Shake It Up, Baby

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To learn to belly dance is to throw away your Western body. It is to understand the body as a collection of small poetic movements that begin from a starting position of gently bent knees. To learn belly dance is an act of self-forgiveness and a commitment to small movements that make a big impact.

In belly dancing, teacher Mahsati Janan explains, "the dancer becomes the music made visible." Another teacher, Cerice says that the "shimmy is life." Both teachers have been dancing nearly a decade and only began public performance in the past five years.

While belly dancing has often been erroneously associated with stripping or even a certain strain of hoochie movement, it began in the harem as a dance for women by women. It has been associated with both the movements of childbirth and serpents. While it wasn't taught as a dance of seduction, Hollywood capitalized on those possibilities, adding the infamous and historically incorrect bellybutton jewel.

I've been taking belly dance lessons for over a year now. I now own two doumbreks, seven coin belts, four pairs of shiny pants and a collection of music from Lebanon, Greece and Turkey that my friends in no way admire or understand. As a hobby, belly dancing calls on all of one's skills, from sewing and thrift store pillaging to costume designing, make-up art and even meditation. I've fumbled through some false starts with other teachers, and I can't say I've blossomed under the unique tutelage of Cerice and Mahsati Janan. But I have persevered. Many days I resemble an undulating camel and not the passionate, lilting desert flower I yearn to be.

For belly dance classes, call Cerice and Mahsati Janan at 813-966-1086 in Tampa, Karen Boon von Ochssée in St. Petersburg at 727-643-5517, Christy Allyn in Palm Harbor at 727-785-1960 or Alexandra Treiber in Safety Harbor at 727-786-7952. For belly dance performances, call Zorba's in Tarpon Springs at 727-934-8803, Karim's Bistro at the Thunderbird Beach Resort in Treasure Island at 727-368-9548 or The Phoenicia Restaurant in Tampa at 813-866-0336.

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