Self Expression and the “Belly” Dance

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The dance is a ceremony of life, a tradition that encompasses spirituality, expression, wellness and artful ritual. Those who demonstrate the dance at TMY invite observers to join in appreciating the traditions of the ancient dance form as well as its beauty.

Kathryn Ferguson (left) and Xanadu dancers
Kathryn Ferguson (left) and Xanadu dancers

Kathryn Ferguson, a dance educator, author and choreographer, directs the Xanadu Dancers, a Mideastern performing group who demonstrated the belly dance at Tucson Meet Yourself. “Xanadu Dance Studio and I love to participate at TMY because, number one, I am a Tucson native, and two, because my life is a mix of cultures and it is important for all the great cultures in Tucson to share with each other,” says Kathryn.

“Our dance tradition is Mediterranean, especially dance and music from the Middle East,” she continues. “Since I have been teaching and performing for 30 years, I have many friends from the Middle Eastern and Latino cultures in my life, many of them live in Tucson.”

This year was special, Kathryn observed, “…because so many people got up and participated.” The TMY audience was engaged for a number of reasons, she continues: “I think they are drawn into it because of the beautiful and surprising dance movements, but also the intoxicating music. I was surprised at how many people jumped up to dance with us. I believe that was because Gamal Gomaa was playing drums and singing Egyptian songs. He is from Cairo and is a musician trained in the Mohamed Ali Street of the Musicians tradition. We were so fortunate to have him, and Greek dancer, Helen Vlahos with us. Her dance is elegant and traditional. It gave the audience a good idea of our dance tradition.”

The name of the dance can vary by country, notes Kathryn, and is performed in the Middle East as well as India and Africa, with all cultures imparting their own unique customs and movements to a specific form of the belly dance as a part of their heritage.

“The music, props, and styling may all lend different looks and moods to a performance, but underneath it all, it’s still Oriental dance or belly dance, whichever name you prefer to use for it,” she says. “The popular name for our dance is Belly Dance, although not my favorite name. Normally by Mideastern people it is called Oriental Dance or Raks Sharki.

Xanadu Dancers
Xanadu dancers perform on the Global Rhythms stage

“There is a story that women would dance for another woman who is about to give birth, in order to help her with her birth,” Kathryn continues, also noting that one of the Xanadu Dance Troupe members this year was pregnant. “We were sort of hoping the baby would come right after the show!” she exclaims.

Since Kathryn dances every day of the week, and has toured nine countries for 12 years, teaching and performing, “…this is a daily part of my life,” she observes. “I constantly have music playing and am creating dances. And I still learn about it. Culture and art are alive and evolve.”


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