Belly-dancing students discover a welcoming community of celebration and constant movement

EGYPTIAN MUSIC BOOMS through the amplifier at 6:15 p.m. as instructor Leslie Rosen leads her belly-dance class through what she calls a shimmy warmup. She gives gentle instructions every few seconds that are barely audible above the music: “Slide to the side.” “Start to move in a circle.” “Lift drop, lift release.”

A dancer, stilt walker, fire performer and aerialist, Rosen has performed at venues ranging from the Seattle Art Museum to NFL games. Her love of belly-dance and fire performance has led her all over the world, but she’s perhaps most at home here, at Georgetown’s Equinox Studios, leading her Monday night class.

The women in tonight’s class differ in age and dance experience, but the connection they share here is palpable. “Belly dancing really evolved from women being in groups together,” says Ava Shockley. “It’s a beautiful form of expression, and women haven’t always had lots of means of self-expression.”

Join the Movement

Instructor Leslie Rosen says there are fantastic belly-dancing instructors teaching at community centers and dance studios all over the Seattle area. Her Monday evening classes at Equinox Studios (as well as her virtual classes on Wednesdays) are on summer hiatus until September. Her group is always open to visitors and new students; she can be contacted at LeslieRosen.com.

Many of the women in attendance were drawn to their first belly-dance course because of its history and reputation as an art form that centers and celebrates women, but this weekly gathering is open to all.

“It isn’t just a woman- or female-only space,” says Shockley. “There’s feminine energy to it, but everybody is allowed to share in that kind of energy.”

After years of playing hockey, Christina Sears attended her first belly-dance class in search of a new cardio activity. “It works all the muscles in the body, but it’s not doing anything that the body isn’t meant to do,” says Sears. “It’s approachable for all body types, all fitness levels.”

The constant movement required of a belly dancer can be daunting, even for an experienced athlete such as Sears. “At first, you think there’s no way your body can do it,” she says. “But you start with the basics and level up.”

Sears and her classmates say Rosen creates an intimate space where beginning dancers are comfortable and secure dancing a few feet away from experienced performers.

“We’re not competing here; it’s not about the person next to you,” says Sears. “It’s all about how the dance works with your body.”

Kathi Jenness has been taking Rosen’s classes for 14 years. She danced ballet for decades, but now feels more comfortable belly dancing. “I love the loosey-goosey-ness of belly dance,” she says. “It feels more empowering than ballet.”

Rosen takes the history and culture of belly dance seriously, and her students understand that her classes benefit from that commitment. However, she makes no bones about the fundamental reason her students keep coming back.

“People come to my class looking for fun, to connect with their bodies and to make new friends,” Rosen says. “Art and dance help shake off the malaise of everyday life. When you get a chance to really inhabit your own body and do something creative — you take yourself on an adventure.”

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