Swivel Your Hips, Shake Your Belly

Vol. 9, No. 2
Jan. 11-17, 2001
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And Other Playful Strategies to Stop Personal Sprawl

by Jennifer A. Dawicki

Patricia Wilcoxon teaches and studies belly dancing for fun and fitness.

Draw a figure eight on this page. Turn it horizontally. Imagine your hips following the guideline you created. Okay: Maybe your figure eight needs to be a bit bigger.

Now, swallow your inhibitions and slink into the curves of the figure. Join Patricia Wilcoxon, a Severna Park massage therapist tenured in many forms of dance, as she swivels her hips through the sands of time in her hour-long belly dancing class. Shake your belly in celebration of an age when sumptuous movement of a woman's body was an instrument of survival. These days, belly dancing is exercise at its sexiest.

The figure eight, the prime motion of the belly dance, flows through Wilcoxon's small, powerful hips with ease and mastery. Pretty poised fingers enhance the fluid motion of her arms, which undulate in sync with her swirling hips. The clan of women before her moves with measured caution - in front of floor-to-ceiling mirrors - at the notion of wriggling their hips in the path of a figure eight.

Slowly rock one hip upward, gradually letting it fall back into place and, with the help of gravity, push it a bit below its normal resting spot. Accentuate the second curve of the figure eight and come through the middle of your body. Control this awkward motion by tensing your abdominal muscles. Reach deep to harness that unused pelvic strength.

Remember, I had to take a class to learn how to do this, and I have to roll my hips again to get it as I write. Still, just writing about this motion is a delicate art. Performing the belly dance is, as you can imagine, hedonistic.

Continue to bring the motion through your body and gently lift your other hip. Look at your figure eight and notice the fluid motion, the unending loop around which your hip is making its way. Let your hip drop slowly, again, just below your waistline and isolate your abdominal.

Now, gather all of the broken resolutions, stalled gym memberships and failed attempts to get in shape and shake them vigorously through your hips. Be sure to shake just your hips. Okay, let it all jiggle, and enjoy the giggle.

The Case for Belly Dancing

The fit survive. That's how Patricia Wilcoxon explains the origin of belly dancing. "Primitive women might have noticed that by moving in a certain way, she attracted the mate she wanted," Wilcoxon explains to her belly-dancing protégés.

The millennial revival of belly dancing is more about fitness than survival. "This is a beautiful, rich, layered dance that is offered to a lot of people who can enjoy it without being viewed as a sex object," says Wilcoxon of her new passion. Studying the dance for the past year and teaching it at Big Vanilla in Arnold, Sport Fit in Severna Park and Severna Park Racquetball & Fitness Club, Wilcoxon has become the local expert. "In a world where women try to manufacture themselves," she says, "belly dancing embraces all body forms without redefining them."

In teaching, she has taken a cue from her own instructor, Latifa, who holds a Master of Arts in Arab Studies from Georgetown University and teaches at Miss Jane's Dance Studio in Annapolis: "While it is important to learn proper technique, it's also important to enjoy the learning process."

Claudia Carle, of Pasadena, is enjoying the process. Baring her midriff and donning a sheer aqua skirt trimmed in gold, Carle swirls her hips to the beat of the music, keeping time with finger cymbals. Her smile sets the scene of her thoughts. "It is a dream for me to be dancing. Belly dancing makes me feel like a woman. I can completely lose myself, as if I were in the deserts of Israel, my childhood home."

As Carle and her sister students move through the dance's signature spirals, undulations and circular body moves, they're unwittingly achieving muscle control that, in turn, triggers the benefits of muscular flexibility. "Isolating areas of the body with shoulder rolls and hip circles requires incredible coordination and muscle control," says Wilcoxon of the dance she teaches for fun, fitness and femininity.

Wilcoxon has toned down the pace of the class concentrating on hip and pelvic gyrations and graceful hand and arm motions over floor work. Still, the mental concentration necessary to contract muscles that are not often used is an exercise in itself. Every move increases body awareness. The constant motion of the pelvic region torques the abdominal rectus abdominus and the external obliques. The hips, tensor fasciae latae, and the lower back, latissimus dorsi, are also working hard, accompanied by 640 skeletal muscles that help attach bone to joints.

"I consider it a dance class," says Joy Sim of Millersville, "but after the first class, my whole body was sore, down to my toes."

Belly dancing involves every major muscle group in the body. Breaking the mold of linear exercise - for example sit-ups - belly dancing's circular motion promotes the circulation of blood, in turn enhancing flexibility.

The frequent low-impact contraction of muscles improves posture, burns calories and in turn reduces stress and prevents disease.

Thus an age-old custom lends Chesapeake Country a fun, sexy way to get off your butt and shake your bootie.

But is it exercise?

Find out for yourself at Wilcoxen's on-going class at Big Vanilla the second and fourth Sundays of each month. More Info? 410/544-2525, 1209 Rt. 2, Arnold. www.bigvanilla.com: $10.

Latifa teaches "Funky Egyptian" dances Sun. Jan 21 from 2-5pm at Miss Jane's Dance Studio, 2240 Bayridge, Eastport: 410/432-6120: $30.

The Case for Shaking Your Bootie

Exercise demands working your cardiovascular system vigorously. It's bodily exertion. Exertion, that's the key word here, and you'll find it a mere eight words away from the word exercise in the dictionary. For exertion to move closer to exercise, you've got to sustain it for at least 30 minutes. And for optimal results, you've got to do that at least three times a week.

You'd have to swirl a lot of figure eights to get rigorous exercise.

Not that rigor is in style nowadays. There's too much - or too little - else to do. Much of our short time on this earth is spent plopped in front of inanimate objects: desk, computer, television or - my personal favorite - the counter at the diner. Most of us are still searching for an extra hour in the day. That hard-to-find hour that will help solve half of our problems - and help us feel better about ourselves while we do it.

If we could just squeeze in that magical hour of exercise in one of the remaining 23, we could check one vital item off our unending lists.

Like the figure eight of the belly dancer's hips, we may slip and wiggle through a curvy fitness routine over the year. Sliding through most days, weeks and months on mystifying amounts of almost fast food, we may wiggle out for a walk, jog or stroll to our favorite restaurant. Mostly we wiggle into a favorite pair of jeans.

Maybe the reason we don't exercise as much as we should is because the fun has faded.

When we were kids, most of us didn't need to be forced to exercise. We didn't ask to go outside and exercise. We asked, "Mom, can I go outside and play?"

Most of the things we did for fun as kids also gave us a great cardiovascular workout. You had to run to play tag, kickball or navigating the woods playing army. Hide-and-seek. Remember spud, dodge ball and pick-up games of basketball? All of these fun frolics are post-it notes in our scrapbook of childhood. If we could play like this again, exercise paired with fun could help stop personal sprawl.

Nobody can put the fun in exercise better than the guy who, day in and day out, persuades kids to have fun. Little do those children know - or care - how much exercise they are getting.

In the three and a half years Annapolitan Mitchell David has taught physical education, he has almost mastered the minds that romp in his gymnasiums at Mt. Harmony and Huntingtown elementary schools in Calvert County.

"It gets harder to help children stay interested in exercise the older they get. Adults get complacent with themselves and lose sight of their goal," says David.

"The little kids do not even realize they are exercising. The middle school kids need something to stimulate their interest. High school kids just want to pass the class and move on."

Simple games at the elementary level teach motor skills while incorporating cardiovascular exercise. You're Safe keeps the kids buzzing as the teacher calls out the criteria. You're safe if you touch your toes. You're safe if you put your hands on your hamstrings. You're safe if you find a partner and make a circle with your bodies.

It seems so simple. "The elementary kids are always excited about everything," says David.

As they're excited about playing the statue game. Half of the kids have to be still as a statue, while the rest mingle about the museum of fellow students. Hopping, skipping and galloping around - as the leaders choose - they are exercising while gaining a sense of where they fit in the museum.

No matter how you play at exercise, a rigorous workout at least three times a week will activate your muscles to burn calories and fat. That's the aerobic you need to keep from gaining weight and to keep your muscles in tone as well as what you need to lose any weight.

By reducing stress, exercise also helps prevent disease.

"For optimal results, pair aerobic exercise with resistance work or a weightlifting regime," David advises. That's how you keep your body young and your spirit free.

If fun isn't motivation enough, try swallowing these statistics - though they might be hard to digest.

· 61 percent of US adults are either overweight or obese.

· One-third of children are obese.

· Only one in 10 Americans exercise for 30 minutes or more every day.

More info? Check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention on the web: www.cdc.gov.

Playing at Exercise

If belly dancing isn't the exercise for you, keep reading. Here are three other ways to get your resting heart rate up - while turning exercise back into play. With each of the following playful exercises, you not only gain the flexibility of belly dancing but also get the benefits of a more rigorous workout.

Jumping Rope

Have rope, will travel. Anywhere, anytime. No training wheels needed. Remember the days of Double Dutch? With the two ropes of Double Dutch or a single rope slapping ground, just quick, there's plenty of springing going on to stimulate the calves and quads. Keep it up for 20 minutes, and you'll get a thorough cardiovascular workout. Find your jump rope and some open space or a matted area in your local fitness center.

For kids, the American Heart Association promotes physical fun with making a contribution to the community. Usually in celebration of heart month in February, school children get sponsors - and agile parents - and jump marathons to raise money for heart health.

More Info? American Heart Association: 800-aha usa! · www.americanheart.org,

Major muscles used: Biceps (Biceps brachi), shoulder (deltoid), quads (quadriceps femoris), shin (tibialis anterior).

Convenient, kid-friendly, community-oriented.


The original 65-minute dance-based aerobics class pairs fun and easy-to-follow choreography set to a variety of musical styles. Stretching and warmup will get you ready to jazz your way to health as you strengthen and tone with floor work and aerobics. Remember leg warmers and leotards. Dig them out of storage and get ready to sweat.

Change your scenery and get up on the latest classes being offered at your local fitness center. Show up 15 minutes prior, and sign your name on the dotted line. Pick a class and try it out.

More Info? Find the original jazz class at Annapolis Jazzercise Fitness Center: 410/268-4822: 1916 Forest Drive, Annapolis · physical.com.

Premiere Health and Fitness in Annapolis has a popular cardio-kickboxing class that works the entire body and includes weight training. Remember the Rockettes with this high-kicking workout. More Info? 410/266-3366: 2006 Industrial Drive, Annapolis · www.premiere.com.

Gold's Gym, the Arundel Mills of fitness centers, has plenty to offer including three locations within 50 miles of Bay Weekly offices. Tae Bo, spinning, power yoga class and a total body toning class round out the offerings of a place that brings back the days of the playground. Gold's is a playground for the weight lifter, with mounds of equipment surrounding mats for stretching.

More Info? 410/295-0893. 1127 West Street, Annapolis. www.goldsgym.com.

Major muscles used: Depends on choice of exercise.

Indoor, Accessible, usually $6/class.

Ice Skating

Remember when you would stay on the ice until you couldn't feel your toes? Gliding on ice rinks may warm you up with sweet memories while exercise warms the tissues of your quads, which do the work of pushing and distributing all of your weight. For a more vigorous workout, pump your arms and you'll increase the cardiovascular intensity.

Make plans before the ice melts and you won't get stuck in the slush.

Quiet Waters: Until the Spring Thaw, glide over to Quiet Waters Park's ice rink, open for all the holidays except Thanksgiving & Christmas. Weather dependent. 3-9pm MWThF; 10-9 SaSu & holidays @ Quiet Waters Park Ice Rink, Annapolis. $4 w/discounts; $2 skate rental: 410/222-1777.

Inner Harbor Ice Rink overlooks Baltimore's Inner Harbor. At $5 admission and $2 skate rental, you get a cheap workout with a view. Call for daily hours. More info: 410/385-0675.

Naval Academy Ice Rink at Dahlgren Hall is still holding public sessions until Mon, Jan. 15. Hours are 1/12 11am-1pm; 7:30-10pm · 1/13, 7:30-10pm · 1/14 5:30-8pm · 1/15 11am-1pm & 7:15-9pm. More info? 410/263-4527.

Major muscles used: Quads (quadriceps femoris).

Outdoor, Accessible, Inexpensive, Family Friendly.

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Bay Weekly