Belly dancing is an ancient form of dance that has a rich and sensual history dating back further in time than history books record. The dance form has origins from the Middle Eastern and North African countries and is touted as a way to relieve stress, feel sexy and increase mobility. Ancient stories say that belly dancing was a way to increase fertility or promote childbirth with the symbolic figure eight motions a woman makes with her hips. Amira Hamzar teaches belly dancing in Traverse City and is getting ready to teach a six week course in belly dance. She welcomes newbies and seasoned dancers, and from my experience in the class it’s not just a way to learn a new dance form, it’s a way for women to celebrate their bodies and others.
“We say shoulders shimmy but really, it’s the boobies!” Amira said to the class with a laugh as we quickly moved our shoulders and arms from right to left. The class was full and there were women of all ages, sizes and skill level.
“That’s what I love about belly dance,” Amira said. “There is no standard way to look, it’s for anyone with any body type.”
Amira has been teaching belly dancing for 15 years, but has been belly dancing herself for muc longer than that.
“I was going through a divorce and I joined a book club back when we didn’t have tablets and cell phones. You could get five things for five bucks, I couldn’t even tell you what those four other things were because the fifth item was this VHS tape of belly dance workout.”
Amira did the workout tape everyday until she had mastered it. From there she did the second tape in the series until she eventually found instructional tapes that went beyond the workout aspect and focused on the art of belly dancing and she’s been building on her skill ever since.
“It’s just so different. It’s so much different than going to a gym and aerobics. This is fun, I got the bug, I got addicted. No matter what age you are, no matter what size you are belly dance can make you feel good about yourself.”
Amira is right, the class has a sneaky way of making you feel good about your yourself. The class began with a short warm up moving around our arms to get the stiffness out of our shoulders. Amira then rotated traditional belly dancing songs with each dance move we worked on. One song would be to learn an arm move and the next we would alternate to our hips. The class would work for people with back problems because the dancing is all done with softened knees and the lower spine tucked in and up to protect the back. Who knew protecting your back could be so hot? Regular belly dancer Deb Van began classes with Amira this past July despite having two hip replacements.
“Both hips replaced and I have fibromyalgia, she’s been fantastic working with me so I can learn the routine and everything.”
Deb has fallen in love with belly dancing and has progressed so much through Amira’s classes that she performed with a troupe put together by Amira at a professional showcase.
“Self esteem and confidence are tough and you look at people who belly dance and it’s empowering, I mean and the costumes? Who wouldn’t want to wear those?” Deb said.
There aren’t costumes worn in the class, but some women wore hip scarves with the shimmering coins that sound like silver cattails and Amira had all class attendees enter to win a hip scarf of their own. She made the class fun with her reminders to breathe and smile and her playful banter with attendees. She teaches from a place of non-judgement which has inspired a kind of sisterhood through belly dancing.
Dancers Beth Roberts and Angela Heberlein have been dancing with Amira for years and stay because of the empowering nature of the sexy movements, as well as the woman centered space.
“Being able to express your personality and the liberation of it, to feel very feminine and feel like a woman without feeling sexualized,” Beth said.
“The sisterhood and the sacredness are my favorite part, this is really a sacred dance,” Angela said.
The space is very supportive and I didn’t feel uncomfortable or judged at all during the class. I actually left feeling relaxed, confident and I swear my shoulder pain had suddenly dissolved.
If you’re looking for a fun and sexy way to move your body, checkout Amira’s starting Wednesday October 16th and running until November 20th from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. The course costs $60.