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Local Performance This Weekend-Belly Dancers Use Much More Than Their Abdomen



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Local Performance This Weekend—

Belly Dancers Use Much More Than Their Abdomen

By Shannon Hicks

Egyptian Sunrise, a belly dance troupe based at Newtown’s Dance Etc studio, will offer a performance called “The Stars of Belly Dance” this weekend. The eight dancers, along with their instructor Alarah, will perform Saturday, March 6, at The Center for the New Media and The Arts in Bethel.

Their arms held up at shoulder height, hands and fingers precisely moving and yet flowing smoothly, the dancers were at their studio last week for one of the final rehearsals before Saturday night’s performance. At times their hips and legs would move just slightly, while their heads were held high and still. Other times their whole bodies flowed to the music that filled the studio.

The members of the group range in age and background, but belly dancing has formed a bond among the eight women who gather every Thursday night for 90 minutes of practice and a lot of comradery and laughter.

“The troupe is a sisterhood of sorts,” said Charlene, who dances under the name Aubrey. Each member has adopted a stage name for her Egyptian Sunrise counterpart. “We all come from different backgrounds, different professions, all with the daily demands and responsibilities shared by everyone. When we are together as a troupe, we dance. That’s all. Just dance. It replenishes the soul.”

Belly dancing traces its roots to Turkish, Egyptian, Indian, and Flamenco dance. The name itself is misleading, considering dancers use nearly every part of their body in performing it. Hands and fingers, hips, neck, back, legs, and feet are all utilized as well as the stomach and its muscles.

Originally from Brazil, the group’s instructor has been dancing all her life. Alarah’s relationship with belly dancing began when she began taking classes for herself, but soon saw that she would be able to share her passion with others.

After studying under Rimarah Hare and Zohar, Alarah has spent the last eight years polishing her skills with additional masters, including Za-Beth, who will also be a guest performer this weekend.

While the roots of belly dancing can be traced back centuries, and although there were dancers of this type at the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia, it was the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago that most credit for the arrival of belly dancing in the United States.

Unfortunately, the art form of belly dancing and the seductive look that most people attribute to the dance is what many contemporary belly dancers must overcome when they mention their forte.

“The dance was manipulated to look suggestive once it came to the US,” said Aubrey. “That is not what we do.

“It its original art form, such as seen in Irish step dancing or a Polish polka, all dances have an ethnic heritage. That is what we honor,” she continued. “We do not associate with the warped presentation of the dance once it came to the US and was exploited in 1893.”

For these women, the performance of belly dance is an extension of that idea. It is also an opportunity to share their love of dance with an audience.

“Often, when people hear belly dance, they associate it with a misconstrued seductive display,” said Aubrey. “Belly dancing is an art form.”

Saturday’s performance will offer two hours of colors, costumes, music, and movement celebrating the joy of Middle Eastern dance. Performers from across the state will be joining the Newtown-based dancers for the celebration.

“For those who have never seen a belly dance performance, the evening will be a good way to lose some stereotypes and inhibitions,” promises Aubrey. “Women of every age, size, shape, and ability will perform. They will dance in groups, duets, and individually.

“Coins, bangles, beads, and veils will add to the visual richness of the evening,” she continued. “Above all, expect to witness dancers with passion and joy for the performance.”

Dancers joined Egyptian Sunrise for different reasons.

“I joined the group to both take classes and improve my technique and continue to learn, as well as to perform,” said Linda, who performs under the name Dalin.

“I have a love-hate relationship with performance,” she continued. “I get very nervous right before going on stage, but love the high I get afterwards. The nervousness is decreasing as I perform more and increase my confidence. I love the challenge of choreography, as well as improvising in my solo pieces.

“I am 58 years old and still going strong,” she said proudly. “Belly dancing keeps me in shape, and helps me stay young.”

Michelle see the class and the performances it has led to as a something extraordinary.

“For me, belly dance is a special intergenerational gift that sweeps across the inner landscape of womanhood. It is a living chronicle of the deeply spiritual way of the feminine soul, expression emotions through a great musical diversity of forms and styles,” she said.

Aubrey, who is 49, has been a member of Egyptian Sunrise for more than three years. She loves, she says, that dancing frees her spirit, “allows you to get lost in the moment. No responsibilities, no expectations,” she said.

Yili, another member of the group, has been studying with Alarah for just over two years.

“I started the belly dancing lesson for fun and some exercise, then right from the beginning I fell in love with this beautiful dance and its music,” she said this week. “The shimmies and the drum beats are absolutely wonderful.”

Yili said she also finds belly dancing is a way for women to feel beautiful about themselves. Classmate Dalin agreed with that point.

“Belly dance is very special in that it makes a woman feel very empowered, as the movements are so feminine and perfectly suited to a woman’s body,” said Dalin. “There are many theories on the origins of belly dance, some think it was originally a form of goddess worship and childbirth preparation. It was performed and practiced by women for women as a celebration of the feminine. This is my favorite explanation.

“It truly is an art form, very hard to learn and execute correctly. And of course, as in all dance, you try to make it an expression of your unique personality.”

“The Stars of Belly Dance” will be performed on Saturday, March 6, at 7 pm, at The Center for New Media and The Arts, 186 Greenwood Avenue in Bethel. Doors will open at 6. Tickets are $15 in advance or $18 at the door for adults, $7 and $10, respectively, for children.

Well-behaved children over the age of 5 are welcome. Refreshments will be available.

For tickets and additional information call 203-845-7058.

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