Dancing is the essence of life...
I cannot imagine not dancing. Dancing is like breathing... a necessity.
I've always enjoyed dancing, in almost all its forms. Ballet didn't do much for me. Tap was OK. Folk dances from around the world tend to sing to my soul with music sweet beyond human imagination. And then there are the sounds and movements that were born in the Middle East...
My first introduction to belly dance came about 1977, when I saw Elbera belly dancing on PBS in Winnipeg. Not too long after, I saw more dancing at Folklorama; I was hooked. I read everything I could, watched any dancer I could, and took classes.
In 1984, I met with a neighbour and her friend to practise dance moves, and the next thing I knew, we were a dance troupe, appearing at the local shopping malls. We wore the long black beledi (country-style) dresses with Turkish-style pantaloons, hip scarves and headdresses; we danced folk-style, and the people loved it! More important to me, I loved it.
After a few years, and many more seminars, people asked for us. We varied the style of dancing. We put on full-evening entertainment that included folk-style dance and the more modern cabaret dance-style called Raqs al-Sharki. We each developed individual solo styles that we interwove with group numbers.
Now I rarely dance with the group. However, I teach belly dance on a regular basis, almost year-round, in a local community centre. I focus my students on the pleasure of persuading one's body to do beautiful and powerful things, while distracting them with bad puns and jokes; dancing should be a pleasure, not a chore, and if a body gets fit and flexible at the same time, it's a bonus.
I've danced for fund-raisers, music festivals, business luncheons, and daycares. I like dancing, and sometimes it seems I'm teacher by example in that the human body is not shameful, but can be powerful as well as beautiful, and that beauty is subjective...
I belly dance for parties (theme, bridal, anniversary, birthday) most of the time, and occasionally in restaurants. I always ask the person doing the hiring what the victim's favorite color is (and there usually is a victim...), so I can dress in a costume as close to that color as possible. I refuse to embarrass the subject of the party; I feel transitions should be honored, not humiliated. I dance to offer the gift of the dance, and to bring light-heartedness to the gathering.
Through my research, looking for medieval dance styles of the Middle East, I've noticed I have a somewhat old-fashioned dance-style preference: lots of hip work, not much travelling. Although I am quite comfortable in near-modern Egyptian style with its incorporation of Persian and Indian head and arm movements (and the North American penchant for veilwork), when I put on a Ghawazee coat my hips just seem to search out those drum rhythms to start playing/dancing. (If you can stand it, read about dance history, from my point of view.)
My costuming reflects my dance in that I wear pantaloons (usually cuffed at the ankle), two or more skirts, coin belt & bra, and long-sleeved vest when I belly dance (modern style). Although I like both coin and bead outfits, and the audience almost always prefers the coin look.
And then, of course, there's the country look in pantaloons and long dress that's split up the sides. There are variations on that, as well; the ubiquitous beledi (or baladi) dress is a simple, straight-sided tunic that may be low-cut but is always long, while the Ghawazee yelek (coat-like) is fitted to the body, may be shorter, and is always worn with pants and chemise. The yelek that I wear is of an older style which covers the breasts, rather than the currently popular version of the style from the mid-1800's. Then there are the vests and other accessories. (Check out some photos of me dancing Raks Sharki ("belly dance") or Raks Baladi (Medieval Middle Eastern).)
Be warned: I'll dance almost anywhere, and at the drop of a hat or the hint of an invitation. If you ask for a sample move in the middle of a crowded supermarket, you'll get it!
I, like many other dancers, dream about having my own dance studio, for teaching and practising, and about having musicians (rather than tapes and CDs) to play for my dancing. (I have even more thoughts on why I dance, and about learning to dance...)
Quick dance links off this page:
Thoughts on why I dance, and about learning to dance
My understanding of the history of belly dance
Find belly dance music online
Photos of me - Belly dancing, and Medieval style