My exploration of dance-based prenatal DVDs continues with Amira’s Belly Dance & Yoga For Pregnancy Prenatal Exercise, a massive three-and-a-half hour video that includes yoga and strength exercises, dance movement instruction and practice, birthing prep, interviews with health professionals and dancers, and two performances. Amira provided me with a review copy, and in our correspondence she mentioned having intended to make a much shorter program — I guess she got carried away with the research!
|Amira’s yoga warmup
So this video is really several programs in one: the first, which most people will probably buy it for, is a gentle conditioning program for pregnant women with a strong dance component. The second is a reflection on childbirth from several different perspectives: Amira’s as dancer, pregnant woman, and researcher, those of a midwife and a chiropractic doctor, and testimonials from six dancers who had children. These programs are also intertwined to some extent. I’ll deal with the second program first.
Amira’s Belly Dance & Yoga For Pregnancy Prenatal Exercise for Childbirth Information
The thrust of Amira’s work is very much about recovering non-Western modes of bodily movement and preparation for childbirth. This can be seen in her introduction, and in little segments between the exercise sections of the workout. My own reaction to this was split. On the one hand, it’s incredibly silly to force women to give birth lying down, and it’s also patently clear that many of the movements in bellydance are precisely what doctors now recommend to pregnant women to alleviate pains and prepare for childbirth. “Ancient wisdom” is a broad and vague category, but there is clearly a lot we can learn from forms of movement that are not sitting at one’s desk. On the other hand, I also tend to resist idealizing either the past or non-Western medicine. Pregnancy is not a disease, but it is dangerous, and a lot of women died in the past who wouldn’t die today in North America or Western Europe. (Maternal mortality is still a major issue around the world, one Hilary Clinton has drawn attention to recently — see this, this, and this.)
|Dancer Maggie shares her birth story
This is why what spoke to me most from this part of the video were the testimonials of dancers, who spoke about their own birth experiences. What came out of this was that pregnancy and birth are complicated, messy, and deeply individual. Some wound up having C-sections, some had tough pregnancies but were able to give birth vaginally, and every woman seemed to have a mix of joys and regrets. All thought they had benefited from their dance practice, but in different and nuanced ways — a feeling of femininity, a strengthened bond with the baby, or better body awareness. I loved that this section of the video showed that becoming a mother is not one-size-fits-all deal, even if many of us have ideas about what the “perfect” childbirth might look like.
Amira’s Belly Dance & Yoga For Pregnancy Prenatal Exercise as Prenatal Workout
The exercise section of the video contains five sections:
Yoga Warmup & Stretch
Exercises During Labor
Cool Down and Stretch
This is quite a bit of material, and you will probably prefer just to do the warmup, cool down, and one of the sections in the middle on a normal day. I’ve tried it all except for the labor exercises, though these are mostly also bellydance movements, with the interesting addition of breathing practice that even women confined to bedrest can do.
The program is extremely careful, and very gentle. While you will stretch and strengthen your muscles, there are no jarring movements or even footwork. Everything is cued slowly and precisely. It means you should do this video on a day when you’re not in a rush (you might be frustrated with the pace), but also that you’re unlikely to injure or unduly strain yourself. Subtitles and inset videos will sometimes show modifications. And the program as a whole is a complete package — every part of your body will be gently stretched or worked, though it won’t feel like an intense workout. The best result was one I didn’t even notice right away. After doing this video, I had almost three days without sciatica pain.
|Kitty paws help pregnant pain!
The “Belly Dance” section consists of basic movement instruction, but no choreographies. For women who are new to bellydance, Amira’s instructions will be approachable. More experienced dancers will not find challenging moves or routines, but I think this section would be a great long warmup for a pregnant woman continuing her dance practice. (It doesn’t have lots of lunges or extended shimmies that other warmups I know use, but which might be difficult or dangerous during pregnancy.) What I think is really valuable about this section, even for women who know how to do a chest circle and a maya, is that Amira’s slow and careful repetition of the movements forces you to pay attention to your basics. I found myself really focusing on the fundamentals, striving to extend my range of motion, and working on doing basic movements in a beautiful way. It made me think that there could be a plus side to dancing when pregnant!
And yes, bellydance does feel very good when you’re pregnant! What I found funny was that Amira included a section on arms and hands and claimed that it was for the beauty of the dance rather for any health benefits. Beautiful handwork is my favourite part of bellydance, so I’m with her on that, but I think she’s wrong on one point. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to carpal tunnel syndrome, and nothing is as great for that as bellydance hand flourishes are! They’re gorgeous, but they also have health benefits. Go figure.
The summary? You will love this DVD if you want a full but gentle prenatal workout, if you want to luxuriate in movement that will support your pregnancy, and if you want to hear about other women’s thoughts on and experiences of childbirth. You will not love it if you want a fast or sweaty workout, or if you do not want to hear about childbirth practices around the world (there are informational bits between the workout segments). You can get the DVD at www.pregnantbellydance.com.