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July 31, 2014

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Belly dancers shake, shimmy and sparkle their way through the Flamingo

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Gregory Laskey

From left to right Tashia Shiraishi, Lorien Archambeault and Rebe Varghese from Shimmy Stars of Honolulu play behind veil fans during their performance at the 10th Annual Bellydance Intensive & Festival that took place the weekend of Sept. 6, 2012.

'Bellydance Intensive & Festival'

Silvia Salamanca from Mallorca, Spain, holds poses while balancing swords at the 10th Annual Bellydance Intensive & Festival that took place the weekend of Sept. 6, 2012. Launch slideshow »

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When I decided to pursue belly dancing as the yearlong field project for my master’s in education degree, “What does that have to do with teaching?” was a common response. My master’s program blends academic performance and artistic expression and I just knew there was a belly dancing superstar stuck inside a 33-year-old, special education English instructor from Great Falls, Mont. Part of the program requires a teacher to evaluate issues she sees in the areas of professional, personal and artistic development. Belly dancing fit the bill, and a Montana troupe was there to help.

Thanks to Aithne Baker of Raks Maya Bellydancers of Great Falls, and the resident purveyor of all things sparkly, also known as the troupe costumer, Tammi Galloway, a group of dancers and one drummer raised enough funds to rent a van, gas it up and drive the long haul to the Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive & Festival this month at the Flamingo. We held garage sales, sold baked goods and pooled tips from performances to bank what we needed for the troupe to rent a vehicle, the Shimmy Wagon.

According to Samira Tu’ala, executive producer of the festival, hundreds of participants studied with instructors who traveled from as far as India and Norway. There were workshops, performances, a “So You Think You Can Bellydance” contest as well as a bazaar, where vendors sold their handmade costumes, jewelry and dance props.

Belly dance is seductive, no doubt, but make no mistake, these workshops are get-up, shake-it, move-it, sweat-it workshops. Consider the lovely Ruby Beh’s All About Arms workshop, with a side of barrel rolls. The rolls are 360-degree rapid turns, done leaning slightly forward. They make you wish you hadn’t eaten so much lunch.

The event is a draw for celebrities in the world of belly dancing. I had the fortune to take a class with Sadie Marquardt, who finished in the Top 48 of “America’s Got Talent.” I also studied with Myra Krien of Santa Fe, N.M., who created Pomegranate SEEDS (Self-Esteem, Empowerment and Education through Dance), an organization that mentors young women through belly dancing.

The most important concept I took away from this event is that it doesn’t matter how old you are, what size you are, what gender you are or what level of achievement you are. In belly dance, there is room for everyone.

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