Shimmy. Shake. Undulate. Repeat. Shimmy. Shake. Undulate.
With the strains of Middle Eastern music playing, hundreds of women (and a few men) studied the nuances of various styles of belly dancing last weekend through practice, practice, practice.
Tribalcon, an annual conference focused on belly dancing and drumming, took place at the downtown Decatur Holiday Inn Feb. 25-28, attracting hundreds to the workshops, discussions, shopping and a show. Workshops in yoga-infused belly dancing, drum circle, floor work and the use of the arms in American tribal style were among the sessions held.
Barbara Nies of Decatur, who has been belly dancing for four years, said she came as much for the camaraderie as to pick up some expert instruction on arm movements in American tribal style belly dancing.
“Honestly, the great thing about belly dancing is meeting so many people,” said Nies. “You meet the coolest women, too.”
According to Majda Anwar, who handles marketing and public relations for Tribalcon, belly dancing is an often misunderstood art form.
“We work really hard on this,” said Anwar. “Belly dancing is not just hootchy-kootchy.”
Stone Mountain resident Ziah Ali, the founder of Tribalcon, said Hollywood has distorted the image of bellydancing.
Tribal belly dancing developed in the United States in the1960s and ‘70s, according to Ali’s dance group’s Web site. It brought “a more ethnic—even feminist—approach to the long tradition of Cabaret bellydance,” the site states, “pioneering a style that embraced less glitz and more dust. Dancers found inspiration in the movements and music of North Africa, Persia, Egypt, Turkey, Israel, and India—fusing them with urban dance styles.”
This was the sixth year for Tribalcon, with 450 participants from throughout the country attending the show and 200 participating in the workshops. Some 40 vendors with jewelry, clothing and all the adornments that belly dancers would want or need on display.
Ali, a Stone Mountain resident, has been belly dancing for 17 years. During her 20s, she had severe back, knee and hip pain—so severe that a doctor recommended knee replacement surgery. She said she wasn’t interested. However, the doctor also suggested she try belly dancing as therapy to strengthen her knees. She did and received so much relief, she said, that she hasn’t stopped.
“My body keeps feeling better. I have to keep dancing or my body starts to fall apart,” said Ali.
Ali, 41, teaches three classes a week at Dance Art Showcase on Henderson Mill Road in Atlanta and takes part in rehearsals as well as weekend performances.
She said belly dancing instructors generally are not treated well when they go out to instruct or perform. Often sponsors of an event treat them as an inconvenience, Ali said.
“I wanted to make an event where I brought teachers and treated them the way I wanted to be treated—to feel honored, respected,” she said. “Our teachers are treated like royalty.”