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The Art of Belly Dancing, Day 44

March 19, 2010

I woke this morning to the promise of good friends and fair skies. K. Scott Warren and François Loup lent me their ears and their time for a wonderful morning and afternoon, respectively. Although I have the rare fortune of seeing my friend Scott fairly often, working in the same type of business and living in the same neighborhood, catching up with François was a rare treat. He teaches at the Maryland Opera Studio, where I earned my master’s degree and where we sang and worked together, lives in Baltimore, and will return soon to his home now that L’Etoile has begun its short run at New York City Opera. What a wonderful friend and teacher! So gratefully I enjoyed his company today and hope we somehow have the chance to again sing together sometime.

This evening, I met up with Charlene and her friend Melenee for the very new experience of belly dancing. Since NYC classes can fill up rather quickly, Charlene and I arrived almost a half hour early. At first, I stared at the empty room and strange closet of accessories and clothes to purchase and thought the studio perhaps less successful than originally anticipated.  Of course I know now that the negativity that has crept into my week likely influenced my expectations as I had somehow forgotten we arrived so early.  When Charlene so sweetly offered a second time to buy me a hip scarf, I happily accepted as the other students for the evening slowly began to enter the room.

Despite Serena Studio’s location in a small studio as lack-luster as its website (which still lists cassettes as items for sale in their boutique/closet), thank God for Charlene and her optimism for helping me discover and not miss out on quite an impressive class at Serena Studios.  Large enough for a bachelorette or birthday party (which apparently they book), today’s particular attendance of around twenty to twenty-five women pushed the limits of the room and the instructor, who had to teach the majority of the time standing on a raised platform so most of the participants could see her, even with the mirrored wall.  At twelve dollars for a single lesson, I can’t imagine receiving a better no-commitment introductory class for the price, despite the minor space limitations.

The instructor, on the other hand, had no such limitations.  As adept with instruction as with her body, she taught the class clearly and as a group of individuals, modifying her explanations in accordance with our difficulties and successes.  Since I have studied some body awareness and alignment techniques for singing and acting like the Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method, I loved her thorough knowledge of the body and her detailed instructions such as keeping the tailbone tucked and the chest high while we learned the basic movements in belly dancing technique.  I learned today that despite some skill at moving my body, I definitely can isolate some parts of my body better than others.  Anyone who has taken salsa or merengue and found it difficult to isolate her hips, for example, might find this very difficult but incredibly enlightening.

More than any other dance I’ve studied (we took movement classes for four semesters at the University of Maryland), belly dancing isolates just about every body part from the rest at one point or another in its teaching and training.  In fact, I cannot imagine a single person attending such an introductory class and not learning something about her body, the way she releases or holds tension, or the way she mentally processes the action of turning so many isolated movements into something more seamless and beautiful.  Each woman in that class today had different moments of ease and difficulty, and I loved learning about mine while getting quite the varied workout.  Our teacher made a side comment about Shakira and come to think of it, I also developed a new respect for her tonight – and especially for professional belly dancers!  Many thanks again to Charlene and Melenee for bringing me along and for a lovely time chatting afterwards at Whole Foods.  Depending on my finances, I may need to determine how or when to take further classes, but I expect to continue at some point soon with my new lovely olive-colored hip scarf.

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