A Guide to Belly Dance Movement Categories

In a previous blog post on What is Belly Dance?, I touched on belly dance’s core movement vocabulary. I’ll build on that in this blog to classify common belly dance moves. There are many ways to describe belly dance movements. Whether they are smooth or sharp, done with the chest, torso, or hips, or which Laban movement plane they are in. Here, I’ll classify and describe them based on which shape you draw with your body. Knowing how you use various bits of your body to produce belly dance moves will help you recall and reproduce the moves you learn in class or see in a video. You can improve your movement isolation by knowing which body part you are supposed to move. And then keeping the movement only in that body part. This is so important in belly dance.

In this blog, I’ll describe belly dance moves constructed by seven shapes. These are lifts and drops, slides, shimmies, twists, circles, figure 8’s, and undulations. For each of the shapes, I’ll discuss how the movements can be drawn with the chest and hips to create fundamental belly dance moves. I’ll only introduce the basics. You may notice some missing moves that are more advanced or don’t fit neatly into these categories. I also haven’t included travelling steps. They don’t fall into these same movement categories. I won’t cover detailed technical break-downs of the moves. You can find these on Shemiran Ibrahim’s original blog on this subject (“The Seven Core Movements of Belly Dance”), which inspired this post.

Lifts and drops

This category is all about sharp, vertical (up-and-down) movement of the hips or chest.

  • Hip Drop: Starting from a raised hip, drop it back to slightly below neutral.
  • Chest Drop: Starting with a raised chest, drop it back to neutral.
  • Chest Lift: Starting with a neutral chest, raise it.

Slides

Slides are sharp, horizontal moves, where the hips or chest stay level as they move side-to-side.

  • Chest Slide: Move your chest from side-to-side, keeping it level.
  • Hip Slide: Move your hips as one unit from side-to-side.

Twists

Twists are sharp “rotations around a stationary point” according to the dictionary.

  • Hip Twist: Start with neutral hips, twist one hip forward at a time. Return it to neutral, keeping the opposite hip stationary.
  • Shoulder Twist: Twist your torso so one shoulder moves forward at a time. Keep the centre of your chest stationary.

Shimmies

Shimmies are the iconic vibratory moves of belly dance.

  • Hip Shimmy: Bend and straighten your knees one at a time very fast. This makes your hips vibrate up and down and your torso wobble.
  • Chest Shimmy: Twist your torso forward one shoulder at a time (like a shoulder twist). Do it very fast to make your chest shake.

Circles

In this category, circles are smooth moves. Body parts draw circles in either the horizontal or vertical planes.

  • Hip Circle: Start with the hips level and shifted to one side. Move them as one unit in a horizontal circle, keeping them level.
  • Vertical Chest Circle: Start with the chest level and off to one side. Move it in a vertical circle, keeping it level.
  • Horizontal Chest Circle: Start with the chest level and off to one side. Move it in a horizontal circle, keeping it level.

Figure 8’s

Figure 8’s are smooth moves where a body part draws an “8” shape, again in the horizontal or vertical planes.

  • Vertical Figure 8 Upwards: Start from a dropped hip. Circle it vertically out and up to a raised position to create half a vertical “∞” shape. Now the opposite hip is dropped. Then repeat on the other side to complete the shape.
  • Vertical Figure 8 Downwards: Start from a raised hip. Make the “∞” shape in reverse. Circle the hip vertically out and down to create half the shape, and repeat on the other side to complete it.
  • Horizontal Figure 8 Forwards: Start with a backwards hip. Move it out and forward, drawing half an “8” horizontally on the floor with your hip. Now the opposite hip is backwards. Then repeat on the other side to complete the shape.
  • Horizontal Figure 8 Backwards: Start with a forwards hip. Make the horizontal “8” shape in reverse, circling the hip out and back to create half the shape. Then repeat on the other side to complete it.

Undulations

Undulations are smooth moves where a wave-like movement travels up and down your body

  • Camels: Start with the chest raised and forward. Roll it down your spine to neutral. Continue the wave down your torso tucking your abs and pelvis in. Finally release your pelvis out to neutral to complete the wave.

These seven categories cover the main belly dance moves. Four have sharp movements (lifts and drops, slides, twists, and shimmies). And three have smooth (circles, figure 8’s, and undulations). I only included descriptions of chest and hip movements here, because they are most common. But you can draw these shapes with your head, hands, arms, shoulders, … too to create belly dance moves. I hope that by knowing and understanding the shapes you draw with your body, you will improve your technique. You can use this knowledge to move only the part of your body you wish to move in the shape you wish to make. Next time you dance, feel your chest and hips slide, shimmy, and circle. Can you feel them make beautiful shapes in the air?

Further Reading

The Seven Core Movements of Belly Dance blog by Shemiran Ibrahim

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