Joy of the bellydance

Local,Dan Collins

Bellydance: It?s a funny sounding word and it typically evokes funny responses in people.

For some, it?s eye-candy entertainment. For others, an almost spiritual expression that integrates the mind and body. Or it?s a fun form of exercise, a holistic treatment for a stiff back, a sensual expression of culture, a performance art.

For Ellicott City resident Rebecca Snyder, a bellydancer of five years, it was a way to meet people. "For me, dancing is a community endeavor. I started to meet friends, to take part in a creative project together," she said. Snyder, who is an acupuncturist by trade, created a class called "Belly Gong," that combines aspects of Qigong, an offshoot of Chinese medicine involving various breathing patterns in coordination with different body motions and postures.

"It?s less a performance-oriented class and more a self-awareness-body-exploration-meditation class. It?s about becoming more in tune with your body; it?s really strengthening. The way you use your body, it?s like doing isometric exercises, so you can get really strong, but it?s calming for the mind.

"I?ve had students with back injuries who have had improvement. One student had Lyme disease and could find no form of exercise she could do. She came to class and received a lot of benefit from bellydancing, getting flexibility without feeling pain," she said.

Snyder studied bellydance with Piper Hunt, a bellydancer of nearly 30 years who during the 1980s and ?90s, "did 30 shows a week, from San Francisco to Montreal." Today, while she continues to teach, she limits herself to a few performances at galas, such as those hosted by the Baltimore Museum of Art. It?s as much time as her career as a molecular biologist will allow.

"Studying at Hopkins, you?d be surprised how many scientists are piano players, violinists, artists in oils and pencil. People don?t realize that science requires a huge amount of creativity. To become a scientist, you have to spend many years perfecting your knowledge, and as an artist,or dancer or musician, you spend years perfecting your talent. It?s the same in science as it is for dancers," Hunt said.

Snyder says that "nothing special" is needed for bellydancing, "most people will wear yoga pants and short top so you can see you?re belly in case you?re doing abdominal work. That and a hip scarf is usually all you need. Classes typically cost "about $12 or $13," and students can expect "at least a year?s worth of instruction to become proficient. It really depends on the person. It could take one to three years to get the hang of it ? it?s hard," she admits. The hardest part, she says, "Most people aren?t aware of their bodies. To do bellydance, you have to have a lot of control and developing that self-awareness is the hardest part," Snyder said. But rest assured, bellydancing is fun. "You listen to great music and have the joy of the dance," she said.


» Rebecca Snyder teaches bellydance Mondays, 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel; Tuesdays at 7 p.m. at Breathe Bookstore in Hampden; and Thursdays at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. at the Avalon Studio in Catonsville.

» Piper Hunt teaches bellydance Mondays, 7 to 9:30 p.m. at the Meadow Mill Athletic Club in Hampden. Learn more about the art of this dance at and www.Daughter

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