What is Somatics and how can it Benefit Bellydancers?

'Soma' is derived from the Greek word  σμαmeaning 'the Living Body’

Somatics is a field of body-mind inquiry that allows the body's innate intelligence to guide movement for a deeper, more conscious awareness and experience of the moving body. At its core, Somatics is mindful movement. Sensory terms that are used in Somatics, to identify various areas of heightened awareness are:

 - awareness of sensations within the body;

 - sensitivity to stimuli outside of the body;

 - awareness of the body’s position and movement in space;

 - how the body connects with, or senses, gravity.

In Somatic practices, ‘embodiment’ is a term often used, and with it comes a sense of richness and fulfilment. Somatics is more about the ‘noticing’ than the judging of movement – as this is when patterns of resistance and flow can be identified. From this authentic space the truth of the body’s bio-circuitry, sensory knowledge, even blockages from old traumatic memories, and their effect on movement, can be revealed. Only then, can a remedial approach be integrated, through movement and the body’s inner-knowing, to correct the energy flow, restore balance, refine movement and even improve health.

Somatics provides bellydancers with a toolkit of user-friendly resources that can enhance their dancing, in terms of skill, movement technique, musicality and emotional connection. It is an opportunity to explore the dynamics or form and flow more deeply and personally. At its heart, Somatics for Bellydance blends science and art, and is about mindful movement applied to the art of Bellydancing. Through Somatic exercises, dancers will develop a new vocabulary and be able to articulate their movement more clearly. They will enjoy enhanced mindfulness; the ability to take notice, be present, and pay more attention to the nuances within their body and the essence of its motion and mobility.

All exercises should allow flexibility to suit the dancer’s own personal preferences, and eventually inspire a personal practice.
 These exercises or ‘flows’ reflect the key movements, shapes and postures that are the foundation of bellydance styles and genres worldwide. They can be considered the ‘roots’ of the movement. They allow the dancer to experience effective ways of tuning into their body’s innate “knowing” and to become familiar with the body’s unique energy flows. It also makes for a more visceral experience, or dancing from “within” which allows the dancer to connect more deeply with the music, and become aware of the energetic resonance between music and movement, which will enrich their sense of musicality.

As dance becomes more responsive to its musical impetus, and movement is internalized before being expressed - lyrical movement flows with more ease, naturalness, confidence and interconnectedness.

Somatics supports safe dance practice and lessens the need to ‘drive’ or push’ the movement. Rather than use force, Somatic awareness allows the elements of gravity, levity, self and space to generate movement. Knowledge of breath work, the fundamentals of Laban Movement Analysis (LMA), Bartenieff Fundamentals (BF) and basic principles of physics for motion, provide an effective means of understanding the dynamics of movement, and their psychophysical relationships to the self. This is just one aspect of Somatics, and there are many more branches; for example, the internal experiencing of movement as researched by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen’s Body Mind Centering (BMC) can help the dancer discover the interconnectedness of body systems (such as circulatory, organ systems, skeletal, muscular, etc) which in turn can help to establish neural-pathways that feel easier on the body, as new movements are assimilated with the least resistance.

The dancer can also use Somatics to learn more about the energy behind the movement and ways of allowing a state of flow, to clarify their technique. In my own practice I also bring in 20 years of music-movement connectivity, and several body-mind disciplines including Yoga, Meridian flows, breath-work and dance movement sequencing.

A regular Somatic practice can be as short as 10 minutes a day. After even the first few sessions you will be sure to feel the benefits! Some benefits of incorporating a regular Somatic practice are:

* Improved breathing when dancing

* More fulfilling and present experience when dancing

* Deeper visceral experience, feeling the dance more fully

* Ease of movement and flow – distinguishing gravity from force

* Enhanced weight sensing ability
* Improved confidence and skills for improvisation
* Better sense of musicality and rhythmic aptitude

* Refinement of technique and choreographic choices

* More effective ways of describing and understanding your dance

* Ability to bring more authentic expression to movement

* Better proprioception - less reliance on mirrors

* Being able to dance in an alert yet relaxed state

* Ability to identify energy ‘knots’ and how to remedy them

* Better sense of awareness of the interconnected systems of the moving body

* Psychophysical understanding of movement and practice

* Linking movements to support emotional issues
* Less injury, better self care and movement preparation
* Better sleep and more relaxed responses in everyday life

* Means of self support in everyday life

As Somatics is about mindful movement, there are also other practices that are relevant, such as Dr Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing exercises, to support mental health, trauma release and clarify the profound connection between body and mind. Many dancers report that these exercises have supported them on the emotional level, and provide a means of self-support when needed in many real-life situations, particularly when coping with the more stressful elements of life. Stress can affect our dancing, and this may be seen as social, mental or physical stress that occurs within the class environment, or if you are running a bellydance business or related service in the community.

Keti Sharif

For more discovery – the Somatics for Bellydance online course is available and includes a 14 day practice. https://a-zbellydance.teachable.com/


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