Belly dancing pushes the limits

With their fluid arms, the teasing jingle of their shimmering gold belts, and yes, the infamous belly rolls, it is difficult to think of a dance any more exotic than belly dancing.

Ever since the mysterious Little Egypt performed belly dancing for the first time in America in 1893 at the World Fair in Chicago, this Middle Eastern dance has fascinated the masses. Her uncorseted figure and gyrating hips shocked Americans in a way that the dance still does.

Anna “Sulli” Sullivan is a senior in LAS and belly dance instructor at Campus Recreation Center East, or CRCE, and the Activities and Recreation Center, or ARC. She said that it is very jarring for some people to use parts of the body that are sexual.

“It’s kind of shocking when people first see it,” Sullivan said. “I think people’s imaginations are kind of sparked.”

Tracy Engle is a senior in LAS and member of the belly dancing dance troupe Trikhala.

“Sometimes we confuse people,” Engle said. “(Some people think) are we supposed to admire them as performers?” Sullivan, leader of Trikhala, said that since the time of its origin, different people have put their own twist on the style of dance. It was in the 1890’s that the West began adapting it and developing different styles, resulting in unique styles of American, Canadian, British and Australian belly dance.

“It can be interpreted in so many different ways,” Sullivan said, “And you can find styles that reflect that. Cabaret style, gothic style; it’s opened up.” Trikhala best exhibits this in their “tribal fusion” style of belly dancing.

“It incorporates ballet, hip-hop, salsa, a little bit of everything,” Sullivan said. “We’ll take cool stuff from anywhere. Technically we’ve even danced to (David) Bowie before.”

The wide range tribal fusion allows was evident at Trikhala’s practice. The Trikhala dance troupe consists of dancers Sullivan, Engle, Katja Jalfin, Emily Coughlin, Ciara Nugent and Sam Looker. Although the women performed traditional belly dancing moves, they incorporated sharp, isolated moves as well.

This hip-hop influence gave the dance a more modern, youthful energy.

“Some people are never going to understand it,” Sullivan said. “It’s how you want to interpret it. The dancer’s interpretation is what matters.” This idea of testing the boundaries of belly dancing and pushing the limits of the dancers’ bodies has given them a sense of self-empowerment.

“You feel more comfortable about yourself,” Sullivan said. The dance troupe‘s next performance is for the Bellies for Life, an all-belly dance, breast cancer fundraiser at The Highdive on March 6. All proceeds that night will go to charity.

“It’s a source of pride and excitement,” said Looker, who is a graduate student. “A pride and excitement in what my body can do.”