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IMG_6618Belly Dancing Skirt - Hot Pink Silver CoinsBy: Sinthu Ramalingam

The Arabic music wafts through the air as the five women move across the floor on the balls of their feet, with their hips swaying, and arms floating in the air around them. The belts tied around their waists produce the sound of many small bells with every movement that they make.

Chris Campbell, known as Sylvana when she performs, said she was travelling in Turkey with her sister during the summer of 2002, when she saw a belly dancer in the region of Cappadocia. She was so enthralled that when she got back home, she pulled out a yellow pages book in search of a belly dance instructor, and according to Sylvana, in January 2003, she began taking lessons. Ten years later, she teaches dance and regularly performs with her dance group and others at downtown events.

For example, Sylvana performed along with her original belly dancing teacher, Paula Stump, and others at the September Gallery Hop. Passersby stopped to watch the group of women as they showcased the Middle Eastern dancing on the street, their beaded bras and matching belts clinking with their motions, and their long skirts lingering behind every step they took, and eventually some of the audience even joined in on the fun.

The dancers think of downtown as the center of the arts in Winston-Salem. “The Gallery Hops for us feel like the ‘place to be’ if we want to share our art form,” Sylvana said. “We especially like the broad mix of people that stop and enjoy the performances on Gallery Hop nights. From the kids who come up to dance with us, to the mixture of races and ages that happen to be wandering through downtown on the first Fridays of the month.”

A few years after she started learning belly dancing, Sylvana began teaching lessons herself, “I probably started teaching in 2005/2006, and it’s in part because I didn’t feel challenged enough,” she said.

Rebecca Bender, a financial planner at Hanesbrands, said that she came to her first class six years ago almost as a dare. “Someone I worked with was interested, and didn’t want to go alone,” she said. Bender, who still takes lessons from Sylvana, said, “I enjoy the music, and also just the appreciation of the female body – there is no perfect body for belly dancing.”

As Sylvana kept teaching, a group of regulars formed into the group, Dancers of 1001 Nights Middle Eastern Dance. According to the 1001 Nights Middle Eastern Dance website, the name comes from an Arabic ballad “Alf Leyla Wa Leyla,” which means “One Thousand and One Nights,” and the Persian book, The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

The type of belly dancing that Sylvana does is typically American cabaret style and Raqs Sharqui classical Egyptian style. According to Sylvana, the music is typically orchestral, and the style was influenced by the Russian ballet when it was in Egypt in the early 1900s.

“I’ve taught so many people over time, and I love to perform,” Sylvana said, “I’ve picked them up all from various, different places, and places in time. And it’s a very informal group of people.” Sylvana recognizes that the group is not as strict in structure as some other dance groups. “I’m a professional,” she said, “Some of my performers are professional photographers; I’ve got an attorney, an architect, an occupational therapist. I kind of recognize we’re not making money to do it, so as long as they’re okay with it, a fairly lax structure, and we all love to dance, so they keep coming back.”

The group rehearses on Tuesday nights, and performs at many different venues. According to Sylvana, they perform at festivals and events such as Gallery Hop, as well as events that are more specific to Middle Eastern culture, such as halfas (party in Arabic), and events that are more so associated with the dance community, such as workshops.

One of the recurring events in Winston-Salem is Tummy Tuesdays and Wiggle Wednesdays that happen at a downtown restaurant, Mooney’s Mediterranean Café. “It’s where David Mooney lets us take over Mooney’s Mediterranean Café, one night,” said Sylvana, “and it’s kind of like an open shimmy night and anyone can just sign up and come and dance, and so it’s great for students, first time soloists, anyone who wants to try something new.” The next Wiggle Wednesday is on November 6th.

Bender, who performs with the group whenever they perform to the popular Hindi song, Shava Shava, at Mooney’s, says she loves to perform when she gets the chance to. “It’s an opportunity for big girls to play dress up,” she said.

Watch a video of a belly dancing class

Published October 14, 2013

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