Sunday, December 6, 2009

Women find fun, fitness and fortitude in belly dancing

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

Every woman has an inner-hottie.
'Or an inner-diva,' said Vicky Mitchell of Harker Heights. 'However you want to put it.'
That's Mrs. Mitchell's first lesson to all of her students. She teaches belly dancing at the Summit Family Fitness Center in Temple and at Central Texas College in Killeen.
'Belly dancing comes from the heart, and it makes you powerful,' she said. 'Things get poured out of you, things that are positive. You become a persona, the minute you become the dancer, you're a hottie. It doesn't matter what size you are, there's a sensual, gorgeous side to you.'
Nurturing the life of the inner-hottie is just as important as learning the dance steps.
'Embracing the dance, it makes you something you weren't before,' Mrs. Mitchell said. 'I was extremely shy. But now I can carry myself with pride. It's a major confidence builder.'
And it helps women find sensuality. 'Sensuality is not just being sexy, it's something much deeper,' Mrs. Mitchell said. 'It's the unique beauty, power and knowledge that comes with each woman.'
The transition the belly dancers go through can be a thing of beauty.
'Women come in to the classes one way,' said belly dancer Sabine Fundling of Killeen. 'After a few months, you see them to start carrying themselves with a lot more pride and confidence. They stop believing that their beauty is second rate. You can see it on their faces.'
The first sign of the inner-hottie is a change in posture. Shoulders stop slumping, and eyes no longer stare at the floor.
'Good posture is so important,' Mrs. Mitchell said. 'It doesn't come automatic, but once that inner-hottie starts to surface, it comes easy.'
Mrs. Mitchell has been a belly dancer since 1978, and Mrs. Fundling took up the art six years ago.
'It's an earthy dance, and I love it,' Mrs. Fundling said. 'My husband is a non-dancer, so this is perfect for me. I can dance all I want and not worry about needing a partner.'
The women find the dance challenging and fun.
'There's always new steps you can learn. I still haven't know it all,' Mrs. Mitchell said. 'Belly dancing uses muscles you never knew you had. It's good exercise.'
Mrs. Mitchell and Mrs. Fundling belong to a sisterhood of bellydancers called the Maidens of Mystery.
'I started the group about two years ago,' Mrs. Mitchell said. 'There never was one in the area, and I wanted to get one started.'
Membership fluctuates from eight to 10. The dancers perform by request and regularly on the third Sunday of the month at Salado's Antique Mall.
'The ladies from my classes will perform too when they feel they're ready,' Mrs. Mitchell said.
Women of any age from 16 to 80 are welcome.
'There's no requirement except interest in the dance,' Mrs. Mitchell said. 'It doesn't matter what shape you're in or what you look like. Belly dancing can work.'
The sisterhood is not competitive.
'The love of the dance is common between us,' Mrs. Mitchell said. 'And we've grown to be friends. We hug each other every time we get together.'
Part of the fun of being a Maiden of Mystery is living the character of the belly dancer you develop.
'And with any character or persona, you've got to have a me,' Mrs. Mitchell said.
Mrs. Mitchell's belly dancing name is 'Khaliqa.'
'From the Lebanese and Arabic languages, it means 'well-mannered and pretty,'' Mrs. Mitchell said. 'It's funny because when I become Khaliqa, I'm onery. I flirt and wink and try to get the attention of the people who are shy and have trouble looking directly at the dancers.'
Mrs. Fundling takes the name of 'Mahasin.'
'It means beautiful,' Mrs. Fundling said. 'I like the way it sounds, and since belly dancing is beautiful, I relate the name to that.'
The Maidens of Mystery also go out for coffee and dinners every now and then. They wear matching T-shirts, with the club name on the front and 'Bellydance Hotties' written on the back.'
Club socialization is encouraged and enjoyed, but the bellydancers have one rule to follow.
'We don't wear our costumes out,' Mrs. Mitchell said.
Those are reserved for performances only.
'And that's out of respect for the dance and the outfits,' Mrs. Mitchell said. 'We don't go out to flaunt.'
For the bare skin that's visible in belly dancing, the art form sometimes earns a bad reputation.
'But it's not the fault of the dance,' Mrs. Mitchell said. 'Nothing about the dance is bad.'
No clothing is removed during a typical bellydance.
'Only the veil,' Mrs. Mitchell said. 'It's the person who's looking who makes it trashy, it's what they do with it in their minds.'
A bellydancer's outfit consists of a sheer, flowing skirt, a jeweled belt that accentuates the mid-section and long, swirling scarves.
'Sometimes we balance swords on our head or wear beaded, decoral wraps,' Mrs. Mitchell said.
Each outfit is up to the personality of the dancers.
'We all have our favorite colors and jewels,' Mrs. Mitchell said.
To keep the costuming nice, the Maidens of Mystery practice in regular clothing.
'But we have to practice at least once in the outfit before a performance,' Mrs. Mitchell said.
Like the names and the outfits, the steps that define the art are at the discretion of the belly dancer.
'You listen to the music, and you feel it move in your body,' Mrs. Mitchell said. 'It starts in your heart and moves throughout your entire body.'
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Did you know?
-- The 'raqs sharqi' is one of the earliest recorded forms of belly dance. The Arabic term translates as 'Dance -- of the Orient.'
-- The term 'belly dance' is derived from the French phrase 'danse du ventre,' which translates as 'dance of the belly' due to the flutter of the dancer's stomach.
-- Belly dancing does not exclude men. For them, the dance moves and costumes are more masculine.

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