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Belly Dancing Moves- Beginner Belly Dance Basics

Updated on October 11, 2014

How to Belly Dance

So you want to learn how to belly dance.

When you first start taking belly dancing lessons, you will learn a whole new language. This is the language of belly dance. You will learn all of names for the movements, and the various belly dance rhythms used. Today, we are going to talk about some basic belly dance moves.

As a beginner belly dance instructor, I find that even though I repeat the belly dance moves for my students each week, they still need a little help remembering what these movements are called. There is so much new information to remember when you are just learning, that it can seem overwhelming. And, if you study with more than one belly dance teacher, she may call the moves something other than your other instructors. There are no standard names for the various belly dance movements.

A Hip Circle by any other name.....

is still a hip circle

In my studio we have a move we call the "M & M ". I have no idea if any other teacher would call this particular move by this name, but that's what we call it. The move is actually a series of four hip arches dropped at different points- front, middle, back, and returned to middle. It is a bouncy move that we use a lot. Another move we do has a name coined by my first teacher back in the 70's- the "Crush the Cigarette" step. This is actually a vertical hip twist. In our studio we call a small, tilting pelvic circle by the common name Omi- but others have referred to this move as an "African Hip Circle".

Belly Basics

It helps students to remember the moves if it is called by the same name in class each time it is used. However, when you are just starting out and exposed to so many new moves, you may need a little help recalling them.

With this in mind, I devised a handy sheet to pass out for my students. Feel free to copy this and use it if you find it helpful.

This is a list of movements that I routinely teach my beginners. I have categorized them by body part. I then listed the name of the move and gave a brief description. The list I created for my beginner belly dance students is pretty short, as I didn't want them to feel too overwhelmed with information overload. As they grow in experience, I will supply them with a list of more advanced moves.

Belly Dance Hip Scarves

EVERY Belly dance student needs a hip scarf. It is a costuming essential.

Moves by Catagory- Belly Dancing

Hips Hips Hips

Basic dance posture: Knees soft, pelvis slightly tucked, shoulders back and down, chest slightly lifted, head in line with spine and hips. Maintain basic dance posture throughout movements unless otherwise noted.

Basic Hip Movements:

Hip Circle- Circular isolation of the hips. Pelvis does not tilt. Hips make a circle around the outside perimeter of the feet. A horizontal move.

Hip Bumps- Side to side hip accent done flat-footed and horizontally. A sharp accent is achieved by contracting the glute on the bumping side. Can be done stationary as an accent, or traveling in a walk.

Hip Lifts- A vertical motion accenting one hip. Most of the weight is in the supporting, bent leg with flat foot. The heel of the accent hip is raised. The accent is on the UP.

Hip Drops- A vertical motion accenting one hip. Most of the weight is in the supporting, bent leg with flat foot. The heel of the accent hip is raised. The accent is on the DOWN. Glutes are kept tight on the down to assist with a crisp, sharp accent.

Hip Twists- This resembles half of a twist shimmy. One hip is twisted forward and then brought back to neutral. Can be done as a single accent or is a series. Can be "locked" on the front to create a more percussive look, by contracting the glute on the moving side to stop the movement.

"Crush the Cigarette" Step- ( or- vertical hip twist )- Same as above with one hip twisting forward and back, except moving side has foot extended to the front and is un-weighted. Foot is allowed to "swivel" as if you are crushing out a lit cigarette. This step can be done in place or traveling.

Omi- Executed by a pelvic tilt forward, left side, back, right side. Smooth it out until it becomes a small, tight rocking pelvic circle. Weight is even and feet flat on the ground.

Hip Arch- A vertical movement. Hip is lifted up into the side, ( on ball of foot) twisted forward and dropped down in front. Foot stays on ball and does not leave the ground.

M & M- Similar to a hip arch, only done in several arches. First hip is lifted and dropped to the front ( as in a hip arch ), then brought back to neutral ( middle ) and dropped, then back and dropped and back to middle and dropped. Essentially it looks like an M.

Figure 8-forward Horizontal - The hips traces a horizontal figure 8 with each hip drawing one of the loops. The Hip reaches to the front first, and then traces the circle to the back, crossing over the center point so the left hip can trace the second half of the loop starting at the front.

Figure 8 -Vertical ( Upward 8 )- The hips create a Figure 8 shape on the vertical plane. Hips trace a down, out and in motion. Drop right hip down, then scoop it up and out to the side slightly in a rounded motion. Then pull it into your core and shift the motion to your left side and repeat.

Maya- ( Downward Vertical 8 )- The motion is the opposite of the Upward 8. Hips lift up, out and down, tracing a figure 8.

I don't actually consider a Maya a beginner move, but somehow my list didn't seem complete without it.

Beginner Shimmys

Shimmy on Sisters!


Twist Shimmy- Horizontal twisting of the pelvis so that first one hip then the other moves to the front. Just like the "agitator" in a top loading washing machine. Can be done stationary or traveling.

Basic Shimmy- An alternating up and down motion of the hips caused by a pumping action of the legs. Keep knees softly bent and do not straighten completely.

ChooChoo Shimmy- A very fast scooting movement done on the toes. The feet inch forward very fast, resulting in a very fast traveling shimmy. Hips move naturally in a back and forth motion with no additional effort needed. The scooting action creates the hip movement.

There are a great many more shimmy variations. This is just a starter shimmy set for beginner belly dance students.

Chest and Shoulder Moves

Chest and Shoulders

Chest Lifts- Chest (rib cage) isolation up. Movement looks as if you have taken a large, deep breath except it is done muscularly, not by breathing. Movement is not executed by moving the shoulders. Shoulders stay relaxed and down. Envision a string tied to the top of your breastbone and being pulled straight up.

Chest Drops- A percussive isolation of the chest (rib cage) by preparing with a chest lift and then dropping the chest back to a neutral position sharply and on the beat of the music. (Neutral meaning a normal, un-slouched posture.) Don't cave in when you drop down.

Chest Slides- Horizontal isolation of the rib cage separate from the lower body. Rib cage is pushed out to the right and then the left.

Chest Forward- Chest is pushed forward over the toes, instead of up.

Chest Circle Horizontal- Chest is pushed to 4 points- forward, to the right side ( chest slide) to the back, to the left and back forward. When done smoothly, it forms a circle around the torso.

Chest Circle Vertical- Chest is lifted UP, down to the right side, over to center neutral, over to left, and back up in front, creating a vertical circle that is drawn in front of the body.

Shoulder Shimmy- An alternating forward and backward motion of the shoulders. A gentle move used as an accent. Don't lean forward into it. It is a shoulder shimmy, not a breast shake!

Belly Dance Costumes for Beginners

Belly Dance Costumes for you when you start dancing

Traveling Steps

Traveling Steps

Step Lift-This is essentially a walking hip lift and can be done walking forward and reverse. Step forward on one foot and lift the opposite hip. Reverse for traveling backwards.

Scissors- A four part step. A very versatile step in which one foot always steps forward and back while the other steps in place. It can be done on the spot, traveling sideways or to all 4 sides. It would look like this if stepping with the right side: Forward on R, in place on L, Back on R, in place on L. Only one leg is doing most of the motion, hence the "scissors".

Grapevine- Sideways traveling step in which one foot always steps to the side and the other foot alternates stepping across in front and across behind. In a 4 count grapevine, the hip can be lifted on the 4th step.

Walking Hip Bumps- Step forward on one foot bump hip out to side. ( Can be done singularly or in pairs.) Repeat on other side while traveling forward.

Belly Dance Veils

Veils for your belly dance lessons

Graceful Arms


Hand Undulations- A scooping out and curling in motion of the hand with hand gently and smoothly pulling in and pushing back out.

Snake Arms- Arms are extended out to the side for snake arms. Elbow leads up, forearm hanging vertical, wrist relaxed and palm facing in toward your side, until elbow reaches shoulder height, then upper arm rotates to point elbow down as forearm flips up to side with palm facing out as elbow leads down. Make sure arms follow a rounded motion and do not hold too close to body. It is not an angular or sharp motion.

Painter Arms ( forward snake )- Similar to above except done in front of the body.


Pivot Turn - Turning in a circle on yourself by leaving the ball of the pivoting foot in one place while you push around the center axis with the other foot. Just lift the heel of the pivoting foot to allow it to turn.

3 Point Turn- Facing front, step out to side with right leg, pivot on right leg so your body is facing the back, pivot around again to face front.

Hysterical! Your First Belly Dance Lesson

Too funny. This talented dancer puts on a great skit parodying a brand new belly dance student. Do you see yourself in this video? :)

The Belly Dance Dictionary

Another very helpful source for remembering belly dance moves is an online Belly Dance Dictionary, created by a wonderful lady who obviously spent a lot of time and effort to bring this to all of us. This was created over the past year and is now found on You-Tube.

Check out one of her over a hundred belly dance demo videos below in the You-Tube clip.



Belly Dance Videos

In addition to your regular belly dance classes, working with videos is always a plus. This is a wonderful way to supplement your lessons in the privacy of your own home- almost like having a private lesson. I have a great many of the videos and recommend them to my students as well.

Here are some I have found particularly helpful.

Belly Dance Basics-

Reader Feedback

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    • profile image

      liny-tan 4 years ago

      love your lens. i do belly dancing exercises every day and i like it very much

    • profile image

      liny-tan 4 years ago

      love your lens. i do belly dancing exercises every day and i like it very much

    • CrazyHomemaker profile image

      CrazyHomemaker 4 years ago

      Everything you've said on here is like what I used to watch on TV. I had fun trying all of the moves. They weren't easy, but they were fun! Nice lens!

    • renagirl profile image

      renagirl 4 years ago

      like your lens very much

    • leesholden profile image

      Lee 5 years ago from Derbyshire, UK

      Cool videos - very interesting

    • Fran Tollett profile image

      Fran Tollett 5 years ago

      LOVE the video about the first belly dance lesson. I laughed so hard....:-D. Great lens! Time to get back to belly dance <3

    • LewesDE profile image

      LewesDE 5 years ago

      Love this lens!

    • jadehorseshoe profile image

      jadehorseshoe 6 years ago

      A Useful Lens!