Upper Valley belly dancers find new life in an old tradition
Amity Alize has practiced and studied belly dance for years, a passion that’s taken her far and near to perform the Middle Eastern tradition, from dancing in Cairo with a 20-piece band on live television to being hired to entertain at a local dentist’s office—among countless performances throughout New England.
But often she wishes belly dancing wasn’t called belly dancing. “There’s a common misperception that you’ve got to show your belly,” she says, “or that it’s only performed by young women.”
As happens with misperceptions, a stereotype grew, and modern audiences have come to expect a midriff-baring performer with washboard abs shimmying seductively through a routine. And some venues, of course, don’t hesitate to capitalize on the stereotype.
“The idea that it’s all just sexy undulation presents belly dancing in the wrong light,” says Alize.
So as owner and operator of Raq-On Dancing in White River Junction—one of only two studios in New England devoted entirely to belly dancing—she’s doing her best to repair the reputation and preserve the craft of belly dancing, which has ancient roots, arguably, in Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey, and performed now in many cultures around the world.
“Because it’s not about the stomach,” Alize insists. “It’s about the rich tradition. It’s a celebration.”
It’s about body confidence, too, she says. Raq-On, occupying a small studio beneath the Main Street Museum, offers a safe place for people of any age and gender to feel good about their bodies while learning a fun, low-impact style of movement.
Many of Alize’s students are in their fifties or sixties, or have just had babies, or have come there following a divorce and “need to find something to boost their self-esteem. And a lot of them choose to show their stomachs because it gives them a sense of pride.”
Belly dancing as a craft faces its own challenges. Alize says that many of the traditional folk musicians are fading away, especially in the United States, and opportunities to perform are fewer and fewer. To counteract that trend, Alize puts on a festival.
The 9th Annual Shimmyathon takes place Saturday, October 20, 7 PM, at Briggs Opera House in White River Junction. The event will feature more than 20 professional and student dancers from all over New England, presentng an evening of belly dance and other Middle Eastern–inspired performances. Tickets can be reserved at Raq-On.net or by calling 603-304-8676.