Belly Dancing with Pain or Disability

If you're physically challenged through disability or injury, you may think dancing is beyond your grasp. Belly dance may offer the solution.   The story of Neena Nour, an inspirational belly dancer from Arizona, is a great example of how bellydancing is accessible to everyone, regardless of age, size, shape or physical ability.

Neena was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was six years old, after being asked to leave ballet lessons because her balance was so bad. Doctors said she would never be able to dance - but Neena was determined to fulfil her dream of becoming a professional dancer.

It took the discovery of bellydancing at the age of sixteen to give her the opportunity she needed - and the rest, as they say, is history. Today you would never know she once had a limp and struggled to keep her balance.

Of course, Neena's determination was a big factor in her success - but she would've had an even greater struggle had she chosen ballet or contemporary dance as her career!

Although belly dance at its highest level is as challenging as any other dance form, it's uniquely accessible for beginners and manageable by those with physical limitations.The other nice thing is that you don't need to know and master every move before you can put together a routine. So even if you can manage only a few steps, you can still enjoy the dance.

Because there's no demanding balancing or stretching, it's also more adaptable to physical impairments than many other dance styles. You can even do chair bellydancing!

There are plenty of belly dance moves where you don't have to be able to kick your leg high, you don't have to balance on one toe, and you don't have to dance at a million miles an hour. So you don't need a lot of flexibility, core strength or stamina to get started. Even when you get more advanced, it's possible to choreograph dances while avoiding belly dance steps which are difficult for you.

For instance, I have bad knees and can't do deep knee bends. A sudden drop to the knees is a belly dance step - but I have enough other options that I don't need to worry that I can't do them. Arabesques are a belly dance step, which Neena avoids - but her dances still have plenty of variety and interest, so most people would never notice.

However I would still advise anyone with a physical impairment to ring in advance and discuss it with the teacher. Some will work around your limitations with confidence, but others may be reluctant to take you on - not through prejudice or discrimination, but because the teacher may not feel qualified to do so.  Not all bellydance teachers are trained in exercise or physiology. Also, if you're asked to get a doctor's clearance and don't feel it's necessary, please don't get annoyed with the teacher - it may well be a condition set by her insurance, not her personal choice.

Princess Farhana has written a heartfelt post on her blog about dancing with chronic pain.  There is also a good discussion on this topic on the Bellydance Forums.

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