Popular for the fitness benefits of its torso-driven moves and for pure enjoyment, the practice of belly dancing could also lead to improved body image for women, according to researchers from Flinders University in Australia.
"Belly dancing is an activity associated with positive body image, because participants tend to focus less on their external appearance, and more on the experience and what they are able to do with their bodies," says lead author Dr. Marika Tiggemann of the psychology department at Flinders.
Dr. Tiggemann set out to build on previous research concluding that street and modern dancers have better self-image than exotic dancers and assembled a participant group of 213 young women, of which 112 were experienced belly dancers, recruited from dancing schools. The remaining participants were undergraduates who had never belly-danced.
All participants completed a questionnaire in which they were asked to analyze their own bodies, how they felt others perceived them and how attractive they thought they were to men, with the belly dancers having a better overall self-image.
This was in accordance with Dr. Tiggermann's "embodiment model," in which she had hypothesized that among women who practice it, belly dancing helps nurture a sense of mental and physical harmony with their bodies, leading to less self-objectifying thoughts.
As for the indisputable erotic nature of the dance, most survey respondents viewed it as a low priority when asked what belly-dancing affords them, leading Dr. Tiggermann to conclude that dancers participate for themselves primarily and to a lesser extent for others' perception of them.
"It allows women a rare, safe and creative opportunity for exploring and expressing their sensual and sexual selves," says Dr. Tiggerman.
The study was published in Springer's journal Sex Roles.
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