In Marietta, Turkish dance taught with Southern flavorAtlanta Journal Constitution - GA, USA, Sunday, 27 April 2008
They're here to belly dance.
Bodies undulate to the beat of the music as hundreds of coins jingle on hip scarves.
"It's very liberating," said Victoria Logan, the instructor whose "dance name" is Inara.
Her students have explored more than freedom of expression since she opened the studio, Belly Dance Oasis, late last year.
One is learning how to move a body that's free of disease, but feels different. Others are pursuing independence. And others simply wanted a release from the gym.
Sharon Shillinger had reconstructive surgery in July 2006 following breast cancer.
Her body, she said, was rearranged.
"Instead of having the muscle down here, it's moved over here," said Shillinger, 52, of Marietta.
She found it difficult to exercise, but belly dancing eases her stiffness. Her daughter, Abigail House, 21, often takes classes with her and they've set up a mirror in their basement.
"I don't look so good doing it, but it feels good stretching," Shillinger said. "After you've been chopped up, you don't feel sexy. This is bringing that back again."
She's even belly dancing with a new belly button.
"The old one was better," Shillinger said, "but this one I'm getting used to."
Felicia Head, 35, Katie Lax, 27, and Maria Marrotta, 19, are residents of Just People, an independent living program in Roswell for adults with developmental disabilities.
Taking classes is part of their community integration program.
Head, who insists on being called "Amirah Princess, belly dancer," practices all the time and takes private lessons with Stacy Abston.
"I like snake arms," Head said, referring to a specific move.
How does belly dancing make her feel?
"I feel perfect," she said.
Leigh Hale, her case manager with Just People, said the dancing has boosted Head's self-esteem.
"It gives her more of a purpose," Hale said.
Elizabeth Trask's doctors made her take up belly dancing. Well, sort of.
"I was told by at least three doctors that I should exercise —not just more, but in general," said Trask, 29, of Austell. "This is as close as it gets."
Belly dancing isn't the only exercise Isabel Green does, but she said, "it sure beats doing sit-ups."
Belly dancing also has helped her get over some insecurities.
"It's changed my entire self-image," said Green, 30, of Kennesaw. "I'm very klutzy outside, and it's helped with my grace and coordination.
"It makes me feel kind of sexy," she said. "My husband likes it."
Trask hasn't bought into the seductive aspects of belly dancing.
"I don't know what I'm seducing since I have cats and a dog and no man," she said, "so I just find it fun."
Does she dance for her pets? "Absolutely," Trask said.
"And they think I'm nuts, and the dogs jump all over me while I'm doing it because they think I'm playing. And I qualify that as exercise of the week."
Susan Coward has performed in a couple of recitals since she began taking lessons a couple of years ago.
"I thought I would never do that," said Coward, 45, of Marietta. "I thought, 'There is no way I'm wearing essentially a bra and going out there with my stomach hanging out.'
"But it was so much fun, and all of us were thrilled."
Now Coward would like to solo.
"I'd like to feel good enough to not even have a routine," she said, "but just have the music come on and be able to dance."
Inara, who performs in shows at Efe's restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights, teaches a style that mimics Turkish dance, but with American fusion and a Southern flavor.
When she tells her students to "scootch," they know how to move across the floor.
Although belly dancing has become part of a new workout trend, Inara said there's still a bit of a stigma attached.
The 39-year-old mother of two said she has fielded phone calls from drunk men asking for a private dance. Some have even gotten her husband on the phone — and still asked for her.
"People automatically assume that it's about sex and stripping," Inara said. "Part of it is just a celebratory dance."
"Women are so self-conscious about their bodies," she added. "They're scared they'll get laughed at, or they won't do it right. I get all shapes, sizes, ages and levels of experience. Belly dancing is very accommodating."
Inara said older dancers have had more life experiences, which helps them portray the music.
"You know true happiness," she said, "because you've known true sadness."
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