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RAW IN CUENCA”Belly” dancing works out the whole body and more

by Susan Schenck

I’ve been fascinated with belly dancing for 30 years. I took classes in San Diego and even performed a couple of times. Then I was invited to an all-women party in Cuenca, celebrating the revolution of Middle Eastern women. We were each to contribute a poem, blog, or story. But for me it was the dance. I shook off the dust of one of my costumes and for the first time in 20 years gave my rendition to Andreas Vollenweider’s “Nightfire Dance.”

Belly dancing is so flexible, you can actually do it to any kind of music, and this was a kind of goddess dance. Many women adore this style of dancing, because it allows them to explore their feminine power and to wear the gaudiest and most revealing of costumes without appearing to be lacking in taste. What most people don’t realize, till they get into it, is that the dance and the music are a recipe for ecstasy. No matter how nervous I may be at first, I find myself slipping into an altered state of wild bliss. I become one with the dance, where there’s no longer a dancer—only the dance. I don’t even realize till I’m finished (finding myself panting) that I’m also getting a cardio workout.

My party performance got me inspired, hungering for more. So I attended a local belly-dancing class. I contacted Susana Meneses (“Sussy” of www.sussyshabanna.com), whose posters are plastered all over Cuenca. She holds classes at Gran Columbia 13-20 (next to a music academy) y Juan Montalvo. She charges $30 for three 1.5-hour classes weekly. It comes out to a mere $2.50 per class—what a deal!

Sussy, originally from Bolivia, used to teach salsa and samba. She saw danza árabe in Argentina and that was it—she was hooked and never looked back. She studied intensely (three hours a day) for three years and began teaching 10 years ago. She has taught in Uruguay, Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru. Two years ago she began her school in Cuenca.

The poster on her bulletin board displays announcements for performances, as well as her rules. She expects excellent attendance, punctuality, and attention in class. She grades students on movements, posture, technique, rhythm, improvisation, and expression. Classes are held in the morning and afternoon and include beginning, intermediate, and advanced. People take her classes to get in shape, and to get in touch with their sensuality and femininity.

“It boosts their self esteem, “declares Sussy. “It helps physically, because every body part is used … but it also helps psychologically.”

She especially delights in working with students who aspire to be professional belly dancers. Students perform periodically in restaurants, parties, quinceañeras, theaters, and other places. The schedule is posted on her website and announced in newspapers and radios.

I eagerly attend her class. Besides me, there are eight students. What a great workout! She wastes no time, not even with warm-ups. (Better do that on your own time at home!) Sussy reminds students periodically that Arabian dance means a dichotomy between the upper and lower body. Usually, the torso is held still, while the hips or legs move, and vice versa. We learn quite a few sequences during that hour and a half. The Egyptian music is mesmerizing and commands the body to move. The arms get a workout from simply being stretched out all the time, while the hips and legs are moving. We make “S” and inverted “S” movements with the torso and learn to move the legs to the exotic rhythm of Eastern music.

Sussy eagerly points out that the West has tweaked belly dancing at times, creating a unique style in technique and costumes. Lest you think belly dancing is only for women, google “male belly dancers.” You’ll find they exist, even here in Cuenca! They use swords as props instead of a veil.

The name “belly dance” is a misnomer, since all the body is used. (And I have the sore muscles to attest to that!) The Arabic term “balady” was likely mistaken by Westerners to think of “belly” as they witnessed the emphasis on belly and torso movements.

Susan Schenck, LAc, MTOM, is a raw food, health, and weight loss coach and the author of The Live Food Factor and Beyond Broccoli. She resides in Cuenca and can be reached at livefoodfactor@yahoo.com.