Belly dance for exercise, self awareness

Ancient form of Middle Eastern dance remains popular in the
United States
Marcieta Gore knew she needed to exercise, but the gym routine just seemed so drab. The thing that could keep her interest would have to be fun, too, she decided.

It was with that idea in mind that Gore enrolled in three classes for the year 2000: Tap dancing, belly dancing and tai chi. Within a few weeks, belly dance had won hands down, said the Morgan Hill resident, but her personal reinvention didn’t stop there.

Gore fell in love with the costumes and colors, the light, swirling fabric and jingling beads of the intricate belly dance costumes she’d seen other performers wearing. A full costume costs between $800 and $900, though, and Gore knew she could do just as well.

“I’ve sewn since I was in high school, so it was kind of natural,” said Gore. “Three years ago I went to a dance retreat in Hawaii. I made a bunch of things to take with me – not just costumes, but things to wear around the retreat, things that I wouldn’t really wear normally at home.”

Flooded with compliments, Gore returned home with a strong desire to sew, and started marketing her products under the name Zora.

Today she makes practice outfits, skirts, body suits and choli tops, the form-fitted cropped tops that expose as much of the belly as possible.

It’s a far cry from her life five years ago. Skilled in math and science since childhood, Gore was a software engineer.

Her hobbies were physical – gardening and carpentry – and required little development of her culturally feminine side.

“I always identified more with the intellectual, with what we consider masculine traits,” said Gore. “I think my feminine self was very undeveloped, so when I started dancing it really woke up my appreciation for color and sensuality, softness. Nurturing, emotions, empathy, appreciation of nature – those are sort of feminine traits that I never realized were a feminine aspect of myself. I liked flowers and nature a lot, but the way I saw it, I was out there with a shovel getting dirty.”

After several years of training, Gore has progressed to the point where she teaches the dance as well.

She sees students struggle with some of the same issues she had – difficulty with isolating the movement of their chests or hips, with finding the downbeat of a song.

Belly dancing, sometimes referred to as oriental dancing or raks sharqi, is one of the oldest forms of dance known to exist still.

It comes in many forms, from tribal dances common in northern India and the Middle East to the Greek and Egyptian styles popular in the Mediterranean and beyond today.

The best-known form in the United States is the cabaret style, adapted to the silent screen after popular exhibitions at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, according literature from the International Academy of Middle Eastern Dance.

Contrary to popular opinion, the dance was not performed for men, but in most cases was a fertility or wedding rite performed for other women when men were not present, according to the IAMED.

Today, the dance form is most often seen in specialty shows and Mediterranean restaurants, but for those who aren’t inclined to be putting on a show, it can also have exceptional health benefits.

It tones and strengthens the muscles of the torso and pelvis, easing strain on bad backs and allowing the spinal column to have greater flexibility.

Arm and shoulder strength is also improved as the dance requires holding one’s arms aloft most of the time, and belly dance could even help to prevent osteoporosis since it is a low-impact weight-bearing exercise (it requires the practitioner to be on their feet, but has minimal risk of injury or joint fatigue), according to DiscoverBellyDance.com.

All that, and it’s sexy.

“I think of belly dancing as a language,” said Gore. “I teach my students to dance as a vocabulary and we do a vocabulary drill. What I want is for them to learn conversation with their vocabulary, how to tell a story – how to interpret the music, listening to themselves and listening to their audience so that the flow is natural as we speak in conversation.”

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