wife Keene teaches confidence in belly dancing | Local News
She moves in front of the mirror, her eyes fixed on her reflection, her jaw clenched.
âShoulders,â she says aloud over Middle Eastern music, and seven women behind her in a Keene dance studio begin to move their shoulders in a circle.
“Twist and shimmy,” she told the group, pointing her finger at her mirror image.
The other dancers behind her, also dressed in tank tops and slacks, move swiftly, beads dangling from their hip scarves jingling with them.
âAnd, hip drop,â she said, making the movement and pushing her right arm up into the air.
Tonight it’s not Jackie Raiford, 26, a graduate student in conservation biology.
Tonight it’s Ananke, the belly dancer.
âI was a terrible dancer,â Raiford said a few days later at a Keene cafe.
So bad, she said, that her friends often laughed at her and she embarrassed herself at college balls trying a few moves. She felt uncomfortable and uncomfortable, she said.
But when she was 16 and a new driver, she saw an advertisement for belly dancing lessons near her home in Rockville, Maryland. Classes seemed to be intended only for graceful, feminine girls; nothing like Raiford’s tomboy, himself clumsy.
But why not give it a try, she thought.
âI told my parents I was going to aerobics class,â she says. âI was really sneaking into belly dancing lessons. “
A year of class later, she invited her relatives and friends to her belly dance recital, known as âhaflaâ.
Because no one knew she was taking lessons, she let herself go when she danced, says Raiford.
Raiford had a teacher who taught him that belly dancing wasn’t just for size 0 girls looking to learn sexy dance moves. It was also for the girls who were looking to find themselves, to gain self-confidence. And when Raiford emerged on the dance floor, she was more graceful and confident than a year before.
Raiford decided to stick to belly dancing. She danced in shows, restaurants, fundraisers – wherever she could.
About a year after starting her new passion, it was time for her to pick a stage name, as most belly dancers do.
Stage names are traditional because they create a mystique about the dancer, says Raiford.
She chose AnankÃ© – after the Greek goddess who represents fate and fate. From that point on, members of the Maryland Dance Circle only knew her as Ananke.
Belly dancing is a torso-oriented dance that originated in Middle Eastern music and was performed at celebrations and social gatherings. It was introduced to the Western Hemisphere in the 19th century and today includes a mix of Middle Eastern classical music and modern music.
In 2011, Raiford moved to Keene to study conservation biology at Antioch University in New England. Raiford’s interest lies in urban conservation, and when she finishes her degree, she plans to help communities make more use of their green spaces.
She continued to belly dance while preparing for her degree because it is a way for her to stay creative outside of her analytical studies.
But when she arrived in town, she realized that belly dancing wasn’t as popular here as it was where she grew up.
A few years earlier, she had gotten certified to lead group exercises, so she started posting ads around Keene for belly dancing lessons.
Soon the small studio she was using in Marlborough was too small for all the students signing up for classes.
For the past year, Raiford has taught classes to students at Keene Fusion Studios on Elm Street.
Most people, when they think of belly dancing, think of it as just scantily clad young women dancing, says Raiford.
And while this is true for some, it is not for all. The students of Raiford are between 16 and 60 years old.
Some come because of training, and that looks like a new growing trend, says Raiford. More and more people are taking dance classes to stay in shape because it’s more fun than going to the gym or running, she says. Belly dancing works the upper body and torso, while strengthening the spine.
Others started taking classes after divorcing or losing their jobs. It’s a confidence booster for them, says Raiford – as it does for her as an introverted teenager.
âIt was the last thing I saw myself doing,â she said.
The music Ananke and his students dance to one recent night is called “American Cabaret”. It is a blend of classical Middle Eastern music with modern American dance moves such as jazz and ballet.
They twist their hips and roll their shoulders back as the beads of their scarves clash.
Ananke turns her feet over, bends her knees in a motion similar to a ballet bend.
âTa da,â she laughs.
A few more dance moves pass, then she tells the students to calm down.
Before leaving, they bow slowly to her. A sign of respect and admiration for their teacher.
Do you have an idea for City-Wise? Jacqueline Palochko can be reached at 352-1234, ext. 1409, or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @JPalochkoKS.