Downtown Miami

Pregnant women learn a dance to soothe the womb

Melissa Cramer, 35, who is six months pregnant, participates in a one-on-one belly dancing class with her teacher Michelle Alva, 41, in Key Biscayne. Alva's class uses movements, postures, sound, and visualization to help her students with their pregnancy.
Melissa Cramer, 35, who is six months pregnant, participates in a one-on-one belly dancing class with her teacher Michelle Alva, 41, in Key Biscayne. Alva's class uses movements, postures, sound, and visualization to help her students with their pregnancy. Miami Herald Staff

Melissa Cramer, 35, has seen her belly grow for six months, and during that time, she has also learned that stress is part of the pregnancy experience.

“If you’ve been pregnant, you know how heavy you feel because you can’t move the same way, and you have all this pressure that’s coming from everywhere,” Cramer said.

For the past four weeks, she has found an outlet to all that stress.

Mimicking the rhythmical hip movements of prenatal belly dance teacher Michelle Alva during their one-on-one sessions has been a fun way for Cramer to enjoy herself and forget about the outside pressures.

“To have a space where you come and you forget that with the fun of the belly dance, it lifts all of that away,” said Cramer.

Pregnant women are starting to learn the rhythmical movements, hip circles and figure eight moves of belly dance, which according to gynecologist and obstetrician Anna Cabeca, facilitates the process of giving birth.

“It makes labor so much easier because of the flexibility and strength of the muscle,” said Cabeca, who has 23 years of medical experience with pregnant women. “When the childbirth is occurring, your pelvis has that flexibility versus tight ligament.”

Alva, 41, also a licensed physical therapist, tried prenatal belly dance during her pregnancy, and after seeing how it helped during her maternity and labor, decided to help other mothers by teaching classes.

“At the beginning, they want to run away from the veil, and at the end, they can’t get enough,” she said. “There’s a transformation that happens.”

Cramer, who experienced that transformation, said the class also represents a way to stay fit during her pregnancy.

“I was really needing the class,” Cramer said. “It gets my heart rate up and it loosens me up.”

The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends women include aerobics, such as dancing, to their pregnancy routine.

But the physical workout is not the most important element to everyone.

For Alva, who began working with pregnant women 10 years ago, prenatal belly dancing goes beyond staying active during pregnancy.

“No matter the weight that they are or how their body is changing, they leave that class more connected to themselves, more connected to their babies,” Alva said.

Mothers get to choose between two classes: an individual, 75 minute one-on-one session for $180; or a group class of four or more people that costs $99 per person for a series of three sessions. Both options also include breathing and sound healing techniques and yoga postures.

During the group sessions, the women stand in a circle as they admire each other shaking their hips and making noise from the beads of their skirts. They pass by each other as they perform the “proud walk,” in which their head is held up high and their hands are at their waist.

“When women are together supporting each other and celebrating each other, it feels really good,” Alva said.

Iris Nasser, 43, sought that support during her last pregnancy, when she decided to take the belly dance class five years ago.

The experience, she said, made her realize the depth of connection a mother makes with her baby while he or she is in the womb. With each of her four children, she said noticed how her behavior during the nine months of pregnancy had an impact on her baby’s personality.

“I noticed that I was doing a lot of the belly dancing, and I was singing a lot with the chants that Michelle [Alva] would play for me,” said Nasser. “And now Samira [her 5-year-old daughter] has a very good ear for music, so I believe it has a lot to do with what I gave her in practice during the pregnancy.”

If you go

What: Prenatal Belly Dance Classes

Where: 1408 Brickell Bay Dr., Suite 1018, Miami

When: One-on-one sessions are available upon request;group sessions are on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m.

Cost: $180 for one-on-one sessions and $99 per person for a three-class series in groups.

Info: Contact Michelle Alva at info@michellealva.com or go online at www.michellealva.com

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