The Great Shimmy Debate

In my studies of various styles of bellydance, I’ve come across 3 basic ways to drive a shimmy:

  • Obliques
  • Glutes
  • Knees/thighs

Each of these has its own look; and advantages and disadvantages.

Characteristics

The oblique shimmy tends to have a softer look to it. It’s produced by lengthening and shortening the internal obliques in opposition. Given the depth of the oblique muscles, the goal is to relax the muscles on top, resulting in an appearance of ease.

Trunk muscles

The glute shimmy looks a little sharper. It’s produced by using the lower part of the gluteous maximus, just above where the hamstring attaches to the bone. The movement tends to be more localized, and residual movement does not radiate out as much as it does for the other types.

The knee or thigh shimmy resembles the oblique shimmy in that it has a softer look. It’s produced by bending and straightening the legs in opposition, predominantly through the use of the quadriceps and hamstrings. It can also have a much more grounded appearance, with movement driven up from the floor. The movement requires no engagement of the torso area to create the effect.

Why limit yourself?

I’ve heard many people argue that their preferred shimmy is “the best”. To this I shrug, and wonder why there needs to be a “best”. The 3 are subtly different. As a dancer, why not learn how to do all of them, and understand the visual difference? This gives the dancer the most range of expression and musicality. Use a knee shimmy for an earthy, folkloric piece. Select a glute shimmy to match punctuation in the music or to provide contrast to smooth, sultry movement. Use an oblique shimmy for a piece that requires “ease”. Be sure to experiment. I find that different shimmies layer better with some movements than others.

If you’re a beginning dancer, learn your teacher’s approach. Perhaps even attend classes with more than one teacher and experience a different technique. Even now as a student, I will try to spend at least some of each class doing whichever shimmy is a given teacher’s preference.

If you’ve been dancing a while, embrace your own default for soloing. Pick the one that looks best on your body, along with your movement and music choices. Know how to layer well with that technique. Which shimmy you use matters more in a group choreography, in which case ask your choreographer’s preference. (They may even specify different approaches at different points.)

For me, I like the look of a glute shimmy best on my body. I don’t like the stomach reverb on me that comes with a well-done knee or oblique shimmy. But then, I’m a slightly larger dancer with a lot of loose skin from having twins. This is my choice. But I can switch to a knee shimmy without much of a thought as the music & mood dictate. I haven’t found much that I can’t accomplish with these two, but then I’m still working on my oblique shimmy. I may yet discover the move or layer that require it from me.