Belly Dance Tips for Practicing Undulations and Figure-8s

April 30, 2019

In this post I break down movements and share tips with you about how to execute undulations and figure-8 designs I use in class. This is intended to supplement your training.  If you need further assistance, visits the Belly Dance Practice Videos page, which includes Infinity (figure 8 down to up), Maya (figure-8 up to down), and Snake Undulation (undulation up to down). More of the movements will be added.

UNDULATION Up to Down – Scoop chest forward, circling back and down, contracting your upper abdominals followed by your lower abdominals as you move down your spine, releasing the hips back at the end. Feet should be parallel under your hips with knees bent. At the highest point of your chest scoop forward, you might think of a mermaid bursting out of the water, showing off a necklace of shells. (Unlike this picture, however, your rib-cage would be in front of your center of gravity, not behind.)

TIP: After you undulate down, be sure to keep your hips released to the back and knees bent as you scoop and circle your chest again.

UNDULATION Down to Up – With feet parallel under your hips, release your hips back (by relaxing your lower abdominals) and tuck/scoop them forward, contracting your lower abdominals followed by your upper abdominals as you move up your spine. You can finish the movement by contracting your upper back and lifting your rib cage with a chest lock (hard contraction). Or, as another variation, you can take a small step backward (keeping your feet close as in Ballet 3rd position), letting the weight shift backward initiate the pelvis scoop. In this variation the could remain completely still with the movement focused on the hips making a sort of figure-8 back to front, or the chest can float on top of the movement and respond.

TIP: An image I use in my class is of the car dealership air dancer many that undulated up the center and out the arms as it fills with air.


FIGURE 8 Up to Down: Stand with feet in a narrow parallel, knees bent, with lower abdominals contracted so your pelvis is underneath you. Lift one hip and push it up, out and down. Repeat on other side. Hips do not twist front and back but move parallel to the mirror. Pay special attention to your lower back extending down rather than letting your tush stick out behind you. Contracting your lower abs and tucking slightly will help with this.

This movement is sometimes called Maya, named after a dancer during California’s “golden age” of belly dance in the 1960s-70s. (An archive of this special time in American belly dance history is being developed HERE.)

Great Mosque (Jemaa Sidi Uqba), Kairouan, Tunisia

You may think of the M in Maya that your hips are tracing as you practice this step. Maya must have executed this movement beautifully, that her name became identified with it. You may also imagine your hips tracing the shape of a heart, or the shape of the Arches in the Great Mosque (Jemaa Sidi Uqba), Kairouan, Tunisia. 



FIGURE 8 Down to Up: Stand with feet in a narrow parallel, knees bent, with lower abdominals contracted so your pelvis is underneath you. Release one hip down and scoop it up. As you pull your lifted hip in the other side scoops down. Continue this movement fluidly, creating an infinity symbol.

Though the infinity symbol on the right implies a 3rd dimension in the way it wraps around the heart, like with the Maya, there is no twist or forward/back motion. The pelvis should remain parallel to the mirror, as you are dancing between panes of glass.

TIP: I recommend warming up to this movement by stretching one hip down and circling it in multiple times on one side before moving on to the other side. Pay attention to how your obliques are working as you pull your hip in.

5. FIGURE 8 front to back: Stand with feet in a narrow parallel, knees bent, with lower abdominals contracted so your pelvis is underneath you. Twist your hips forward push it out as far as you can and scoop it in a C shape around to the back corner. Contract to your lower abdominals as you pull your hip underneath you and push your other hip out to the front to repeat the movement on the other side.

Your pelvis is not tilting or lifting at all, but remains parallel to the floor in the transverse plane.  (Imagine in this diagram that the transverse plane is located at the hip-line rather than the waist.

TIP: imagine your hips are a plastic spatula scooping the frosting from the side of the deepest part of a bowl. Your pelvis should remain parallel with the ground and not tilt or lift. To accomplish this think about pushing down with the hip as you move it through the c shape, as this table illustrates.


FIGURE 8 back to front: this movement is like the figure 8 front to back but going the opposite direction. However, in my class we usually execute this movement with the feet in the second position (wider than the hips) and allow the foot to twist a bit on the ball. Even though your heel will be lifted as you twist, the hips should remain parallel to the floor.

TIP: after you bring one hip to the front, be sure to contract tightly, as if hollowing out your abdominal region, as you shifts your weight to the back foot press that hip back.

Eager for more in-depth training and feedback? Contact Hannah to book a private session online or in person.