Belly dance: the troupe breathes new life into a centuries-old art form | Community

At first glance, the members of Gypsy Karavan appear exotic in their richly colored outfit, accented with glittering gold belts and vaporous scarves, dancing to a soundtrack of Middle Eastern music.

But as the songs gave way to more familiar numbers like Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” and Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Blue Jeans”, residents of Angelina House, a Jacksonville retirement home, began to participate in the performance of the women there to dance for them.

More specifically, to belly dancing for them.

“Everything turned out well in a good way,” said resident Roseanne Johanson, who, along with two other people from Angelina House, took part in the show with a tambourine performance.

“There was nothing X rated, it was cool and fun and there was nothing I was afraid to participate in,” she said, then smiled. “I sat there and banged on my tambourine and did some of my good things.”

Another resident and drummer Shannon Cobb called the performance “very graceful to see”, especially enjoying the dance that Edith Fudge, Director of Activities at Angelina House, performed with a scimitar.

“It impresses me every time she’s done this dance,” said Cobb, who has seen the troupe perform before. “We got really involved here. “

Fudge, founder and director of Gypsy Karavan, said her hope is to create some sort of variety show with music, dance, poetry and other art forms that provide family entertainment.

More importantly, the troupe wants to help educate the public about belly dancing, which they call an art form very similar to Hawaiian hula dancing; that it’s nothing at all “like what goes through people’s heads.”

“When you say belly dancing, people’s minds are going in a direction that gives dancers a bad name,” she said. “They ask me, ‘You’re not taking anything off, are you?’ – this is where a lot of people think about belly dancing. They automatically go to the (stripper) pole. But it’s like, ‘I’m sorry, my clothes won’t come off!’ “

Or, she’ll have the inevitable “You don’t sit on people’s knees, do you?” “

“No, I’m not sitting on anyone’s lap. But it’s these weird comments that you get, and then they’ll have that “I don’t know exactly what you’re doing” look (on their faces), so I’m just telling them to come to one of our shows, ” declared Fudge. . “Because for me, oriental dance is a mix between waltz and ballet.”

The dance is closely associated with Arab culture, and until the mid-1800s was not known to the outside world until “Napoleon’s military campaign in Egypt in 1798 sparked the interest of Europeans. for the Arab world ”, according to the website www., which traces the history of oriental dance.

However, the culture has been promoted in a way “completely false to the reality of Middle Eastern culture”, suggesting that belly dancing was “a dance of seduction” when in reality “due to Traditional gender segregation, women from the Middle East only danced in the company of women among friends and family (although) sometimes a professional dancer and musicians were invited to a gathering of women.

Americans first had the opportunity to see belly dancing at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, which included a “The Streets of Cairo” exhibit featuring authentic countries of the Middle East and North Africa. .

However, “it was the dancers of the ‘Egyptian Theater’ who gained the most notoriety,” encouraged by the use of sensationalism by fair promoter Sol Bloom to publicize the event. According to the site, he “would have invented the name ‘oriental dance’ to use in his advertising campaign” because, at that time, it was socially unacceptable to exhibit part of the human anatomy, says the site.

Hence the reputation of oriental dance in this country as a racy and erotic dance “seen only in vaudeville, burlesque and carnival performances,” the website says.

But while troupes like Gypsy Karavan elevate dance to the art form it is, others have discovered belly dancing as a popular means of exercise.

“It’s a very good form of exercise,” said MJ Stine, a member of the troupe, who for several years has been taking a belly dance class offered by Karri Duke through the continuing education department at Tyler Junior. College.

Many women in the class are in their 50s to 70s, appreciating that “most of them are just dance moves that strictly get you working out,” she said, adding that the class is kind of a “girls night out (with the attendees) doing something they always wanted to do, but never thought they could do. It’s just fun.”

It’s been a dozen or more years since Stine started dancing after reading a newspaper article about a local oriental dance group.

“I was like, ‘Ooh, that sounds fun.’ I liked the costumes, their exotic look, ”she said. “And it was also about doing something I didn’t know how to do. I just liked it. And I told my husband I was going to take classes.

Fudge said she was drawn to belly dancing after seeing a woman perform at a rebirth party “and thought about how graceful and luminous she was (she had appeared) and (was smacked) ) by the confidence she had in herself.

“The dancer was overweight and was an average-looking woman, but when she started dancing her personality changed,” she recalls. “It’s hard to describe, but I said to my husband, ‘This is what I want to do. “

Years later, “after the kids left home I had the chance to try belly dancing (and) fell in love with it – I feel like this dancer (of) there. has so many years, which has transformed before my eyes, “said Fudge.

Belly dancing, she pointed out, incorporates movements that “are natural to a woman’s body” and costumes – “the big skirts, the jingling coins, the wings, the veils and the tambourines. make you all feel like you are at the center of everything around you. … I like it, it’s a lot of fun.

The group formed several years ago after Fudge, who performed solo for about a year, “mentioned to (Stine) that the shows needed someone other than me,” recalls. -she.

Stine suggested that other dancers join the performances, “and Gypsy Karavan was born,” she said.

The members hail from Lindale, Van, Tyler, Whitehouse, Flint, Rusk and Jacksonville, and have performed at the senior residential centers of Jacksonville, Athens and Tyler. They also perform each spring at the Renaissance Fair of the Four Winds, outside of Troupe.

Women choose their own music to dance to, “and sometimes that reflects their personality,” Fudge said. “That’s just one of the reasons I think American belly dancers invented their own form of dancing – it’s interesting to watch (someone) belly dance on Neil Diamond or Elvis.”

The music, costumes, and props help create a relaxed and fun atmosphere, and Fudge addresses the audience throughout the show to get them into the spirit of things.

Stine said: “It doesn’t turn anyone off, but it makes them happy I think.”

Angelina House resident Billie Jean Petri, who was part of the tambourine trio who helped entertain the other residents during the Gypsy Karavan performance, was “happy with the way we did it – I thought. it worked and I was not ashamed (of its own role). “

She encouraged others to attend a show to see what dancing really is.

“I think people need to go see it – no matter what type of dance they did, it was a lot of fun,” she said. “I just enjoyed it and would like to see another (performance).”

“It was very heartwarming to see you all dancing together,” Johan-sen told Fudge. “It made you want to get up and dance too.” “

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