'Bellydancing' can help improve fitness, self-esteem
MOUNT CARMEL - Theresa Arnold goes through the paces with her students, spinning and swaying to the music.
Brightly colored veils cut through the air as the clang of finger cymbals, called zills, and the clicking of "hip scarfs" echoes in the room.
A teacher of Middle Eastern Dance - or "bellydancing" as it is commonly called in English-speaking countries - Arnold offers classes for beginners and advanced dancers at Motivation Station twice a week.
Middle Eastern Dance has been practiced for thousands of years, as a birth ritual, goddess worship or, simply, entertainment. But it's good for fitness, too, Arnold said.
"This is a low-impact workout that tones the muscles and keeps the body flexible," she said.
And while many judge it to be "sleazy," Arnold said it's a revered tradition that's been passed down to many generations.
Arnold, Ashland, first took a class about 15 years ago and has been bellydancing since.
"There was a restaurant called the Sahara in Reading that was offering classes," she said. "I had always been fascinated with all things Egyptian and was looking for an alternative exercise."
After taking a few classes with her stepdaughter, she began to perform with a troupe throughout Reading.
Having recently started the local classes, Arnold said Middle Eastern Dance is a great workout compared to aerobics and hip-hop dancing.
"With our dance style, you will never feel that you will be passing out, but you're still burning about 296 calories an hour." And, she added, "you'll still be able to walk afterward."
Arnold is even establishing a routine that's manageable for those with limited leg movement or who are confined to chairs.
There's no fancy equipment or extra space needed, and it's something for any age or body size. It can do wonders for a person's self-esteem, Arnold said.
When starting a new class, Arnold gives students a list of what they need, asking them to wear comfortable clothing and either dance slippers or socks, and a hip scarf.
"The hip scarf is an important item that will show graphically if you are doing the move correctly," Arnold said. "They can be found on the Internet, or someone can make them if they are creative."
The most important thing Arnold wants students to bring to class is a sense of humor and how the dance can be empowering.
"Bellydancing improves body confidence, increases a woman's acceptance of her sensuality, teaches her the joy of unfettered self-expression and builds one's libido for life," Arnold said.
Charmaine Ryan, Wilburton, has been taking Arnold's class since the beginning of the year, and has enjoyed it.
"You can see that Theresa is really passionate about bellydancing and she's a wonderful teacher," Ryan said.
She has seen an improvement in her flexibility and self-confidence.
"Performing does take me out of my comfort zone, but it is a lot of fun," she said, "and the outfits are great."
Arnold and many of those in her advance class perform at nursing homes and in the community with a troupe called The Sparkling Oasis Dancers, Their dances include Eshebo, an Israeli folk dance, and Di Di, where many of the dancers hold lighted flowers in their hands. Also, Arnold performs a sword dance.
It's not stripping
Arnold hopes that through classes and performances, she can break the stereotype of bellydancing as something tawdry.
"When bellydancing was first brought to America as part of the World's Fair in 1893, and then Hollywood showed the image of the Sultan having his harem girls dance for him, the general public has related bellydancing with something erotic and sleazy," she said. "Bellydancing is not stripping."
She said there is a certain mystique in learning a dance that has been handed down from mother to daughter over the course of thousands of years.
"Dance for yourself, dance for others - the dance is for everyone to enjoy," she said.
To find out more about bellydancing and the classes, contact Arnold by phone at 570-985-8539 or by email at Lyncz67@hotmail.com.