Archive for the ‘Belly Dance Health’ Category

It Hurts So Good vs Hurts So Bad: Are You Working Hard in Belly Dance Class or Hurting Yourself?

February 4, 2013

aching backAs an instructor, I sometimes hear a student (usually a beginner) say “that hurts” when learning a new movement. Keeping my students dancing safely in belly dance class is a top priority for me. When I hear this, it’s time for me ask questions and figure out whether this person is working hard in class or potentially hurting themselves. It’s moments like these when I’m glad I put in the time and effort to get a university degree in exercise science. If you have ever been in this position as a student, or an experienced dancer practicing something new, this is an important time to stop and evaluate whether what you are experiencing is a “good” hurt or a “bad” hurt.

The first thing to consider is if you (or your student) have any past or current injuries or undiagnosed aches and pains from outside of class or practice. Has your back been a little achy since you helped your friend move that couch? This may not be the time to push hard; wait a few days and see how your feel.  Get any persistent conditions  checked out and follow your doctor or physical therapist’s instructions for activity. If a doctor or therapist has given you guidelines on what to do – or more importantly, not to do – follow them. If your belly dance instructor advises otherwise, politely decline. It is not within an instructor’s scope of practice to counter these instructions and they shouldn’t put you in that position.

If  none of the these are factors, then you need to honestly ask yourself if it’s just hard. Are you just feeling your muscles working, perhaps burning a bit  when you are drilling for several minutes at a time? This is just what work feels like. Good for you for putting in the effort! It will pay off. You may be a little sore tomorrow, but it will pass quickly and your body will adapt and become stronger.

If a movement is causing a sharp or shooting pain with each repetition, or you feel your joint “sticking” or “catching” each time – this is a sign to stop and get help finding answers. You could, for example,  be dealing with an inflamed nerve,  ligaments rubbing over boney bumps or loose bone fragments in a joint. If hip movement is causing low back pain this is also a warning sign.

It isn’t necessarily something serious, however. No need to panic just yet.  You may just need to correct your alignment or where you are driving the movement from. If so, it is the instructor’s job to straighten that out. Make sure you ask for help. Be specific in describing what you are feeling and what part of the movement brings it on. If you are having low back pain or tension with hip movements, pay careful attention to how you are positioning your pelvis. Barring other back issues, this is one of the easiest “hurts” to fix in class.

If addressing these does not stop the pain, then perhaps your teacher can offer a modification or alternative movement – not all movements work on all bodies – especially as we get older.  Of course, use your judgement – only YOU are experiencing what’s going on in your body. When in doubt,  check it out – with a medical  professional.

Dance safe.. dance for life!

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6 Things To Know About Stretching & Belly Dance

January 19, 2013

Stretch PicFlexibility is essential in belly dance. It gives us the range of motion to complete our movements with ease and grace. The field of exercise science has done quite a few flip-flops over the years in its recommendations on safe and effective stretching.  As new research emerges, these change and improve . If your main experience with flexibility exercises came from your high school P.E. class, or someone who isn’t up to date on the most current knowledge,  it may be time to re-think when and how you stretch.

  • The most common type of stretching is static stretching and this is generally considered the safest and most effective for the majority of people and their activities. In static stretching, you take the position to the point of a slight stretch, without causing pain. Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds, breathing and consciously relaxing the muscle for best effect. This is repeated 3 to 5 times for each side.
  • Dynamic stretching, for example bouncing down to touch your toes, is not a recommended stretching method for most people.  While it does have its applications in certain sports, it is not necessary or recommended for us as belly dancers. This type of stretching can cause muscle strains and tears – stick to static stretching.
  • The American College of Sports Medicine’s exercise guidelines for the general population recommend flexibility exercises be done at least twice a week. In training for activities where range of motion is a major feature, such as dance or gymnastics, more frequent  – even daily stretching is beneficial, provided it is done following activity when the muscles are warm.
  • The muscle groups that are most likely to be tight are the hamstrings, hip flexors, calves and chest. Be sure to include them all in your flexibility routine.
  • Once upon a time, it was thought that stretching after a strenuous workout prevented DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). This is the kind of soreness that hits you the day after an 8-hour dance workshop and sticks around for the next two days. We now know that it won’t prevent DOMS , but it won’t make it worse either. Proper stretching after activity is always a good idea.
  • Research in the past 10 years has recommended that stretching be saved for post-workout, but that’s not the whole story. The ACSM does recommend this as a general rule, but has also stated that for activities such as dance and gymnastics, which require a high degree of flexibility in performance, some stretching should be done before activity. It still needs to be done on warm muscles however, so a dynamic warm up needs to comes first. Deep, long-held stretches are still most effective after dancing.

For a variety of stretches useful for belly dance, check out some of the Saturday Stretch “Daily Bellydance Quickies” on my YouTube channel

Putting Yourself To The Test for Dance Fitness

December 29, 2012

clipboardNew Year’s Day is right around the corner. Many people  will be making resolutions to get in shape. If one of your goals for 2013 is to improve your dancing, and your overall fitness, it’s important to know where your personal starting line is. When we know where we are now, we can accurately look back a few months from now and applaud how far we’ve come. Small successes are the very best motivators!

You could hire a personal trainer and let a pro guide you, but if that isn’t in your budget or your schedule, you can still get a read on where you are fitness-wise with a few at-home tests that require little to no equipment. You could do them all by yourself, or buddy up with a dance friend and cheer each other on.  Do be sure to write down which tests you do and your results so you can compare them to your results on the same tests a few months from now.

Doing all of these tests will give you a more comprehensive view of your strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness, but if you are particularly interested in just a few of these areas, pick just the ones that fit your needs. Follow the links for detailed descriptions of each exercise.

MUSCULAR ENDURANCE

The Wall Sit Test

You’ll need: a wall and a timer

Holding the wall sit position tests the muscular endurance of your quads and glutes. This is an important factor in sustaining a good long shimmy!  Get in position, start the timer and stay there as long as you can with proper form. Record your results.

The Plank Test

You’ll need: floor space and a timer

Holding the plank position tests the muscular strength and endurance of all your core muscles. Nothing – and I mean NOTHING – will have as far reaching improvement on your dance as a strong core. It improves posture and balance, prevents back  injury and increases the integrity of all your movement. Start the timer, get in position and stay there as long as you can hold your body in a straight line. Be honest – no lifting or sagging! Record your results.

STRENGTH & POWER

The Push-Up Test

You’ll need:  just floor space or a wall

A strong upper body supports your dance posture and keeps your arms from drooping out of position. Depending on your current level of strength, you can choose to test yourself using a wall push up, a bent knee push up or a standard push up. How many can you do with proper form? Record your results.

The Wall Jump Test

You’ll need:  a wall, a tape measure, a partner or some baby powder (what??)

The wall jump tests how much power you can generate from your lower body. Position yourself facing an open wall so that you can jump up and touch the wall. Squat down and jump up to touch the wall at the highest point you can. A partner can mark the spot as you touch it so you can use the tape measure to record your results. If you don’t have a partner to help you, put some baby powder on your hand. This will leave a mark on the wall this is easy to wipe away once you’ve measured it. Record the best of 3 tries.

BALANCE

The Tree Pose Test

You’ll need:  floor space and a timer

Having good balance brings grace to your dance – it also keeps that sword up there where it belongs! Set your timer and get into tree pose. How long can you stay there without putting the other foot down or grabbing onto something? Record your results – on BOTH legs!

FLEXIBILITY

The Sit and Reach Test

You’ll need:  floor space, a shoe box, a measuring tape, 

The sit and reach test gauges flexibility in the hamstrings and lower back. There are a few ways to record this. If you cannot yet reach your toes, record the distance from where you can reach to the soles of your flexed feet. If you can reach past your toes, place the tape measure lengthwise down the shoe box and position your feet flat against the short end. You’ll reach past your toes and record the number of inches from your best try out of 3.

You can also do this test one leg at a time. You may find that one side is much more flexible than the other – good to know!  To do this, just bend one leg at the knee and let your knee open down toward the floor, keeping the test leg straight. Record the results for each leg.

CARDIOVASCULAR FITNESS

The Jump Rope Test

You’ll need:  jump rope and a timer

This is an alternative to the “1 mile run” test, which really isn’t for everyone. Jumping as fast as you can (which may not be fast – that’s OK), count how many times you can jump in a set amount of time. How long of a time frame is up to you.  If you aren’t accustomed to challenging cardio exercise, you might keep it to one minute or even 30 seconds. It’s not where you start, but where you go from here! Count your jumps and record your results.

Although there is plenty of norm and comparison data out there to rank fitness levels,but  I believe it’s much more important to compare yourself to YOU. Your progress is best measured from the point where you started.  Nothing else really matters. Having a realistic snapshot of you fitness at this moment will help you to figure out if your exercise routine is working to improve your dancing.

Happy & Healthy New Year to you!

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

October 13, 2012

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! 🙂

Belly Dance Anatomy: The Erector Spinae Muscles

June 30, 2012

Erector spinaeYour mother told you to stand up straight. Your dance instructor reminds you to check your posture.  Thanks to your erector spinae muscles you can do these things! The erector spinae is actually a muscle group made up of many smaller muscles and tendons that attach them to your bones. The erector spinae group begins at your sacrum, the back portion of your illiac crest (hip bone) and your lumbar vertebrae at the lower back. It runs in two bundles up along both sides of your spinal column. Along the way different portions attach to vertebrae and your ribs from the mid-back up to the neck. These many attachment sites allow it to effectively support the entire length of the spinal column, and in cooperation with the rectus abdominus muscle on the front of our torso, keeps us standing tall and stable.

Any time you bend over at the waist, it is the erector spinae muscles that contract to bring your spine to an upright position – this is called spinal extension. They are also responsible for maintaining a “flat back”  position when we are bent at the hip.  This group  works to bend the spine to the side and to rotate it, with assistance from the oblique muscles. Think of those graceful reaching lunges that extend the arm and ribs  to the side or posing with your lower body on a diagonal and your ribs facing forward. (It’s a very body flattering position, try it!) If you are fond of those big, bent-over hip circles (think Dina) these muscles are very important because they keep your upper body from flopping over uncontrolled, which makes this movement look sloppy rather than big and emphatic as it should be.

The variety of attachment sites also helps us articulate smaller movements of parts of the spine, as we do in undulations or rib slides. Ask a dance friend if you can put your fingers on either side of their spine while they do an undulation or a rib circle and you’ll be able to feel the erector spinae in action.

Warming Up The Erector Spinae for Belly Dance

It is important to include some dynamic warm up of this muscle group at the beginning of your dance class or personal practice. This is easy to do with a few simple movements such as cat/cow pose or rolling the spine down slowly bringing the hands down toward the toes and rolling slowly back up “vertebrae by vertebrae” as we instructors are so fond of saying! Remember to drop the chin as your roll down to include the upper portions of the muscle in the warm up. Gentle overhead reaches  that bend the spine to alternate sides and reaches across the body that twist the spine will round out the warm up for the erector spinae group.

Strengthening the Erector Spinae for Belly Dance

Paying careful attention to our posture as we sit,  move through our day and our dance will naturally help strengthen the erector spinae, as well as the abdomen in general. If you feel that you need a more direct approach, the “superman” exercise or the Swan Dive or Swimming exercises from Pilates are good choices. As always, if you have any known spinal issues or pain, you should follow your physician or physical therapist’s recommendations for exercise.

Stand tall and dance proud… Team Erector Spinae is on the job!

Warming Up to Dance

April 14, 2012

Every dance class and workshop should start with an effective warm-up. 

learn to belly danceOur warm up helps us make the transition from resting to dancing. A proper warm up can reduce the risk of injury and even asthma attacks for those who are prone to exercise-induced asthma. About 5-10 minutes is all it takes to prepare our bodies to do our best in dance class.

No matter what the activity, an effective warm up gets all the major muscle groups moving.  Some instructors use dance isolations in the warm up, and while these can certainly work as part of the specific preparation for your style, larger, multi-joint movements that aren’t typical in belly dance are also important to really get the body prepared for the rest of class.

As I’ve said so many times before in the DBQ, this is not the time for long static stretches. If an instructor leads the class in splits at the beginning of class, the only “splitting” you should do is out the door!

Some instructors leave the students to warm up on their own before class, but I have never felt comfortable with this practice because the students often simply don’t know how. Even if they are familiar with good general warm up techniques, they don’t know what you specifically have planned for the lesson. This may include lots of shoulder, back or head movements that require extra attention to those areas of the body. In my classes,  always tell my students what’s planned  as we start and any specific thing we are doing to prepare our bodies to be ready for it.

What exactly does a warm up do for our bodies?

  • An effective warm up routine increases our heart rate and breathing, which brings more oxygen to our muscles so they can do more than sit at a desk or in a car, which is probably what they were doing before class.
  • Getting all the major muscles moving increases the internal temperature of our body. That doesn’t mean we’re hot and sweaty already.  Warm muscles are more receptive to movement, especially those that use a larger range of motion that our daily activities.
  • Our joints get a lube-job.  When our body gets the cues that we’re picking up the pace of our day, it adjusts the fluid in our joints for better functioning. This is important for everyone, but especially those with the remnants of old injuries, arthritis or tendinitis issues.
  • On a less scientific level, I believe that the warm up is also a psychological transition from my students’ work day to their “me time”. It plugs their brain back into their body so they can focus on learning and the joy of moving.

Those first 10 minutes of class set the stage for the rest of the hour. Get things off to a good start, either on your own or as the instructor. Now that you know all the good things that happen to your body in the first few minutes, make sure to get there on time so you don’t miss out!

When Your Wrists Say “No”

April 5, 2012

playing zills with a wrist injuryA few weeks ago I got an email from a dancer who used to enjoy playing zills but no longer could due to carpal tunnel issues. Following surgery she has limited hand mobility to play finger cymbals. She was looking for ideas on how she might still be able to use her zills in her dance given these new limitations. I thought this was an interesting question and one that certainly other dancers have had to deal with, so I thought I’d share a few alternative ideas  with everyone here.

Switch instruments

If the issue is only in one hand, consider using a small, light tambourine to participate in your music. A tambourine makes a wonderful, playful and exciting prop that really works with your movement. You can watch a nice example of this here. In this video, Amani is using a larger tambourine, but you get the idea of how versatile it can be, whether the music is slow or lively.

Think “2 Hands”

Striking your zills together in the usual way involves flexion and extension of the ring finger and thumb. The muscles that do this are actually in the forearm, but their tendons that connect to the finger bones run through the wrist, Instead of producing your sound by bringing together the 2 zills on one hand, use both hands. Here are a few examples of ways to make different sounds and accents without aggravating your wrists.

  • Clap Accents: Bring your hands together and clap all 4 zills at one.  Just as with a one-handed sound, you will get a lower, duller sound if you bring them together and keep them closed than if you strike them and open immediately so that they ring. Using these two tones together creatively you can have some fun. Try it!
  • Open Ring: Position your zills as if they made a little box with one pair resting on the top and bottom, the other pair on two opposite side. Check out the picture at the top of this post to illustrate . Wag the hand with the “sides” so that they ring against the stable “top and bottom” zills. This can be done softly or exuberantly, depending on your music.
  • Tap It Out: Holding your hands as you did for a regular clap, you can play many of the same rhythmic pattern you normally would on one hand without the stress of finger flexion and extension if those movements now cause you difficulty or pain. Instead of “right” and left”, substitute “ring fingers” and “thumbs”.   If you use the old trick of having one zill in a different metal, you can have more than one pitch too.

The need to have your hands together to make sound will probably mean that playing will be more of an accent than a continual sonic layer in your dance.  Explore different ways to position your arms that allow your movement to be seen and your body line to be balanced. For example, play overhead while doing larger hip or travelling movements. Position yourself with arms forward on a diagonal to the audience while doing movements that are best viewed in profile. Hold your hands coyly in front of one shoulder while doing movement on the opposite hip – then switch! Yes, there will be some adjustments, but with some effort and flexible thinking, a dancer does not have to mourn the loss of her zills if she’s willing to try some new approaches.

Have you stopped playing zills due to a wrist injury? Have you found ways to play with reduced mobility in your hands and wrists? Tell us about it in the comments below…

Dance For Your Life

January 28, 2012

Belly dance class at East Prince Senior Initiative

Many women who shun the gym do belly dance as their main exercise and enjoy the fitness benefits along with the fun. Unlike some forms of dance, such as ballet, belly dance is more physically accessible to most women in the general population. It also remains an activity they can safely pursue as they mature. In fact, belly dance is very well suited as exercise for maturing women.

Studies tell us that by age 75, 66% of women report no physical activity whatsoever. A certain level of fitness and range of motion is needed to perform daily activities and live independently. This doesn’t happen suddenly at age 75, but creeps up on these women starting in their 40’s and 50’s when they could be dancing against the tide of aging to prevent this.  Let’s look at some ways that belly dance can benefit mature women.

  • Belly dance is a low or no-impact activity so it protects joints that have seen some wear and tear over the years.
  • Belly dance improves balance. 30% of women at 65 and 50% of women at 75 suffer one fall per year. Dancing strengthens the muscles we use for walking and standing up straight to improve stability while moving or standing still
  • Belly dance is a weight-bearing activity so it helps to preserve bone density in the hips and legs. Fragile bones combined with impaired balance often lead to hip fractures, which are devastating and sometimes fatal in older women.
  • Belly dance helps to strengthen core muscles, protecting the spine, improving posture and reinforcing balance.
  • Belly dance is a light to moderate activity. This fills the bill for recommendations of accumulating 30 minutes most or all days of the week. This kind of conditioning helps minimize daily fatigue and shortness of breath while climbing stairs or carrying groceries.
  • Belly dance is a group activity. Staying socially engaged improves mental outlook and feelings of well-being, especially important for seniors.
  • Done on a regular basis, belly dancing at a moderate level of acitivity can help prevent or reduce the age-related accumulation of fat in the abdomen. This not only makes you look better, but improves your insulin sensitivity, warding off Type II diabetes which develops in 1 in 4 of people over 65.
  • For the 29% of women over 45  that have osteoarthritis, belly dance (and gentle exercise in general)  helps to maintain joint function. It cannot reverse joint damage, but it will not hasten it or exacerbate pain either, according to research studies.
  • As a low to moderate level of regular exercise, belly dance can lower blood pressure 8-10 mm Hg in healthy women and in those with mild hypertension. That might be just enough to keep some borderline women off blood pressure medication.

If you already dance, as many of my blog readers do, then you already know that above all it is FUN! It can also be challenging, keeping you learning new things which is good for your brain too. The beauty of belly dance as a lifetime pursuit is that it can positively change the way we age – and face it, nobody gets to stay 25 forever! It is also a dance that can change along with our bodies. Most of us will give up splits, laybacks and Turkish drops at some point, but the dance remains full of the beauty, subtlety and grace that drew us to it in the first place.

So whether you are in your 20th year of dancing or just starting out at age 50, know that you are doing something good for yourself today, and for the health of the future, more mature you.

How has your experience with belly dance changed as you have gotten older? Did you come to belly dance later in life?  How has it affected your health? Tell us in the comments below…

Holiday Stress – A Balancing Act for Dancers

December 3, 2011

You can balance a sword or a tray of burning candles on your head – but can you balance your life for the next few weeks? The holiday season is upon us and that means good times, good  friends and good cheer, right? Yes, but if you’re a working dancer, it can be a time of overwork and extra stress too.  You can be torn between taking advantage of the party performance season and the needs and wishes of your family and friends who want you around.  If that wasn’t enough, the physical stress of keeping up with your classes – whether you teach or are taking them – your workouts to keep you fit, and late nights performing make this a good time to talk about the antidote… rest and recovery!

Every serious dancer should have a supplemental exercise plan to keep up stamina, balance muscle strength and help prevent injury – and I hope you do! That’s what the Saturday Strength & Stretch DBQ is all about!  The schedule disruptions of holiday work and play can really throw a monkey wrench into your routine. If you’re anything like me,  when that gets disrupted, not only do I feel it physically, but I also feel guilty for “falling off the wagon”. Take a few minutes to step back and look at the larger picture. If your performance schedule is heavy for a few days,  give yourself permission to skip a day or do half the volume – for example, 1 set of each exercise instead of 2 or 3 and less cardio time. This is usually my approach on days that are just a time-crunch, even if it’s not because of lots of dancing. Some exercise is always better than none.

If you work a day job, getting up early and performing late are not an ideal mix. In a perfect world we’d all take an afternoon nap! Look ahead at your week – if you can see that early/late scenario coming up, get some extra sleep in the 2 or 3 days preceding it and plan on catching up afterwards. Rest, both as sleep and as a refrain from exercise, lets the body make those small repairs to keep you going. Just like your house or car, if you let those “small repairs” go unattended, you can count on a big one down the road. Rest is as much a strategy for injury prevention as your supplemental exercise.

The other healthy habit that falls through the schedule cracks this time of year is good nutrition. I know I haven’t touched my stove all week and it’s not because I don’t love to cook! If you know you’re the type to make a frantic run for the golden arches when you’re pressed for time, think ahead. Pre-made hummus , pita and baby carrots in my fridge have saved me more than once from fast food! Keep fruit in a bowl in your living room, and grab one on the way out the door. (I learned this from my Mom – thanks Mom!)

Got back to back gigs? Yes, you need to fuel up in between. All that dancing depletes the stored glycogen in your muscles and it needs to be replaced before you hit the stage again. What happens if you don’t? You may find yourself passed out in your dressing room after your 1 am show.  Ask me how I know this….

My solution is to keep a ziplock bag of dried apricots and raw almonds in my gig bag – and of course always some water.  The apricots  (or any dried fruit)  are a compact source of carbohydrates for energy and the protein in the almonds (or other nuts)  helps slow down the sugar rush to keep you from spiking. Of course, diabetic dancers will need to pay special attention and follow their physician’s advice.

Balance your activity and plan ahead to keep your stresses from getting the best of you. I hope you are set up for a fantastic holiday with lots of bookings and fun shows as well as  plenty of fun with your loved ones!

What stresses you out during the holidays? How do you deal with it? Tell us in the comments below…

Developing a Taste for Belly Dance

July 15, 2011

It’s no surprise to anyone reading this blog that my first love is dancing – but what you may not know is that I am an avid cook too! I love all kinds of ethnic foods and have amassed a cookbook collection that has well over 250 titles.  Years of hanging around Middle Eastern restaurants for gigs have transformed my diet. Hummus, tabouleh and the like are “normal” food in my house – no more unusual than peanut butter and jelly. But it’s the long-time friendships I’ve enjoyed with two Lebanese women in particular that have introduced me to delicious dishes not usually found on the typical Middle Eastern restaurant menu.  One of these is Burghul bi Banadoura or Bulgur with Tomatoes.  My friend Nadia whips this up like it’s nothing and it smells and tastes so heavenly I can eat bowl after bowl.  It’s as good warm as it is cold. She never wrote her recipe down for me so I have adapted one from Claudia Roden’s “New Book of Middle Eastern Food” to be more like hers.

Burghul bi Banadoura (Bulgur with Tomatoes)

1 large onion, chopped

5 Tbl olive oil

3 cups coarse bulgur, rinsed and drained

1-14 oz can of diced tomatoes, drained and juice reserved

1 Tbl tomato paste

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp allspice

salt & pepper to taste

Water added to reserved tomato juice to total 1 1/2 cups

Fry onion in half the oil till golden. Add bulgur and stir well.

Add diced tomatoes, paste, water and juices, sugar, allspice, salt and pepper. Stir and cook covered over low heat for about 15 minutes. Check after 10 minutes to be sure it isn’t drying out.  If  there isn’t any liquid left in the bottom and the bulgur is still too chewy, then add a little water and cook 5 minutes longer. If it’s too wet, then cook uncovered to let liquid evaporate.

Let sit covered 10 minutes after it’s done cooking. Stir in the other half of the oil.

Serve warm or cold as a side dish. I like mine as a main dish with a green salad. Yum!

Has being involved with belly dance brought new foods into your life? What’s your favorite Middle Eastern dish?
Tell us in the comments below…