Review of Dancing For Birth: Prenatal Dance and Birth Wisdom

Dancing for Birth is a program founded by Stephanie Larson and based on the premise that dance and movement will help women navigate pregnancy and, especially, labour. They offer dance classes for women from pre-conception to post-partum, instructor training, and the DVD, Prenatal Dance and Birth Wisdom. I received a review copy of the DVD, and have been looking forward to trying out another prenatal dance offering. Larson leads the program in a garden, accompanied by three other women, one of whom is visibly pregnant. There are motivational segments to the DVD, but I tend to find those kinds of exercises forced, so I gave them a skip.

Dancing for Birth as Prenatal Workout

The DVD is definitely at the gentle end of the spectrum. When I did it I was suffering from back pain, and at no point did it aggravate me. In fact, my pain has been gone since the day I did it, which makes me think it was just the right level of exertion for someone in the third trimester, fatigued and achy. Doing the dance program will probably raise your heart rate a little, but if you've been active in any other way you're unlikely to feel like you're exercising. There is a nice warmup on an exercise/labor ball, the moves from which could be used apart from the video. At the end, a short segment on abdominal and pelvic work introduces a few exercises you could repeat outside of the video.

The movements Larson presents are inspired by bellydance, African, Caribbean and Latin dance. There are a few small combos in the bellydance section, but for the most part this is a one-move-at-a-time program. They generally feel good to do, and many of them resemble what I've learned in labour prep classes. Larson is a certified doula, so this is not a surprise!

Dancing for Birth as Dance Program

If you have dance training and especially bellydance experience, you will probably be confused by much of the DVD. I'm not as good a judge of the other dance forms, but most of the dance movements are introduced as bellydance, and they would probably be better described as "bellydance inspired." I found myself repeatedly correcting movements when I performed them, making sure, for example, that my horizontal figure-8's were truly horizontal. And wondering why I was stomping before doing a hip bump.

The strangest aspect was the arm work. It generally did not look bellydanceish (and I think that's a shame, since this is such an easy way to look graceful when feeling massive and pregnant), and at one point it was confusing for me precisely because I do study bellydance. To wit: the "go-to" arm pattern for large hip circles is generally to fold the hands to the chest when leaning forward (thus also modestly covering heaving cleavage), and to open the arms out when leaning backwards. In this video, the arms do the opposite -- they open out with the lean forward, and fold together during the lean back. Someone else may not have trouble with this, but I found myself floundering constantly because the movement was so counter-instinctive to me. Again, when doing hip sways with snake arms, I'm used to having the arm and hip on the same side go up at the same time -- the instruction on this video has you do the opposite.

The individual movements and combos are usually performed for a random amount of time, and then abruptly stopped. Larson does sometimes count out the moves, sometimes to 8, sometimes to 10, but repetitions on the other side might be done without a count, and may vary in number. Cueing is not mirrored. There is soft background music, but the movements are not performed to the music. Again, if you're happy to just follow along and go with the flow, you may not mind. But if you're used to the structure of balanced sides and reps of eight, you will probably be frustrated.

At the same time, I think the instruction is not really detailed enough for a beginner. There is some attention to posture, which is always good, but the moves are done in "follow along" format, and some of the background dancers struggle to follow too.

In short, Dancing for Birth is fine as a gentle movement practice for labour, but not solid dance instruction.

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