Bellydance and Pregnancy – An Interview with Sera Solstice

I’m very excited to introduce a new feature on this blog: interviews with video artists and producers. Kicking us off is Sera Solstice, a pioneer of the East Coast Tribal style of bellydance. Besides founding Solstice Studio in New York City, she has produced five DVDs with World Dance New York, among them Foundations of Bellydance: East Coast Tribal, Lunar Bellydance, and Solar Bellydance. I previously reviewed Bellydance: East Coast Tribal, but for our first interview I wanted to ask Sera about a subject near and dear to my heart, the relationship between bellydance and pregnancy. Before continuing, you can read my review of her video Goddess Dance – Prenatal Bellydance & Meditation.

Why did you decide to put together a prenatal bellydance video?

I wanted to document/record my pregnancy and be able to share it with others. It was my second pregnancy, and I felt that it was a very special and sacred time. My first pregnancy was filled with fear and anxiety of all the unknowns. During the second go-around, I had more confidence. The meditations and presentation are what I wish I could have had during my first pregnancy. Perhaps there are a few Moms-to-be out there that could benefit from it.

How did bellydance help you during your own pregnancy?

There were many days when I didn’t feel like doing ANYTHING. But I still had to show up to teach class because I had committed to doing it. As soon as I would drag myself out of the house and to the studio, I realized how good it was for me. Suddenly I was surrounded by loving community who could share in my experiences, and I got great exercise. Getting your blood moving is so very important. Bellydance expands your body awareness, especially in the hips and abdomen. So it really helps a woman to connect to her body when she is pregnant, and be able to connect to the changes, and celebrate that through movement. It helps to connect to the baby too, as you feel your whole womb moving, its as if you are dancing with the baby. I think it makes women feel like a Goddess.

What are some of the greatest myths or misconceptions about prenatal exercise, or about dance more specifically? 

I think there is definitely an overload of precautions, and this is so no one is held responsible in case someone gets hurt. But the problem with all the warnings, is that it opens up the psyche and the consciousness to imagine these possible injuries, and then, I believe, it can make a person afraid, and therefore less trusting of their body, and therefore, more prone to the exact thing they are afraid of. What is most important is for a dancer to listen to her body.

Is bellydancing during pregnancy helpful to women even if they wind up having – or plan to have – a caesarean?

Of course! Bellydance is not just meant for preparation for birth. It is an active meditation of connecting with your body. I would assume it would help a woman heal faster from Caesarean, as she would have a stronger body, and a stronger desire to get back to that physical place of enjoyment of her body. As well as having stronger muscles in the abdomen. Plus a stronger back to help her to NOT use her abdominals as she is healing.

Is there a difference between the benefits an amateur can gain from prenatal bellydance and an advanced student or pro? 

Yes. A dancer who is already familiar with Bellydance will be able to achieve more benefits since she has already built the strength and flexibility BEFORE her body begins to change during the pregnancy. I would recommend that someone who has not studied any bellydance, try to get in as many classes as possible before your body starts the massive physical changes during pregnancy. I don’t think it is good for a 3rd trimester pregnant dancer to pick up Bellydance for the first time. I think it is best to go easy as possible and do movements that your body is already familiar with. Bellydance is a very internal dance. Many dancers seek it for its external image and style, but ultimately, the dance initiates from within and is most powerful in this way. So if a new dancer can approach it this way and not worry so much about looking like her teacher, than she could begin dancing during her 9th month of pregnancy. But again, it is about perspective. I see many people overdue it in order to get the results to LOOK right. A new dancer who is more concerned about FEELING right is on the right path.

How did you learn to meditate, and what role do you think it can play in a new mom’s life?

I started meditating as a teenager and have read countless self-help books and participated in countless spiritual, new age, shaman workshops and rituals. I had to make this meditation, really for my own birth, as I recorded it 3 days before I gave birth. I knew it was pretty far out, and may be a bit too inaccessible for a first-time meditator, but it was what I was called to do. For me, this was what the DVD was all about. The meditations were the most important element. I think WDNY played it down a bit in the title, probably because it was so far out there, but I had to commit to what I felt moved to do. It helped me a lot during my birth. I hope so much that Moms-to-be can use the visualizations. It is meant to be listened to multiple times over to prepare for birth.

In your experience, how soon after birth can women start to dance again? 

A woman should wait 6 weeks minimum. Unless the baby slides out without pushing, chances are the pelvic floor muscles have undergone some damage. The womb needs time for healing and for contracting back into place. It is most important that a woman does not rush out and start trying to work off the pregnancy weight. She is doing a disservice to the beautiful home (womb) of her baby, and her own body that worked so hard to find balance during this time. It makes me sad to see so many women who spend so much of their thought-energy on how much they weigh after the baby is born. It is a beautiful gift that you have received, that you were able to birth this little being. Celebrate your body, that did this work, treat yourself like a goddess, and enjoy your baby. Listen to the subtle voices of your body. IF it hurts, AT ALL, don’t do it! I waited at least 6 weeks, because I could feel there was damage to my pelvic floor, and I wanted to recover and heal, physically and emotionally. Birth is a traumatic miracle. It takes a lot of processing and adjusting. It is a whole initiation into a new stage that you will never return from.

Did having a child change the way you approach your dance? 

Yes. Life experience is what makes good art. I have such depth of life-experience, I have endless emotions and anxieties and frustrations, and incredible joys and loves to dance about. Dance about dance itself is quite boring to me.

I’d like to thank Sera for generously answering my questions about bellydance and pregnancy! I think “birth is a traumatic miracle” is a quote to hold on to — I can’t think of a single sentence that has better summed up my experience of it. And now I’m inspired to go back to my daily meditation…

You can visit Sera’s website at www.boldbellydance.com and find out more about her videos at World Dance New York.

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Review of Sera Solstice’s Goddess Dance: Prenatal Bellydance & Meditation

As much as I tend to hate anything with “goddess” in the title, especially with combined with “pregnancy” or “bellydance,” I love Prenatal Bellydance & Meditation and by the end of it, have a bit of a girl-crush on Sera Solstice. This is the first prenatal bellydance program that leads you through what feels like real dancing. Moreover, the aesthetics of it are simply delightful.

This woman’s dancing is perfection

I’m going to review this from two perspectives — as a prenatal workout and as a dance instructional. The video also has two meditation segments, but I’m not quite into that right now.

Prenatal Bellydance & Meditation as prenatal workout:

Sera is eight months pregnant during the filming of the video, and she explains that she has chosen movements based on what she has found satisfying for her pregnant body. She doesn’t mention consulting any medical literature on safe movements for pregnancy, but nothing she does contradicts any indications I’ve seen. Her backup dancers demonstrate the moves for early pregnancy and postnatal, but there really isn’t too much difference in most sequences.

The beginning warmup is dancey, smooth, but quite minimal — I suggest complementing with your own basic movements like cat stretches, leg stretches, and neck and shoulder rolls. The dance combos themselves are great for a woman who’s growing. Yes, they push a little further than the very basic movements of other prenatal workouts, but it ultimately feels very good. Although Sera often talks about the need to lower awareness to the hips and pelvis, I think the real strength of this program is in what it does for the upper body. I’m in my sixth month of pregnancy, and I end every day feeling pain in my upper back and rib area. While my yoga videos do provide good side stretches, there really is nothing like bellydance to stretch upper abdominals, upper back muscles, and obliques.

The workout as a whole is not heavy on the cardio, but you will feel it, especially if you have been doing lighter, pregnancy-type exercise. I added a necessary cool-down and stretch on my own. There is one hilarious section in which Sera explains the most complicated Kegels I’ve ever heard of, and then guides you to do them along with a series of bellydance movements. This was too much for me! Look, if you want me to move all those muscles separately and precisely, muscles I have never been asked to control to that extent in my life, then I had better be sitting on the ground thinking about that and only that. It’s not gonna happen during an omi.

Prenatal Bellydance & Meditation as dance workout:

I loved the video as a dance workout. I don’t think it would be the right thing for someone trying bellydance for the very first time. Although Sera does give quite lengthy explanations of the movements, using good visuals, you have to pick them up pretty quickly to be able to move along with the video. It takes most women a bit of time to learn a flat-footed maya or an omi or even a chest circle. However, if you have some experience of the moves, her instruction is great for improving your execution of them. The combinations are manageable, but not boring, especially if you also think about getting the hands and arms right.

Most importantly, Sera is a really beautiful dancer. I tend not to get as excited about tribal fusion, since it often seems to lack the fluidity and grace I love about more traditional bellydance forms. Sera is the person to prove me wrong. Her movements are an education in grace, and it’s saying a lot that following her makes you feel like you are dancing.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this DVD from World Dance New York.

Review: Sera’s Bellydance East Coast Tribal

I finally worked through Sera’s Bellydance: East Coast Tribal after owning it for a while, and I was stunned at how excellent it is. There are a few flaws (which I’ll get to later), but those aside, it’s a superb video.

First things first. This is not a beginner’s DVD. Sera neither gives the kind of explanations of basic movements a beginner would want, nor does she present all the basics of bellydance. No way. It is, however, a great DVD for intermediate dancers. Sera goes over some basic movements (especially in the warmup), but in such a way as to help you increase your flexibility and power.

The 20-minute warmup and the 10-minute drill section get you doing some basic stretches, focusing on your isolations, and quite importantly, working on powering moves from particular muscles. The dancers mirror your movements (so when she calls “left,” they actually move to their right) which I prefer. Sera is extremely thorough about calling out which muscle to use for a move, and always managed to remind me as soon as I forgot. I *was* worried about the neck stretch, since she moves the head all the way back, and some moves also seemed quite hard on the knees, so I modified them. In the choreography Sera is careful to point out which sections are knee-unfriendly, and sometimes offers a modification, but this is not the case in the workout. She does, however, tell you when certain moves are difficult for beginners, so you don’t get discouraged.

I would say that, considering how cheap the DVD is, the warmup is worth the price alone. I know I’m going to use this (with some extra stretching) as an introduction to other bellydance videos.

Next comes a demonstration of the combinations to be learned, and then very detailed instructions for each of six movement combinations. I had watched the video before, but only by doing it could I see what a brilliant teacher Sera is. She has that uncanny ability to know *just* when you’re relaxing a certain muscle, or doing a movement lazily, or forgetting about your posture, and to give a perfectly-timed reminder.

On the other hand, the combos themselves are challenging and, to my eye, beautiful. It’s not hard to get the basics of each, but to do them right, with the correct arm movements, good timing, and perfect form, is hard. This is a major strength of the DVD: you can grow into it a little. Both the warmup and the dance instruction are basically doable for an advanced beginner/intermediate, but they have enough layering and little details that you have a reason to go back and do the video again.

As you can probably tell by the length of this review, I am impressed! I do want to say though that it’s not the right DVD for you if you just want to pop something in the player and shake your hips around. Some of the muscular movements can be quite strenuous. You need to pay attention to the instructions, you need to listen to your body to avoid injury, and you may even need to pause it and practice a movement slowly and carefully on your own. And you need to stretch thoroughly at the end. But this is what makes it so good.