Belly dancing: Its celebration of womanhood finds a home in Burnsville

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The ancient Middle Eastern cultural expression of belly dancing attracts some unlikely followers.

By day, Mary West works for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, but as a belly dancer performance artist, she’s known as Amina Beres.There’s Linda, a chemical engineer, who credits belly dancing to her physical recovery from a car crash.

Teachers, accountants and full-time moms mostly come to belly dancing through a community education course – it presents a unique exercise opportunity. Those that stay with it, find a great community of women of all ages and sizes, who certainly learn to get over their fear of dancing in public dressed in some pretty sexy wear.

Approximately 27 women from around the state left their day jobs Nov. 13 to participate in the Guild of Oriental Dance Open Stage Festival at the Burnsville Mediterranean Cruise Cafe.

With its exotic costuming and senuous moves, belly dancing is considered by some in the West as “one side short of stripping,” said Louise Indritz, who took up the dance at age 45. “I needed exercise; I was having some back issues, and it needed strengthening. I was tired of waking up in pain,” she said.

Belly dancing is very forgiving and accepting of all body types, said Indritz, who teaches the technique through various community education programs. She said the Guild of Oriental Dance was formed in the 1970s by Cassandra Shore when belly dancers started to appear in Twin Cities restaurants. According to the organization’s website, “The objectives of this organization shall be to promote camaraderie amongst the oriental dance community, and to insure good working conditions and a minimum wage guideline for performers.”

Shore formed the Minneapolis Jawaahir Dance Company, where those who want to advance in Middle Eastern dance go for lessons, or may end up teaching.

Owners of the Mediterranean Cruise Cafe have embraced belly dancing as part its entertainment offerings. Dancers can be seen Thursday through Sunday evenings, every hour starting at 6 p.m.

Some customers who first came for the cuisine, have become sort of “friends of the belly dancers” – groupies of sorts. There wasn’t an empty table the night of the festival.

Tom and Kris Wyzykoski of Lakeville, for example, have become part of the family. A parttime photographer, Tom, started taking photos of the dancers for their websites and other promotional pieces. Kris later started taking belly dancing lessons. Tom jokes that her interest began when he started showing her his photos. “She was jealous.”

Barb Fulton “Amara” from Crystal sums up the belly dancing experience this way: “It’s a celebration of grace and womanhood, curves and all.” she said.

Belly dancing classes are regularly available through ISD 191.