Bellydancing study helps earn degree

June 15, 2006, volume 36, no. 4
By Marianne Meadahl

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Bellydancing is more than an exotic art form. Think of all those muscles working to rapidly meld movement and rhythm. Instructor Marilee Nugent - also known as Venus - is hoping her research on the age-old dance form will lead to the creation of instruction guidelines and help reduce the risk of injury.

Nugent conducted her research, using herself as the subject, in Simon Fraser University's injury prevention and mobility lab, for a directed studies semester that has led to a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology. She will receive her degree at the June 9 convocation.

Nugent studied motion capture data and electromyographic (EMG) recordings from 22 muscles during 24 bellydance moves, ranging from simple to complex. "Bellydance offers unique opportunities for studying motor coordination of the trunk and pelvis, since the range of movements, from flowing continuous spine undulations and hip circles, to rapid ballistic hip oscillations, can be performed continuously, and on the spot, facilitating data collection from many muscles at once," says Nugent.

Using cabled electrodes to collect her data, Nugent separated the EMG patterns of layered movements  (those involving the simultaneous performance of two different types of movements), lending credence to what she calls a "practice in parts" approach to teaching motor skills.

Nugent says bellydance movements could be useful in the study of learning and practice effects in complex multi-joint movements involving the whole body, as well as balance.

Nugent, who operates Venus Bellydance where she teaches bellydancing (, began taking bellydance lessons 25 years ago after graduating from high school. She continued dancing through three years of science studies at the University of Victoria before taking two years of SFU's dance program.

Hooked, she started teaching and performing bellydance full time. Nugent has made more than 2,000 professional appearances, performing at corporate and special events in addition to shows in restaurants and nightclubs.

Nugent recently returned to SFU to take art and culture studies. She earned a bachelor of arts degree before completing credits for her second degree.

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