Belly dancing is no flop
Women of all ages find dance empowering, therapeutic

Tracy Frank, The Forum
Published Friday, December 22, 2006

In the Spirit Room in downtown Fargo, ladies dance on the hardwood floor, twirling brightly colored veils above them while fringed scarves tied around their hips flutter with each shimmy.

Middle Eastern dance, or belly dancing, is growing in popularity, both nationwide and locally.

"It's gone through a couple of cycles," said Rita Slator, a Middle Eastern dancer and instructor. "It was pretty popular in the '70s, and then it kind of fell out of favor and in the last five or six years, it's grown a lot again."

Belly dancing has been popular since Moorhead Community Education started offering it in 2003, said Karen Nitzkorski, Community Education program coordinator.

"It just seems like people are kind of indulging themselves. They want to try something new and fun and kind of exciting," Nitzkorski said. "And then once they get in with Rita, she gets them hooked."

Photo Caption: Kathryn Hagen, left, Kendall Johnk and Kim LePage Briss take direction from belly dance instructor Rita Slator during a class at the Spirit Room. Dave Samson / The Forum

Slator has been belly dancing for more than 30 years and has taught it for 28 years.

Belly dancers "feel more in touch with their bodies, more in touch with their femininity," she said. "I think it makes them stronger, physically, emotionally and spiritually."

Kim LePage Briss of Fargo is one of Slator's students. When she dances, LePage Briss said she feels "strong and sensual and empowered by the other women."

Kathryn Hagen of Moorhead took the class because she wanted to try something different.

She has since found that it's also a great workout, strengthening abs, glutes, pecs and arm muscles.

In one of Slator's recent classes, dancers worked through a choreographed routine of shimmies, spins and undulations. By the end of the routine, some were breathless, while others had broken into a sweat.

"It's a real strength-building exercise," Slator said.

Students have also taken the class for medical reasons like improving back strength.

"I have a woman who reads meters for a living and she said, You know, since I've started belly dancing I can walk farther and I don't have problems with my back anymore,' and it's because you are forcing your body to use your core muscles rather than your lower back," Slator said.

Kendall Johnk of Moorhead said the class is a big stress-reliever.

"There's so much going in a week," between work and classes, she said. "It's a different change of pace."

There are a lot of misconceptions about belly dancing, Slator said. People who are unfamiliar with it often think it is an erotic dance performed for men.

"It's very sensual, but not necessarily sensuous," she said. "It's very sensual because you're very in touch with your body you have to know where it is at all times so you're using all your senses."

The International Academy of Middle Eastern Dance says belly dancing is a social dance that was done at parties, at family gatherings and during rites of passage. But because segregation of the sexes was common in the part of the world that produced belly dancing, men were not often present.

"It was to teach young girls how to prepare for childbirth, it was to entertain each other, it was even done as a form of worship," Slator said. "But again, men and women were separated, so it was women dancing for women, women dancing for themselves."

People of all ages, body types and nationalities learn belly dancing, Slator said. She has taught girls as young as 3 to women in their 70s.

"It just is one of those things that empowers women and there aren't any boundaries on that," she said. "It's also a lot of fun."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526