she was transformed after taking her first class from Ms. Masters last year. "My mood, my anxiety lifted," she says. "It helped my posture and my confidence. I felt beautiful when I was dancing."

Ms. Swearingen says she practiced "pretty hard-core belly dancing" in early labor at home. Then, at the hospital, she embarked on shimmies, camel rolls and large pelvic circles, sometimes holding hands with her husband. At one point, she says, the medical log on a computer screen in her hospital room read, "Dancing with Husband."

Madeline McNeely "belly-danced" on all fours when she went into labor at home. "I had to crawl from the bedroom, across the apartment, down the stairs and into the car because I couldn't stand up," says the leadership consultant. "As I was crawling, I was moving my hips, doing the hip circles. That circle feeling made a huge difference."

Cathy Moore, a midwife at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston who also performs with the Goddess Dancing group, is slowly introducing belly-dance techniques to some patients and birth specialists. The vanity plate on her Volkswagen Jetta reads: BELLY.

At a childbirth conference in May in Marlborough, Mass., giggling, suburban nurses struggled to mimic Ms. Moore's rapid-fire body shakes. "Do you feel all those muscles loosening?" called out Ms. Moore, sporting a belly-dance costume of hip-hugging skirt and bejeweled halter top. "Can you see how this helps labor?"

Ms. Moore says she has to tread carefully at the Brigham because for some expectant moms, belly-dancing remains outside the medical mainstream. She also notes that certain movements should be avoided: sharp hip drops and pops, and anything up on the toes. James Greenberg, the hospital's chairman of obstetrics, says he's not sure if belly-dancing offers proven benefits. "But there's certainly no scientific reason to think it's bad, so if it makes you feel good, and it's safe -- do it."

Michelle Maniaci, a belly-dancing teacher who recently moved to Key Biscayne, Fla., says, "the world might not be ready" for pregnant belly dancers. She's launching a prenatal belly-dance class, but plans to advertise her technique simply as: "Birthdance."

"I think the word 'belly' freaks people out," she says.

Write to Rachel Zimmerman at rachel.zimmerman@wsj.com1
Play with heart. Win with class. Lose with dignity
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