First off, it is essential to start with good posture. Your feet should be hip width apart, knees slightly bent (when I say “straighten” I mean straighten 90% of the way, never lock your knees), your pelvis neutral (think long spine), your shoulder rolled back and down, chest lifted, arms gently stretched out, as if resting them on top of a table.
Now, put on one of your favorite belly dance songs with a steady drum beat and try out the following shimmies. I paired each shimmy with a video example of a dancer performing the movement. Note that because Oriental and belly dance do not have standard dance vocabularies, my shimmy names will be different names for the same movements for another dance teacher.
For hip shimmies, all the action will be happening beneath your rib cage. Because your torso is attached to your spine and hips, there will be a little vibration, but the shimmy should definitely be happening in your hips and down. It may help to visualize balancing a pot of water on your head. You should be able to do any shimmy without spilling that water from the pot because your knees are bent and are absorbing the shock or the shimmies from your hips. This will also help you think about layering movements on top of your shimmies once you got the hang of it.
Straight Leg Shimmy: Bend and straighten your knees, alternating from one leg to the other. To help visualize, bump your hips out right left right left. Then pump your knees a little bit (remember to keep your knees unlocked!). The hip movement should be more back to front than from side to side. Start slow, then pick up speed once you can keep control. If you “lose” your shimmy, bend your knees a bit. The straighter your legs, the less space your knees and hips have to move forward and back. The goal is controlled strong shimmies, not wild go-as-fast-as-you-can shimmies. If you do this right, you should be able to maintain your shimmy while shifting your weight from one foot to the other, such as when walking forward or stepping out to the side. Here, your core is engaged but not tight and your butt should be flapping in the wind, and the vibrations making all the bits vibrate so pleasantly. 🙂 It feels weird but will grow second nature soon.
Earthquake Shimmies: This is a real crowd-pleaser, especially if you are well endowed. Can you figure out why? Simply lift your heels off the ground in demi releve and drop your heel onto the ground. Rinse and repeat until good and earthquaked. Try sliding hips in circle or from side to side for extra flavor.
Deep Plie Shimmy: Similar to the straight leg shimmy, but knees are bent a little more. When you maintain this shimmy, you may be picking your heels off the ground, which could make for a less controlled shimmy, so practice flat-footed before graduating to a deeper bend (or plie) and picking up your heels. You’ll also notice that your hips will do a lot more work than your knees in this position, making the shimmy more visible. Good for stagework or for level changes.
Egyptian Shimmy: Start with straight leg shimmy and lean forward until your center of balance is just behind the tops of your toes. You may want to counterbalance your weight change by bringing your arms behind your butt, framing your hips. Here, your knees will be doing more of the work. This is powerful and as 100% Egyptian as it gets!
Shimmy Twist: In most shimmies, you do not tighten your butt or core muscles, but for shimmy twist, you do. Squeeze your butt and tighten your abs as you twist your hips to one diagonal and then the other, as if you were showing off your big belt buckle to people in the corners of the room. Your torso should stay relatively facing forward but will move slightly with the hip movement, thanks to your spine. Now speed it up. There’s your shimmy twist!
Shoulder Shimmy: Imagine someone is holding a tambourine in front of each shoulder and you hit alternately with your left and right shoulders. Speed it up. Upper body posture here is critical. To prevent this movement from becoming the boob jiggle or something found in a burlesque show, ensure your chest it lifted, your shoulders rolled back and down and the movements controlled. Avoid leaning forward excessively when rocking this shimmy for decorum.
Choochoo Shimmy: You have just been hired to mash red grapes for making wine. Get up on releve, lifting your heels off the ground and take baby steps in place. Think tall, elegant thought when doing this. Now add a little more hip action. You’ve got a choochoo shimmy, where you can easily travel across the stage and turn elegantly. Exhausting to sustain for long but impressive-looking! To prevent American football position, keep your shoulders rolled back and down, chest lifted, step lightly, and keep your carriage erect.
Now practice, practice! Shimmy in the shower, to the mailbox, waiting for the subway train, standing in the elevator!