Belly Dance Anatomy: 8 Facts About the Trendiest Muscle in Belly Dance

Psoas muscleThe psoas seems to have become the trendiest muscle in belly dance over the past few years.  Now, I’m not saying that dancers are only now using it – but they sure do talk about it a lot more in the past 5 years. If you asked Souhair Zaki where the “psoas” was, she may well have pointed in the direction of a shipping canal, even though she used it extensively for all those juicy, deep pelvic movements so characteristic of  Egyptian style raqs sharqi. No less than four times in the past two years, I’ve been in” big-name” workshops where there the location and/or the action of the psoas was incorrectly identified.  If we’re going to share anatomical information in a class or workshop, we better be getting it right – especially if the workshop is filled with local instructors who will be eager to pass on what they learned to their own classes.  So, let’s cover some basic psoas facts….

  1. The psoas major originates from the side of the lumbar vertebrae #1-5 and runs down through the pelvis to attach to the interior of the upper thigh bone. (See the illustration above). You can get a nifty interactive version of this here.
  2. The iliacus muscle runs from the inside of the crest of the hip and joins the psoas major at its attachment on the thigh. Together these are referred to as the iliopsoas, but they are two separate muscles.
  3. There is a psoas minor, but 40-60% of people do not have one – surprise! In those that do, it also begins at the first lumbar vertebrae but attaches near the pubic bone on the pelvis, not the thigh. You can check out its location here.
  4. One action of the psoas is lateral flexion of the trunk (side bending), assisted by the larger oblique muscles.
  5. Another action is flexion of the hip, whether the torso moves toward the leg (bending forward at the hip), or the leg toward the torso (raising leg in front). Again, it has an assisting role, with several other larger muscles involved. It also rotates the thigh externally – think of the “turned out” position of ballet.
  6. Tightness in the psoas can cause lower back pain because it can contribute to compression on the lumbar vertebrae and intervertebral discs. Chances are if the psoas is tight, its neighbor muscles are too. It’s best to let a doctor or physical therapist sort that out for you.
  7. Now that you know where it is and what it does, I bet you can think of several belly dance moves that call on the psoas; for starters, our basic posture with the pelvis in a neutral position. We also engage the psoas for any movement that tucks the pelvis for accents or shapes such as interior hip circles (aka “ummies”) or undulations. It also gets to work on leg accents that brush forward or sweep to the side, like you might use leading into a turn.
  8. This last one is more of an “anatomy grammar” point. Now that you know the whats, wheres and hows of the psoas, you’ll want to speak correctly when discussing this good stuff with your students and fellow dancers. “Pelvis” is a noun and “pelvic” is an adjective. Example #1: “The psoas helps tilt our pelvis upward.”  Example #2: “Pelvic tilt is one important part of good belly dance posture.”

Now you and your psoas can go party like the smart raq star you are! 🙂

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7 Responses to “Belly Dance Anatomy: 8 Facts About the Trendiest Muscle in Belly Dance”

  1. raksterayz Says:

    Excellent post!

  2. Kawakib Says:

    I first heard about the psoas years ago, when my masseuse & I were trying to figure out my hip pain…. it was actually a bad hip joint. Interesting to hear it’s the hot new muscle in bellydance – makes me wonder how many other hips are on the way out!

  3. Atisheh Says:

    Love this! Thanks for bringing enlightenment to the bd masses! (The graphic is good too… I never really understand this from simple word descriptions.)

  4. Thea Says:

    Great to see this kind of article posted! This has inspired me to write a post on my own blog, and I’ll certainly be referring readers here! I’ve been dancing belly dance for five years and I’m frustrated that so few teachers have any awareness of what muscles are being used.

  5. karen Says:

    Thanks Mahin. Its nice to know there are some educated instructors out there. I have seen so much over the years. I am an lmt as well as certifid trainer/instructor for many years so it makes me crazy when instructors teach about muscles when they really are not qualified. Again thank you.

  6. prompen123 Says:

    It says the psoas rotate the thigh externally – I do think it is internally it rotates the thigh!

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