The Exercise That Makes You Feel Amazing About Yourself

Korin Miller
Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

It’s no wonder why most women who try belly dancing get really, really into it: Not only is it one sexy skill, but it’s also an impossibly fun way to burn calories, and we all know how rare it is to find a fitness routine that’s actually enjoyable. If that alone isn’t enough to convince you to give it a chance, we assure you that the pros of belly dancing don’t end there. According to a new study, belly dancing can also be key in helping you cultivate a better body image than ever before.

Researchers from Australia’s Flinders University had groups of belly dancers and non-belly dancers weigh in on their own perceived body image, how they believe others view their bodies, and the type of attention they attract from men. Their findings? On the whole, belly dancers are more satisfied with their appearances, have fewer self-objectifying thoughts, and care less about what others think about their bodies than those who don’t partake in the cult favorite activity.

We found it interesting that most belly dancers said the sexiness aspect of the exercise only played a minor factor in why they enjoy doing it. Belly dance instructor Samira Shuruk, however, isn’t surprised. She says that belly dancing focuses on how you can utilize your body to create movement—and that, in fact, a few inches of extra body fat can be an asset. “It’s very accepting of all body types,” she says of the practice. Shuruk points out that great instructors also stress just how important body confidence is in being a good dancer: If you feel good about yourself, it will come across in your movements.

According to clinical psychologist Ben G. Adams, Ph.D, the performance component of belly dancing can also serve to help boost body image. Dressing up in gorgeous bright, festive garb and dancing in front of other people is an extremely powerful way to show that you’re confident in your body, he says. And if you feel a little shy at first, use the old adage of faking it ’til you make it—eventually (perhaps sooner than you realize), the confidence will follow.

Want to give it a go? Crank up the music at home and try a few—or all—of these moves. If you enjoy them, check out a belly dancing class near you to reap the body image benefits to their full potential.

Hip Swivels
Stand with your feet hip-width apart with your arms lifted. Lower your elbows and keep your wrists lifted. Swivel one hipbone toward the opposite hip. When your hip goes as far as it can, pull it back while swiveling the opposite hip toward the other in a fluid motion. Repeat the motion while keeping with the beat.

Hip Lifts
Stand with your feet hip-width apart with your arms lifted. Bend your knees slightly. “Lift” your right hip by straightening your right leg while keeping your left leg bent. Bend your right leg back down and then straighten your left leg. Repeat, keeping your heels on the ground the entire time. Start slow and work your way up to a shimmy.

Shoulder Isolations
Reach your arms straight out to the side so that they’re level with your shoulders. Drop your shoulders down in the back, pulling your shoulder blades together. Drop your elbows down, keeping your wrists lifted, and push your right shoulder forward while your left shoulder falls back. Then, slide your right shoulder back and push your left shoulder forward. Repeat in time with the music.

Belly Roll
Bend your knees, lift your chest, and hold your arms out to the side with your elbows bent and wrists lifted. Contract your abs, making your belly tight. Then, push out your upper abs and push out your lower abs afterward. Pull your upper abs in and then pull your lower abs in (it takes a little bit of practice). Once you get the hang of it, make it all one fluid motion.

Read more: 8 Awesome Home Fitness Hacks to Get Your Body Moving