Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

March 31, 2008

Belly dancing heightens the sense of spirituality for the majority of women who learn and practice the time-honored art, reveals a new study from Ball State.

A survey of 74 women found that belly dancing is a spiritual experience for three-fourths of the respondents. These women, who have danced for many years, also reported spirituality to be important aspect of their lives, though they rarely attend worship services and often are not affiliated with Judeo-Christian religions.

Rachel Kraus, an assistant professor of sociology at Ball State, believes that belly dancing sets women free, opening new doors for spiritual exploration.
Belly dance is a Western name for an ancient Arabic style of dance developed in the Middle East. Some American devotees refer to it simply as "Middle Eastern dance."
"When dancers let go, they lose themselves in the dance, become more introspective and develop a deep connection with a higher power, other people or a deeper part of themselves," Kraus said. "Belly dance is spiritual for some respondents because they view the dance as meditative, similar to a prayer or form of worship set to music, which helps them get into a zone.

"As a spiritual activity, belly dance is viewed as quieting the mind, a moving mediation, ritualistic and serving a form of worship. In this sense, belly dance is similar to traditional rituals, such as chanting, responsive readings, taking Communion or saying the rosary."

The study also found:

  • Women who have belly danced for longer amounts of time consider it spiritual because they have become more comfortable with the dance and have successfully trained their bodies to execute the movements.
  • Belly dancing is spiritual for few Christians, Jews and people who frequently attend worship serves as compared to people of other and no religious affiliations.

Belly dancing has exploded in popularity in recent years as fitness facilities add the exercise to expand the number and variety of exercise programs. The benefits of belly dance are both mental and physical. Dancing provides a good cardiovascular workout and helps increase flexibility and strength, focusing on the torso or core muscles, although it also builds leg strength.

Kraus said engaging in artistic pursuits such as belly dancing helps establish a mood for spirituality by setting aside a particular time and space that is different from normal activities.

"People routinely make time for mediation, prayer and deep reflection," she said. "Belly dance becomes an outlet to express feelings and emotions that cannot otherwise be expressed through everyday language."