A workout with rhythm: Review of Saturday's belly dance workshop [Dance]

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When a little more than an hour into the beginner's belly dance workshop last Saturday instructor Jeannine stopped teaching and performed a fully choreographed drum solo, I never imagined I'd be doing that very dance by the end of the next hour. I don't think any of the new dancers did, but an hour later we all found ourselves moving through the dance with a new understanding not only of the steps and motions, but also of the allure of the dance itself.

The group of dancers who gathered at Yoga on Baxter on Saturday first enjoyed an hour of instruction in belly dance. Basic hip, arm, and traveling movements comprised the majority of the lesson. Music accompaniment included chiftitelli and baladi basic rhythms.

After this crash course in some of the basic movements and rhythms of belly dance, the real fun began. Already reeling from engaging a whole new set of muscles and excited about the progress made as a person with little experience in belly dance, Jeannine performed for us the dance we would all learn before leaving that afternoon.

The dance was slow, then fast; flowing, then jerky; high, then low. It sometimes isolated one part of the body, then the next moment had two parts of the body moving totally independently, even at different rhythms. For instance, the dance began with a long shimmy of the hips which began as the only movement in the body, but was eventually joined by chest pumps, then chest pumps at double speed, then back to a hip shimmy in isolation again.

The dance culminated with a drum solo, the most exciting part of the dance, we learned. The drum solo is so exhilarating because it incorporates improvisation at the height of the dancer's engagement with the music. In a live performance, a drummer will repeat the rhythm four times. The first time the dancer must listen and learn the rhythm as she dances, but with each subsequent repetition the dancer becomes more familiar with the beat and more inventive and bold with her movement, united in the rhythm with the musicians and her body.

In Yoga on Baxter's workshop, although the music was prerecorded, we had the opportunity to experience a small piece of the excitement of dancing this most ancient of dance forms by the end of the afternoon.

 (Photo: Flikr/Christian Javan)

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