It is a truth universally acknowledged that belly dancing developed as a fertility dance in the Middle East. Okay, maybe it’s not “universally acknowledged” because experts still argue about the origin of belly dancing. But what is largely accepted is that many societies and cultures have used it to help women during childbirth.Not only is belly dancing believed to strengthen abdominal muscles in pregnant women, it also helps during childbirth, or so claim the dance form’s loyalists.I Say Belly Dance, You Say... Shakira?What comes to you mind when I say, “Belly dance?”“Gyrating bodies.”Okay, let’s try one more time – “belly dance?”“Hips don’t lie.”No, no, you’ve got it all wrong. Final time – “belly dance?”“Shakira and Beyonce?”I rest my case.Today, it is inevitable to separate belly dancing from the sexualised and sensual entity it has become. While it is indeed a beautiful dance that should make you appreciate, admire and celebrate your body, that’s not where its relevance ends.Of course, it’s important to keep your individual medical history in mind and consult a professional including any exercise in your regime. Now with the disclaimers out of the way, let’s commence.Abs During Pregnancy – Yay or Nay? We Ask Doctors and ExpertsBelly Movements to Aid ChildbirthAny form of physical exercise helps in achieving better fitness levels. And better fitness will come in handy during pregnancy and childbirth. Yes, it’s a no-brainer, so why single out belly dancing, right?This is because belly dancing specifically builds core strength, helps ease backache (common during pregnancy), improves circulation, coordination and balance, and allows the birthing mother be more in control of her body and breathing. Additionally, if done properly, it is also known to naturally move the baby into the right position of birth.This idea is supported by the proponents of the idea that the dance form should be used during the process of childbirth. Women from India, Egypt, Hawaii and New Zealand are known to use circular hip movements, specific to some belly dancing moves like the figure-of-eight, to aid them during pregnancy.You Can Have Sex on Your Period, But You Can Also Get PregnantGentle (not high-paced) shimmies, tummy flutters and hip circles can also help strengthen pelvic and abdominal muscles and therefore are often recommended by midwives and doulas.Holistic fitness expert, Vesna Jacob agrees with this and says:In general, keeping fit is definitely helpful. Belly dance helps with this because it’s fun, everyone likes to dance and there’s music. It allows you to be in control of different parts of the abdomen.Jacob adds that many women who are delivering a baby for the first time are not aware of how to engage their bodies in the process of childbirth – what to do, where to push, how to push – these are common questions they don’t have answers to, she says. Gaining control of their abdominal and core muscles therefore helps pregnant women immensely. Hip-openers and exercises to open up hip flexors are known to relieve discomfort for expectant mothers.Morocco, aka Carolina Varga Dinicu, a leading ethnologist, has written in detail about dance rituals followed by Morocco’s (the country) tribal women during childbirth. Morocco found out that these dances were extremely similar to belly dance exercises. She calls it a process to “dance the baby into the world.”The technique of Oriental dancing is one of isolated muscular control of contractions and releases, while all other muscles not involved in the movement are relaxed.MoroccoWhat Does the Doc Say?Some doctors, however, disagree with the idea of belly dance at any stage of pregnancy. Dr Ranjana Sharma, Senior Consultant, Gynaecology, Apollo Hospitals, says that though belly dance, like any other dance form, is a good idea pre-pregnancy, it may not be the best thing to do during pregnancy. It seems too vigorous an exercise, she adds.Additionally, belly dancing during pregnancy isn’t recommended for women who are prone to complications like gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, placenta previa or premature labour.India’s Tryst With Dance and PregnancyThough folk dances in India have also been used to aid childbirth, there’s no documented evidence to support it. More recently, however, AV Satyanarayana, dancer and choreographer, made headlines by using Bharatanatyam to help pregnant women. He trains women to the beats of this classical dance form with steps that are choreographed for expectant mothers, reported DNA Bangalore.Exercise is very important during pregnancy. These days, women are overcautious, many of them end up doing no physical activity while carrying. They don’t realise that this could lead to difficulty during delivery, their bodies become stiff and they are unable to control their breathing... At the end of the day, dancing is fun, and through this choreographed piece, we bring out the maternal instincts in these women.Dr AV SatyanarayanaHis work has been reportedly supported by gynaecologists like Dr Kamini Rao, Dr Hema Diwakar and Dr Rajeshwari.Both belly dancing and pregnancy are wonderful things, but they are also about personal choice and preferences. See if this cup of tea is healthy enough for you. If yes, go ahead and take a sip or two, or simply move on to the next one.