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Dance every day” is the sage advice we once heard a 5-year-old give to a new bride. And her secret for a long, happy life is no less true while you’re pregnant. True, trying to execute complicated hip-hop or punk steps as your shape is rapidly shifting might have humbling, if not disastrous, consequences. But traditional African dance can be a great form of prenatal exercise and a unique way to get comfortable with your pregnancy.
“Instead of fighting the changes in your body, African dance lets you celebrate them,” says personal trainer and dance instructor April Underwood, who designed the workout that follows. “Women can move to the music — naturally move, within their bodies’ limitations — and feel comfortable with their bodies as they change.”
A celebration dance Underwood teaches African dance at Revolutions Studio in Santa Monica, Calif., with a drummer providing the beat. Each dancer responds with personal interpretive movements, as if telling a story. For pregnant dancers, the story is often about the power and energy of fertility. It’s a celebration dance. “There are no do’s and don’ts in African dance,” Underwood says, “so you don’t ever get the feeling that you’re doing it wrong.”
You’ll find that the hip rotations and kicking footwork will help tone the legs and buttocks. The basic move of shifting weight from foot to foot strengthens the feet and ankles. Pulling the elbows back and the shoulder blades together while extending the arms helps relax your back muscles and spine.
As with all exercise, work at a safe, comfortable level. Listen to your body’s cues: If you’re sweating too much or feel too winded to talk, slow down. But the pregnant women in Underwood’s classes usually walk away feeling uplifted, not exhausted. “The dancing gives you energy,” Underwood says. “It makes you feel joyful.”
Warm-up Begin with 5–l0 minutes of limbering movement, done in rhythm to drum-based music. Shift your body weight side to side, loosen your neck and shoulders, and sway your hips from side to side, knees bent. Then make full hip circles, clockwise and counterclockwise. Release tension in your spine and inhale deeply, exhaling fully by pulling your belly in toward your spine. To relax your feet, do ankle circles, and point and flex your feet. Complete your warm-up by lifting yourself up and down on your toes, then stretch your calves and back, holding each stretch for 10 seconds without bouncing.