EDITOR’S NOTE: Belly dancers delighted West Seattle Summer Fest crowds last weekend and will welcome you to the annual Mediterranean Fantasy Festival in the park around Hiawatha Community Center next Saturday and Sunday (July 16-17), plus they have a monthly showcase at Skylark Café and Club. With all that, we sent WSB contributor Keri DeTore out in search of the people behind West Seattle’s belly-dancing mecca status.
By Keri DeTore
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
If you’re interested in watching a belly-dance performance, or taking classes, you might be surprised to find that you need look no further than right down the street.
Our own West Seattle and White Center neighborhoods boast a large community of belly dancers who perform and teach classes locally. In fact, when local belly dancer and costume designer Dina Lydia> was asked for an interview for this WSB story, she quickly gathered three other dancers for what became something of a panel discussion regarding our local community of dancers, its history and opportunities for involvement.
Joining Dina Lydia were Adriene Rice and Julia Demarest of Troupe Hipnotica and Imei, who performs solo.
Our first question was why there seems to be such a concentration of belly dancers in the West Seattle area. Julia noted that there are actually quite a few belly dancers in the Seattle area in general. Adriene, owner of Troupe Hipnotica School of Tribal Belly Dance, who runs her classes and rehearsals out of her West Seattle studio, says that of the troupe’s eight members, five live in West Seattle. She added that because they rehearse twice a week, it’s good to live close by. (At right, dancer Nadira performing last weekend at Summer Fest in The Junction.)
Another reason may be the availability of lessons provided by dancers in the West Seattle area. Along with Troupe Hipnotica’s studio, lessons are provided by Leslie Rosen at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, and White Center-based dancer Aaminah also teaches the craft.
The origins of belly dancing are not fully known, though evidence of the style has been found in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and Africa. Adriene explains that it was originally meant to be a dance for women by women, and men were not allowed to see it. The dance was introduced to the US during the 1890 World’s Fair, and there is currently a trend toward using European dance hall music from that era to dance to.
It became clear during our conversation that belly dancing is not limited to a particular culture or style of music. Adriene teaches the “Tribal” style of dance, a fusion of different cultures but generally an American creation. She notes that other current styles of belly dancing include Urban Tribal and Goth Tribal, and “Everything can be used with belly dancing,”
(YouTube video of Troupe Hipnotica at Tribal Fest earlier this year)
The fitness aspect of belly dance appeals to a broad age spectrum; Troupe Hipnotica members range in age from 30s to 40s and Dina Lydia didn’t start practicing until she was 40. “I felt a sense of community for the first time, it was comfortable — a sisterhood, so I stuck with it. I had stage fright but I got over it. After you’ve performed in front of an audience in a skimpy costume, there are no other problems!” Dina is a costume maker and has written a series of books to help dancers create their own costumes to save money. However, if you’re thinking of taking beginner classes, it’s fine to just wear comfortable yoga clothes.
You might assume those “skimpy” costumes are worn for the purpose of titillation, but all the women were adamant that belly dancing is not a dance of sexuality, but of strength and confidence. Adriene said, “(Belly dancing) feels very strong, (it’s about) taking ownership of the portrayal of your body.” Dina added, “It’s not sexual, but confident. You’re reaching out and creating a rapport with the audience. You just feel relaxed and beautiful.”
Imei, who performs a Modern Egyptian style of belly dancing and has studied Bollywood-style dancing, says she’s been especially impressed with the social awareness of the local belly-dancing community. “When something (disastrous) is going on in the world, (our) people rally. For example, there was a dance for Japan relief. I like how (we) use dancing to raise awareness for issues.” Imei has taken this a step further and created HipsforHire.com, which matches organizations with entertainers to raise money for causes. Dancers have been hired by the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Multiple opportunities to watch belly dancing locally are coming up; The 24th annual Mediterranean Fantasy Festival is next weekend, July 16 and 17, at and around Hiawatha Community Center, with belly-dancing workshops as well as performances and vendors. All the dancers featured in this story will be performing: Troupe Hipnotica and Imei perform on Saturday, and Dina will perform on Sunday. (The schedule is here.)
Also, Skylark Café and Club features belly dancing every month in a showcase on the 3rd Tuesday called Alauda, with multiple styles of belly dancing, from Cabaret to Tribal.
One etiquette note: dancers will often “pass the hat” after a performance, but don’t make the mistake of trying to tuck a tip into a dancer’s costume unless that’s clearly part of the overall show!