Safety First! Belly Dancers, Back Bends & Hair Tosses
Do backbends and hair tosses—minus the pain
Youve seen these classic moves from graceful belly dancers: They toss their hair by swinging their heads back and forth. Or they get into these awesome backbends that it almost hurts to look at them. And you’ve probably thought: Does it hurt for them, too?
“Backbends do look great, but I stopped doing them because they do put pressure on your lower back and there could be problems down the road,” belly dancer Lisa DiMeglio shares. “I decided they just are not worth the risk. As for the hair slinging, I always get a stiff neck no matter how much I stretch.”
The answer: Backbends and hair-tossing can hurt, especially when the dancers are not careful or when they don’t do these moves properly. One thing most dancers should build up on is strength—in their neck, back, legs, and abdomen. Basically, in the whole body.
Polynesian dancer Tiana Tina Cravens points out, “We do backbends in our Kahiko dances and I found [that] if my leg muscles and lower back muscles were strong, I didn't have a problem. But I can't do these dances without working [these muscles]; if I did my back would kill me!”
Fellow dancer Shaula Trapani agrees with Tiana. “Strong legs and a strong core are the key, as well as working on not just the flexibility of the lower back but the upper back as well.”
So how do you build up strength in these areas? Exercising can help strengthen the neck and core muscles (the muscles of your abs and back that help support the spine). Isometric neck exercises, which involve muscle contraction against resistance (but muscle length doesn’t change; doesn’t lengthen or shorten), are good.
One popular and very simple neck exercise is the Isometric Side: You place your right hand flat on the side of your head and push your head against the hand, without moving your head, to create tension on neck muscles. Do for 10 seconds and do several repetitions, including the other side.
Core strengthening exercises are those that target the muscles on the abdomen, obliques, and spine, like your medicinal ball exercises, crunches, bicycles, leg raises, among others. Keeping these muscles strong can prevent some musculoskeletal disorders and injuries. Exercises also improve your posture, and maintaining proper posture when doing backbends and hair tosses help prevent serious injuries.
It’s also just as important to do the movements correctly. Know the proper techniques and do keep a few tips in mind. “When you come up from a backbend, squeeze your glutes,” dancer Sarah Jones Larson shares. “For hair-tossing, warm up your neck with slow circles. Remember when your chin is lifted, do not let the back of the neck crunch.”
Cassandra Whitney adds, “Backbends, laybacks are all about supporting yourself with your abs and knees. To practice, don't go any farther than your abs (only) will support you.” That’s another keyword: practice. Shaula adds, “Practicing every day, [especially] as you get older, is essential.”
Shaula gives another important piece of advice: “Don't push too hard in one day. Work a millimeter at a time.” There is really no reason to push yourself, especially if it hurts. And the moment it begins to hurt, do the most sensible thing: Stop!
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