Belly dance students discover a welcoming community of celebration and constant movement

GOOD EGYPTIAN MUSIC into the amplifier at 6:15 p.m. as instructor Leslie Rosen leads her belly dancing class through what she calls a shimmy warm-up. She gives gentle instructions every few seconds that are barely audible above the music: “Slide to the side.” “Start moving in a circle.” “Lift the fall, lift the release.

A dancer, stilt walker, fire performer and outfielder, Rosen has performed at venues ranging from the Seattle Art Museum to NFL games. Her love of belly dancing and fire performance has taken her all over the world, but perhaps it’s where she’s most at home, at Equinox Studios in Georgetown, where she leads her class of Monday evening.

The women in tonight’s class differ in age and dance experience, but the bond they share here is palpable. “Belly dancing really evolved from women being in groups, says Ava Shockley. “It’s a beautiful form of expression, and women haven’t always had a lot of means of expression.”

Join the movement

Instructor Leslie Rosen says there are fantastic belly dancing instructors teaching at community centers and dance studios throughout the Seattle area. His Monday night classes at Equinox Studios (as well as his virtual classes on Wednesdays) are on summer hiatus until September. His group is always open to visitors and new students; she can be contacted at LeslieRosen.com.

Many of the women in attendance were drawn to their first belly dancing class because of its history and reputation as an art form that centers and celebrates women, but this weekly gathering is open to everyone.

“It’s not just a ladies-only or women-only space,” Shockley says. “There is feminine energy, but everyone is allowed to share that kind of energy.”

After years of playing hockey, Christina Sears took her first belly dancing class in search of a new cardio activity. “It works every muscle in the body, but it doesn’t do anything the body isn’t supposed to do,” Sears says. “It’s accessible to all body types, at all fitness levels.”

The constant movement required of a belly dancer can be daunting, even for an experienced athlete like Sears. “At first you think your body can’t do it,” she says. “But you start with the basics and level up.”

Sears and her classmates say Rosen creates an intimate space where beginning dancers are comfortable and safe dancing just feet away from experienced performers.

“We are not in competition here; it’s not about the person next to you,” says Sears. “It’s all about how the dance works with your body.”

Kathi Jenness has been following Rosen’s classes for 14 years. She danced ballet for decades, but now feels more comfortable belly dancing. “I love the loose side of belly dancing,” she says. “It’s more stimulating than ballet.”

Rosen takes the history and culture of belly dancing seriously, and her students understand that her classes benefit from this commitment. However, she does not hide the basic reason why her students keep coming back.

“People come to my class to have fun, to connect with their bodies, and to make new friends,” Rosen says. “Art and dance help to get out of the discomfort of everyday life. When you have the chance to truly inhabit your own body and do something creative, you are on an adventure.

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