Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Belly dancing is a hit in McKinney
Suburban women enjoy weekly class at Brick House Yoga studio.
MCKINNEY Walk south of downtown McKinney along Tennessee Street on a Tuesday night, and you may hear Egyptian music floating into the air. Take a peek toward its source, and you'll see womanly silhouettes winding, waving, and shimmying to the sound. Beads are jangling, midriffs are showing. Arani Bellydance is in motion.
"Belly dance is for all ages and sizes," said Raena, co-instructor for the weekly class. "It's not about being the skinniest, most toned person; it's about enjoying where you're at."
And plenty of area women enjoy being at the Brick House Yoga studio every Tuesday. They come to let loose and learn the ancient dance that so many shrug off as an Arab-only routine.
Raena and fellow Arani instructor, Samira, took advantage of the dance's Western plug about nine years ago. What was previously taught only in Dallas and Fort Worth came to Allen, and soon to McKinney. Belly dancers had shimmied into the suburbs.
"It's traditionally been a hand-me-down dance form," Raena said. "Teachers go to other dancers' classes and just share what they've learned and try different styles."
The McKinney duo tried out area classes for a few years. Both young with kids, they right away became more comfortable in their own skin.
Belly dancing isolates the arms, legs, chest and hips, strengthening one's core and everything around it. But six-pack abs or defined triceps aren't the attraction. There's got to be some belly in the belly dance.
"After I had my second daughter, I felt like I was shaped more like a Dr. Seuss character than a real person," Samira said. "Belly dancing didn't change my body all that much, but it made me appreciate what I had, where I had it, and how to use it. If you don't have anything to jiggle, then it makes your shimmy awfully hard to do."
When Raena's and Samira's teacher retired, the studio owner asked them to be her replacements. They held their first class, with 16 people, in the old karate studio across from the Roy and Helen Hall Memorial Library downtown. They went from learning to teaching to performing.
Dallas-area hookah joints and Middle Eastern restaurants boast belly dancers on a regular basis. Habibi Café and House of Poets in Richardson are longtime belly dancing hot spots. Kismet, an open-stage venue in Dallas and Fort Worth, hosts frequent multi-cultural dance events, perfect for newbies and experts alike.
"It's a place for anybody to come and try out the choreography they're working on," Samira said of her favorite dance spot. "There are new students on stage for the first time and professional belly dancers from all over."
Raena and Samira go by their stage names to deflect potential stalkers, a common practice in the belly dancing realm. They're suburban moms by day, rhythmic performers by night.
"It's a folkloric dance, so it's a people's dance," Raena said. "It's just about learning the moves and getting the hang of it."
That's what multitudes of women do every week at Arani Bellydance. Named after the teachers' first dance troupe, the class embodies that anybody-can-do-it attitude. Bachelorette parties, book clubs and church groups have all graced the mirror-laden Arani floor. Most are regulars; some have a dance background and simply miss having a place to do their thing.
"You won't find anything real snarky in the average belly dance environment," Raena said. "Everybody's there to just have a good time. Once you get involved with belly dance, you have hundreds of girlfriends everywhere."
Enjoyment shouldn't be confused with seduction, either, the teachers said. Many still mix up the oft-taboo dance with stripping, an understandable mistake given the bra-like tops and bare midriffs, Samira said. Yet, most dancers don't accept tips in their waistbands. Belly dance was originated by women dancing for women, but sensual misperceptions came with it to America.
As did the pricy costumes. An outfit, which is expected for public performances, typically costs between $500 and $800. Some dancers make their own, but most buy them online.
"That's why belly dancers aren't cheap," Samira said. "When you spend that much money and go through all the training, it's quite an investment."
But stereotypes and high prices can't hinder the hip movements. Evidenced by expanding classes all over the Dallas area, belly dance is likely here to stay. Raena and Samira said they're taking their class season by season. Being a mom is first priority. Belly dance has been their rejuvenation, though, so the winding and waving should continue -- as long as the shimmy is still fun.
"It's a big confidence thing for a lot of people," Raena said. "When they get hooked like us, they're like, 'Oh my gosh, I figured out that move and I look pretty good doing it.'"
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