A weekly dose of eastern dance

Dancing novices and veterans learn lessons from cool teacher

Thursday, April 13, 2006

As Laurel Victoria slipped on her worn, pink dancing slippers, the belly-dancing teacher described her students’ motivation with an eloquence of a global traveler well versed in the artform of ‘‘the dance of the East.”

‘‘It’s women’s way of expressing themselves, of letting off steam, of having joy, and they are not judged,” said Victoria, who teaches a dozen weekly classes across the metropolitan area, including one at the College Park Community Center on Thursday evenings. ‘‘It is popular for women at all stages of life because it really is this joyous form of self-expression.”

After a rigorous session April 6, Mary Jo Shapiro said the belly-dancing classes – which work upper body muscles more than many dance forms – have helped her in many ways since she began the classes in September.

‘‘My legs are great, they can do anything,” said Shapiro, of Colmar Manor, a former tap dancer. ‘‘The rest of my body doesn’t move very well. And as I’m getting older ... I wanted something that would really get me moving.”

The class moved to the community center in March after two years at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center – a welcomed change for Victoria and her students.

‘‘These floors are so much better,” Victoria, of Mount Rainier, said of the smooth, wood-grain floors at the community center.

As her students rotated their attention from their feet to their hips to the large mirrors in front of them – trying to follow the quickening rhythm of the Arabic music – Victoria motivated the class with lines such as, ‘‘C’mon, pretend you’re a superhero, and your power is in your hips.”

Victoria’s enthusiasm is appreciated by many who take a weekly foray into the foreign world of belly-dancing.

‘‘You can see your stamina build up,” Shapiro said. ‘‘I see people learn stuff really fast, and it has become a good little community of people.”

Some students, like Beatriz Ruiz and Drena Galarza, said the class’ all-female atmosphere brings them back for every belly-dancing session.

‘‘I like the girl camaraderie,” said Galarza, a Riverdale Park resident. ‘‘You really threw us off tonight,” she said – half jokingly – to a male reporter attending the April 6 class.

‘‘There is some kind of power involved,” said Ruiz of Silver Spring. ‘‘It can get very sexy, and we giggle because we really try.”

Marcia Evangeline Austin, in her third year at the College Park classes, said the atmosphere is conducive to learning the challenging dance motions.

‘‘It’s delightful as a group. The girls are sweet and very supportive,” said Austin, a District resident. ‘‘It’s all about dancing and self-expression.”