The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Dancing bel-lies toned tummies with Middle East flair

By Briana Abraham/reporter

   For years, dance has been considered as both a great way to exercise and an art form. From fitness programs like Fit or Bust to Ballet for Belly Dancers, Middle Eastern dance is becoming increasingly popular in America.
   Linda Mallon enjoys her belly dancing classes at Isis Star Dance Studios in Bedford.
   “ I am 48, and I have never felt better,” she said. “This dance makes me youthful again, and it is a great way to exercise. I want to get better and continue with the classes.”
   Middle Eastern dance is one of the oldest dance forms still practiced today. The term belly dance came from an American event promoter, Sol Bloom, who was trying to attract visitors from all over to see his Streets of Cairo exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Bloom promoted the dance as scandalous to get people to attend, not caring if the claim was true or not.
   Nell Lang, local publisher and author of Ancient Messages, started dancing several months ago as part of her continuing education in studies of ancient civilization.
   “ I was very scared when I first started taking classes with Isis. I didn’t know what I was getting into. Then I started letting go and having fun,” she said.
   The French people refer to le danse du ventre (which translates to “the dance of the stomach”), which colonists described as an abdominally controlled dance. This dance is not exactly a belly dance, but may be where the belly in belly dance originated.
   In the late 1800s, high-society women wore laced corsets and remained entirely covered. Because of the stigma brought to America, dancers today still face the questions and embarrassment from the misunderstanding of the past.
   Middle Eastern dance is a respectful art form and is not associated with more modern interpretations of exotic dancing.
   In fact, in the Middle East, the term for the dance is raqs sharqi in Arabic and Oryantal tansi in Turkish. The correct English translation would be both “dance of the East” and “Oriental dance.”
   The dance has become so popular that portions of it are being taken and transformed into other genres of dance. Ethnic Tribal Fusion is among the branches of belly dance that have flourished. Dancers like Amaya, Rachel Brice and the Bellydance Superstars promote tribal dance throughout the country as an art form.
   The music and dance include influences from African, Native American, Oriental, Middle Eastern and the more modern New Age styles.
   Some, including Lang, say the dance is even spiritual for them.
   “ I always remember wanting the mystique of Arabia and grew up watching old classics that had folklore of the East and genies with harem pants,” she said. “Dancing allows women to break out of their gilded cages and be bold and beautiful. It is like food for my soul.”
   Ballet for Belly Dancers teaches the basics of ballet and incorporates it into belly dance making the dancer more flexible. An analogy that is often made compares Middle Eastern dancers and their music with the snake and the snake charmer. Often dancers view themselves as agile, flexible snakes being charmed by colorful music to come out of their baskets.
   Sherry Ahlstrom, a photography student on NE Campus, also studies the ancient dance form.
   “ I find this dance very liberating and not at all what I thought it was going to be,” she said. “I got into this dance through a friend of mine. I was looking for a way to exercise without having to go to the gym.”
   Ahlstrom grew up in a Southern Baptist environment where dance of any form was not allowed.
   Many dancers today face the same criticism but continue to dance because they love it.
   Isis, dancer and owner of Isis Star Dance Studios, started dancing when she was around 37. She started taking belly dance classes with Carol Shannon at TCJC (now TCC) while running a savings and loan business and raising two children.
   “ You are never too old, too young, too large or too small for this dance,” she said. “This is a great way to meet new people, establish a support team, boost your self-esteem and overall be you and be creative.”
   Isis said belly dancing helps women find themselves and allows them to do something for themselves.
   “ This dance is not easy,” she said. “Once you’ve mastered it, you get a great sense of accomplishment.”
   Students from all walks of life take belly dance classes. Both Isis’ daughter and daughter in-law dance as well.
   “ It is also a great way to bring family together,” she said. “Men, women and children can enjoy this dance.”
   Many of Isis’ star students dance at Scarborough Faire, Mayfest, nursing homes, parties and restaurants.
   For more information about classes, contact Isis at 817-498-7703.
   For more information about Ancient Messages, e-mail Lang at nell@langpublishing.com.

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