Whoever developed the art of belly dancing probably would not have foreseen that it would be used to help women cope and recovery with cancer in the 21st century.

A recent Hungarian study that was published in the European Journal of Oncology Nursing stated that belly dancing could help improve the quality of life, social support, and life satisfaction for women who are going through cancer treatments and recovery. (1)

In this year-long, non-randomized controlled trial, 55 female patients participated in the belly dancing group while 59 female patients (age-matched) received standard medical care. The belly dancing class was 90 minutes long, followed by a 90-minute “free interaction” class, the latter in which is a discussion about women’s sexuality, alternative rehabilitation methods, body image, and social relationships. All participants filled out a questionnaire that developed by the European Organisation for Rehabilitation and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC QLQ-C30), which asks about the quality of life of cancer patients, including physical and psychological well-being, financial and family issues, and association between pain and disability.

While the dancing group had a lower health-related quality of life score than the control group (and a slightly larger drop in scores after a year), the perceived social support and life satisfaction scores are greater than the control group. Overall, the researchers agreed that women with cancer who undergo a belly dancing class as part of a complementary treatment would likely fare better physically, psychologically, and socially than those who don’t. Limitations of this study include the non-randomization of the study, small sample size, and the inability to quantify the belly dancing class.

What Does the Scientific Evidence Currently Say?

According to a 2011 Cochrane systematic review of dance and movement therapy’s effectiveness, the reviewers did not find support of body image yet it may likely improve cancer patients’ quality of life. However, there is a lack of quality studies that cover this topic and conclusions about dance and movement therapy’s effectiveness remain hazy. But this does not necessarily mean that you should quit dancing if you find it enjoyable and is helping you cope and recover. (2)

Dance may be applied to those with developmental and physiological issues, such Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and diabetes. “With dance, 95% of the patients forget about their health issues or limitation and exciting actively participated,“ Ana Gallardo-Wong explained, who is social worker in San Diego, California. “The music and the physical movement, like dancing, provided them with happiness, satisfaction, and great accomplishment, which helps to increase their self-esteem. They are instantly transformed in expression. I have observed this for 14 years of how music with dance generated happiness and independence.”

Salsa dancing on 3rd Street in Santa Monica. July 2011. Photo: Nick Ng

But What If I Don’t Like Belly Dancing?

If you don’t like it, you may not likely continue to do it. In the world of dance, there is a plethora of styles and music that stem from different cultures.

* Country line dancing
* Argentine tango
* Hip-hop
* Bboy/bgirl
* Cuban salsa
* Mexican cumbia
* Polynesian
* Dominican bachata
* Waltz
* Foxtrot
* Rave
* Filipino pangalay

Regardless of whether you had cancer or other illnesses, do you dance? If so, what kind and why?


1. Szalai M, Lévay B, Szirmai A, Papp I, Prémusz V5, Bódis J. A clinical study to assess the efficacy of belly dancing as a tool for rehabilitation in female patients with malignancies.  2015 Feb;19(1):60-5. doi: 10.1016/j.ejon.2014.07.009. Epub 2014 Sep 5.

2. Bradt J1, Goodill SW, Dileo C. Dance/movement therapy for improving psychological and physical outcomes in cancer patients.   2011 Oct 5;(10):CD007103. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007103.pub2.

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A native of San Diego for nearly 40 years, Nick Ng is an editor of Massage & Fitness Magazine, an online publication for manual therapists and the public who want to explore the science behind touch, pain, and exercise, and how to apply that in their hands-on practice or daily lives.

An alumni from San Diego State University with a B.A. in Graphic Communications, Nick also completed his massage therapy training at International Professional School of Bodywork in San Diego in 2014.

When he is not writing or reading, you would likely find him weightlifting at the gym, salsa dancing, or exploring new areas to walk and eat around Southern California.