Instructor shares the love of music and movement through belly dancing
MEG H. PARTINGTON [email protected]
BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. — Just as the Greek god Eros wanted to spread love, Jennifer Carpenter-Peak wants to share her passion for music and dance.
“Kind of my whole life has led to this,” Carpenter-Peak said of the belly dancing classes she teaches and the performances she puts on with a band that includes her husband and two sons. .
During a recent class in the movement studio at the Ice House in Berkeley Springs, she told a group of 10 students that belly dancing is all about EROS: emotion, rhythm, a good move and a step. touching.
In a room decorated with tapestries on the wall and white lights draped over a ballet bar and mirrors, she shared the basic moves of her craft with women aged between 20 and 80. She also demonstrated parts of a Moroccan tea ceremony, teaching them how to pour the drink correctly and encouraging them to snack on pistachios, dates and figs. It is part of its mission to educate people about Middle Eastern culture.
Carpenter-Peak, 52, lived in Los Angeles until the middle of her elementary school years. His father was a financial editor for a San Diego newspaper and researched how the boat building industry could help developing countries. His studies exposed him to boating as a hobby, which led him to take his family around the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on sailboats for about 10 years, until Carpenter-Peak was 18.
“I think it allowed me to never take things for granted,” Carpenter-Peak said of learning about other countries and cultures.
From 1993 to 1997, she and her husband, Robert Peak, 54, cycled the world, including Italy, Morocco, Turkey and Tunisia. Despite her family’s love of travel, she said they ‘freaked out’ when she told them she and Robert were going to Tunisia because it’s an Arab country, which they feared would be dangerous.
But the couple were unfazed.
“We were completely fascinated by the difference in things” in other countries, including how women were treated, she said. “We were very intrigued by the music,” especially the drums.
After their return, they moved from the Washington, DC area to Berkeley Springs, where friends taught them African percussion. She took belly dancing lessons at Coolfont Resort, which is now closed, and Carpenter-Peak found her niche.
“It’s my dance, it’s my thing,” she said. “The beauty of it, its freedom” appealed to her, and it made her feel graceful in a way the ballet she tried out in college didn’t.
She said belly dancing was a perfect way to merge her love of movement and music.
She said it’s a way to “put the music on the body. You embody the music.
To take shape
While Carpenter-Peak said she was still active and working out, belly dancing helped her get back into shape after the birth of her second son, Lhasa.
It not only helped shape his height, but also boosted his spirits.
“It gave me a self-confidence that came to fruition in so many other things,” said Carpenter-Peak, of Berkeley Springs.
She took lessons for about a year and a half and honed her skills with the help of an instructor named Ansuya, with whom she studied in person and whose DVDs she watched so much that she exhausted them.
Now, she wants to help others feel that strength through classes she teaches at Ice House, Hancock Community Center, and Cumberland, Maryland.
“It’s so accepting of any body type, any age, any size, any color,” Carpenter-Peak said of belly dancing.
Showing them how to respond to drumbeats provided by her husband and recorded instrumental music, she encouraged those who attended a Jan. 9 class in Berkeley Springs to put their hands on their hips to feel how they move. Tied around these hips were colorful scarves adorned with coins, some brought by the students, others provided by the instructor.
She showed them how bending the knees incorporates the quadriceps into the dance, and how they should lift their chest and cross the wooden floor with their arms outstretched. Quick leg movements came later for women, some of whom were dressed in sportswear or jeans, barefoot or in socks.
Carpenter-Peak said she wants her students to stop focusing on their flaws and “take where you are and find the beauty.” Ultimately, the process can lead participants – men and women – “to feel beautiful, to feel empowered, to find joy in just dancing.”
The mood was light among his students.
“I was interested in belly dancing to tone myself up and have a little fun,” said Joan Smith, 54, of Berkeley Springs.
She did modern dance, tap, jazz and ballet in high school, and hoped this variety would give her core muscles and back a good workout.
Ryland Swain of Berkeley Springs already practices tai chi and yoga and was ready to expand her repertoire.
“Just because I like to stay active,” Swain said of why she was trying belly dancing for the first time.
Kathy Robinson, 61, of Berkeley Springs, has been belly dancing for about eight months.
“It’s a good outlet to be able to dance and express yourself,” Robinson said. “I had five kids and wanted to tone my belly.”
She also enjoys the camaraderie of such a class.
“It’s just fun. It’s time for women to come together,” said Robinson, who also drums with others.
“Everyone has a natural rhythm,” even those who claim to have no sense of timing when it comes to music and dance, Robinson said.
A family business
With the help of her family, Carpenter-Peak shares Middle Eastern music, dance and culture with a wider audience.
She and Robert formed the band TarabRaqs in 2004, often performing in Shepherdstown, W.Va. Tarab means “musical ecstasy” in Arabic, while raqs means “dance,” Carpenter-Peak said.
When he was around 9, their eldest son, Dakota, now 18, started playing the oud, a pear-shaped string instrument, and joined the band when some musicians dropped out. Later, their other son, Lhasa, 14, was added to the mix.
Carpenter-Peak dances and plays “any type of percussion,” including zills – finger cymbals – drums and castanets. Her husband plays the drums; Dakota plays oud, guitar, and other stringed instruments; and Lhasa plays electric and acoustic bass.
“He brought his teenage energy” and a contemporary sound that helps the band better reach American audiences, she said of Lhasa.
Carpenter-Peak described the quartet as “von Trapp family charm meets Rolling Stones energy in Lebanon”.
They perform music from across the Mediterranean at schools in West Virginia and Maryland, festivals and other venues. Many tunes are Turkish, which provides an opportunity to teach Arabic and Turkish languages and culture.
Carpenter-Peak said she wanted people to understand that Arab culture involves more than politics and war.
“We actually have more in common than we don’t,” she said. “Cultural context is so important.”
It is also important for her to explain what belly dancing is not.
“It’s not pole dancing” or any other form of exotic entertainment, Carpenter-Peak said.
Instead, it can be enjoyed by men, women, and families just like hers.
As a home-schooled mother, she admitted she was reluctant to teach belly dancing.
“I kind of went there kicking and screaming,” Carpenter-Peak said. “I didn’t realize it would be so fulfilling for me as it was.”
For more information on Jennifer Carpenter-Peak’s classes and performances by TarabRaqs, visit www.facebook.com/events/831448706967651; www.tarabraqs.com; or call 304-258-7647.