My new favorite way to work out? I'm trading in my sneakers for a hip scarf and going for a shimmy instead of a jog.

Belly dancing has been around long before Shakira hip-circled her way into our hearts, dating back thousands of years. Recently, I gave it a shot myself at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center. Instructor Jehan, who teaches belly dancing all over the world, had me working up a sweat minutes into her open level class at the dance studio, starting off the session with a relaxing meditation before taking us step by step though snake arms, ribcage circles, and hip circles, thrusts, twists, figure eights, and shimmies. And after spending an hour discovering muscles I didn't know I had, she even had the class (a group of women with years of belly dancing under their belts and unlimited patience with my less-than-graceful flailing) go through a choreographed belly dance. Despite shimmying until my hips and abs were screaming, I left feeling centered and energized

Besides being a great physical workout, it can be a spiritual one as well, Jehan told me. "It creates a hypnotic flow in the body which awakens all the energy pathways and the emotions. It is a path self discovery and transformation, as an empowering healing art." I probably need a few more classes to get my movements away from "awkward and pained" before I get closer to reaching hypnotic self discovery, so I'm getting a little help with Jehan's Sacred Bellydance Instructional DVD.

The new Manhattan Movement and Arts Center is a comprehensive facility for dance instruction and performance, located in Manhattan. For more information on belly dancing and other classes available (like jazz and aerial dance), go to manhattanmovement.com. For more about belly dance guru Jehan, go to jehanarts.com.

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