Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Nutritional Supplements for Belly Dancers

In a perfect world, we'd get all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that we need from our diets. However, for the vast majority of us that doesn't happen. We live in the age of processed, convenience foods, coupled with little time, and lots of stress. And even for those who do find the time to cook home-cooked meals of fresh produce and lean proteins, we may still not be getting all of the nutrients we need from our meals due to a wide variety of factors, including but not limited to, food that's lost its nutrient value from traveling long distances to reach us, absorption issues within our own bodies, and other pollutants and toxins in our environments.

I've always had a keen interest in food, nutrition, and health. In fact, it's an interest that lead me to becoming a certified nutritionist a number of years ago. I'd like to take today's post to share a few possible supplement suggestions for optimizing health as a dancer.

Please note that these are intended as suggestions and may not be the right choice for everyone, as everyone's body is different and unique. Please consult with your own trusted health practitioner before implementing any changes, especially ensuring that any supplements you add to your diet won't adversely interact with any medications you are taking. Also, if you having severe or ongoing symptoms of any nature, you should seek medical advice and testing to ensure that your symptoms are not indicative of a more serious symptom or disease that cannot be treated with supplements alone.

And of course, all the supplements in the world won't do you any good if your diet is filled with garbage! Be sure to eat an optimal diet that's filled with lots of fresh vegetables and fruit and lean proteins, while avoiding too much sugar, starches, grains, alcohol, trans fat, and other processed foods.
  1. Collagen Hydrolysate - Collagen is a form of protein that breaks down into peptides that are responsible for repairing connective tissue in the body, including bone, skin, ligaments, hair, and nails. In addition to making the body stronger and better able to withstand injury (because 10 years from now, you hope to still be dancing, right?), recent studies have shown initial indicators that consuming supplemental collagen can improve skin elasticity, literally plumping the skin from the inside out. Additionally, for anyone with IBS, "leaky gut" or other irritable/inflammatory bowel conditions, collagen can aid in repairing intestinal wall linings and reducing permeability. Unfortunately, there is  not currently a product on the market (that I'm aware of) that is not animal protein based. But if you're not vegan or vegetarian and you're looking for a brand to try, I recommend Great Lakes Geltin
  2. Rodiola - Had too many late nights and your energy is lagging? Feeling like you just don't have the stamina and vitality to get through your upcoming evening gig? Rather than turning to a sugar-laden coffee or caffeinated soda, consider giving rodiola a try. Rodiola is an adaptogenic herb that can help prevent fatigue and less the effects of stress on the body. Studies have also shown that it can give the immune system a general boost. Be sure to take it in the morning or early afternoon and not right before bedtime.
  3. Probiotics - You've probably heard of this one before; probiotics are the helpful or "friendly" bacteria that inhabit your gut and help keep your digestive system in balance. But what you might not have known is that 70% to 80% of your immune system is located in your gut. Thus, if your digestive system is not functioning properly you could be setting yourself for further aggravated health issues down the road. I'm sure that down the road you'd rather be dancing than heading to the doctor, right? A daily probiotic supplement can help you take care of your tummy and in extension, your overall health. Look for brands containing Bacillus coagulans (BC-30) and Lactobacillus GG
  4. B Complex - B Vitamins do wonders for our bodies. The Vitamin B family helps with carbohydrate metabolism, maintaining a calm and healthy nervous system, adrenal function, and other vital metabolic functions.  Additionally, B vitamins are largely responsible for glowing skin and strong, health hair. If you feel like all the layers of stage makeup and hours of hot styling tools on your hair are doing you no favors, taking a B vitamin supplement could help you rediscover some of your inner glow.  
  5. Melatonin - Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland that helps regulate your sleep cycles. As dancers, we are often traveling and working odd and late hours, which can disrupt our natural circadian cycles. If your zzz's are out of wack, taking a melatonin supplement at bedtime can be an all-natural way to treat jeg lag and insomnia. 
  6. Digestive Enzymes - Nobody likes to feel bloated and gassy at any time during the day, but especially not when you're about to don a two piece outfit and perform abdominal isolations. This is where a digestive enzyme can come to your rescue. Your digestive system is full of enzymes that break down your food so that you body can absorb and utilize what you consume. However, due to factors such as aging, genetics, current or past medications, and many other factors, you may not have enough enzymes for your digestive system to function at an optimum level, with the result being a varying range of digestive ails, which can include pain, bloating, gas, cramping, heartburn, constipation, and diarrhea. Taking a supplemental digestive enzyme can help with these symptoms. My hands down favorite digestive enzyme is Dr. Brantley's Active Enzyme Plus.  
Here's to a happy, healthy, and vibrant you!

Photo Credit: Unknown

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Stars of Dance Spotlight: Naima Akef

Naima Akef was born in 1929 in Tanta on the Nile Delta to parents who were acrobats in the Akef Circus. This unique childhood resulted in Naima's first performance to transpire at the tender young age of four. She quickly became a popular circus performer, ultimately leading her to stardom as a belly dancer and actress in the Golden Age of Egyptian cinema.

When Naima was 14, the Akef circus disbanded, but she continued on performing both an acrobatic and a clown act. Eventually she found her way to Badia Masbadni's nightclub, the Opera Casino. It was here that she received training in belly dance. However, her time the Opera Casino was short-lived. Due to Masbadni's supposed favoritism of Naima, the other dancers tried to gang up on her and assault her. Naima managed to come out of the episode physically harmed, but the incident resulted in her being fired from the Opera Casino.

But when one door closes, another opens. Shortly thereafter, Naima was hired at another famous nightclub, the Kit Kat Club. It was here that she was introduced to the siblings and film directors, Abbas Kemal and Hussein Fawzy, resulting in her first movie appearance in the 1949 film, Bread and Salt.  From there Naima's career grew rapidly, staring in 17 films between 1949 and 1964.

One of Naima's most famous movies was 1955's Aziza, in which Naima can be seen dancing to the famous song by the same title, composed by Mohammed Adel Wahab.

Another of her more famous roles was in 1957's Tamr Henna, in which she can be seen dancing below.

And I've included one final clip of Naima just because I like how this one highlights her ability to execute turns. Unfortunately, I'm not sure which film this is from. If you know, please leave it in the comments below!

In my opinion, Naima's style is the epitome of "classical". Her style is relaxed and graceful, with clean, simple movements that aren't muddied by too much layering or hyper-activity. The sharp, staccato isolations popular today are replaced with juicy, rounded ones. Nonetheless, her grace is underlied with strength, balance, and dexterity, likely developed in her youth as an acrobat. She has some of the best turns I've ever seen in a belly dancer; sharp, precise, and exact. Her demeanor and carriage exude confidence and femininity, as she practically floats across the floor like many of the dancers of the Golden Age do. 

Naima quit acting in 1964 to take care of her son and only child. Sadly, Naima succumbed to cancer and died just two years later at the young age of 36. Despite her short time with us, her contribution to the world of belly dance will always be remembered.

Photo Credits: All photos Naima Akef