by Molly Davis, BloomBlogs Correspondent
A dance class at BloomBars is never just a dance class. At 6:45 pm on Monday, a group of women got together to belly dance — which in this case means learning how to be comfortable with themselves, find a personal path to movement, and learn about the history of belly dance .
“When I’m leading these classes I’m also reminding women that they have to be present in their bodies,” Marta, the instructor, said.
Marta has trained in various styles of belly dancing, including Oriental (Egyptian and Vintage American Cabaret) and tribal dance, as well as her own fusion style incorporating flamenco She pulls from these influences for her classes, while including historical context that questions how colonization and oppression have affected women. A major part of her program is isolating movements in particular parts of the body, attaining a comfort level with the skill, and then combining it with improvisation.
“A true belly dancer who can interpret as song and move her audience to tears,” she told the class, instructing them to use the guidelines she provided to move their arms to accompany and to find their own ‘voice’ as they interpret a song.
Marta spent a lot of time breaking the moves down that night, since most in the class were first-timers.
“When I first began doing belly dance, it took me more than a year to feel comfortable with the movement, the music, and culture,” she said, adding later, “more than anything, it’s really just about feeling at ease with your body, balancing, so you can really find that movement.”
She instructed the class to practice shimmying their hips while holding the rest of the body still, and then while rotating the shoulders. Maintaining the shimmying movement, they brought one foot off the ground, and then the other. Nervous laughter broke out as a few women struggled with the move, and she took time with each of them to hone their rhythm and posture.
“Beautiful, ladies!” she said, beaming out at the group. “Beautiful shimmy!”
The class is a unique space for women. Marta encourages her students to feel comfortable, as well as to challenge themselves physically. But she also takes the time to reflect on the serious messages we all receive in society and art.
This week, she turned the lens on belly dancing, talking about the hyper-sensual treatment of Arab women in 1940s-50s Hollywood movies. But she noted that, for good or bad, those orientalist images that came from colonization have influenced Eastern belly dance in turn.
“We as women have to find the power in that … while we are aware that these are stereotypes,” she said.