Behind the Veil of Local Belly Dancing

Local belly dancer Janikea. Photo by Shealyn Pokvitis

Performance Night 

I peek through the silken veil of the dressing room to see the gathering crowds. How many people have come? Are they smiling and cheerful? Yes, they look welcoming and noisy with happy chatter.

The announcer is introducing our troupe, so we circle together for one more deep breath and dance our way through the veil to the stage. Once the music begins, my body takes control, moving through the choreography on its own.

My busy mind chimes in less often with its distractions. “Think about what comes next.” “Does my husband have the video camera?” “I’m running out of room!” or “Oh, I love this part.”

The dance is a moving meditation that forces me to Be Here Now. If my mind distracts me for a moment, the choreography may be lost. I dance for myself, for the joy of movement and the challenges and rewards of working with a troupe; however when we perform, I want to do well, and I hope people enjoy the performance.

Between dances, I speak with the others in the dressing room. We admire each other’s costumes, compliment techniques, and recommend teachers. There is a sisterhood built on a shared art, and a deeper connection that I think comes from the dedication and vulnerability required for performance.

Fatifah talks about her love of the American Ethnic Cabaret style taught to her by the incredible dancer Kameal. She tells me how important it is for dancers to learn about the history of the dance and its many forms. Many of the experienced dancers here learned from Kameal, a local legend.

The Dance

A dance may be inspired by a cultural tradition, a style, a song, a feeling, or a story. When we choreograph a dance, we try to create a cohesive experience based on a theme. You may see certain moves repeated with variations and elaborations. If the music comes from a particular culture, the movements of the dance should reflect the style of dance in that area.

Egyptian belly dance is glamorous and graceful with elaborately bejeweled costumes.  Bras and belts are ornamented with beads, rhinestones, sequins, and fringe. The skirts are generally long, of varying widths, and worn low on the hips. The dance can be glitzy and showy as performed in a dance hall, or playful and simple as girls would dance casually for each other at home.

Turkish dance, on the other hand, is very earthy with more backbends and floor work. There are fewer restrictions on movement and costume than inEgypt, so the dance may be more risqué. The belts are worn higher on the hip and the skirts are slit up the sides to the belt revealing the leg.

InAmerica, we study and perform dance styles from many cultures and we have originated a few of our own. In American Tribal Style, a group of dancers combine folkloric dance styles. Dancers in a troupe give subtle cues to each other to initiate a series of moves. Their skirts are full, tiered, and frilled. They wear a cropped top called a choli, hip scarves, tassel belts, and lots of chunky jewelry. Look locally for Wild Iris Tribe performances to see this style.

We also fuse dances from many traditions making them our own. For instance, in our troupe, we have a fusion dance with hip hop elements, and one with Hawaiian influences. Our local dancer, Shanae, is well known for her amazing fusion dances, incorporating cybergoth and hip hop. Hip hop belly dance fusion gives the dancer freedom to put the hip and stomach moves of belly dance to the hip hop groove people like to listen to everyday. The importance here is the freedom to make the dance, as well as the costuming, uniquely yours.

The Benefits

Many people come to belly dance for a variety of reason. Siobhan, a local teacher, explains it well when she describes belly dance as “a medley of artistry, soul expression, cultural legacy, and an amazing form of fitness and well-being.” Her classes combine belly dance, cultural information, and yoga.

Tia, one of our local dancers, says she loves belly dance as an outlet for artistic and creative expression, and, of course, the chance to wear the most beautiful costumes. Many dancers make their entire costumes or important elements of them. Tia runs a belly dance boot camp at OSU, doing basic drills and core workouts. “It’s not only a great work out, but it really helps with self-esteem!”

Fatifah brings up another important point, “Its greatest appeal to me when I started was the fact that I didn’t need a partner to dance. Now it is medicine for my soul.”

I chose belly dance because the classes at LBCC fit my schedule. I started a little over a year ago in Janikea’s class, and have come to appreciate many things about this art form beyond the obvious. I love learning about the ways femininity has been expressed through dance in different cultures and being a part of that legacy. I love that I can be public with, and accepted, despite my imperfections. I love that I have found a moving meditation that helps to quiet my mind.

Check the sidebar for a listing of local instructors along with their specialties and contact information. Perhaps someday I’ll see you behind the veil.


By Traeh (Suzanne Wright), Corvallis Belly Dancer


Bellydance Instructors:


Jani Fisher (aka. Janikea)

Classic and Contemporary American/Egyptian styles


Siobhan VanLanen

Egyptian and Tribal Fusion styles

Classes in classical, modern and folkloric Egyptian Oriental dance


Antigone Cook

Blend of various dance formats


Deborah Upington (AKA Samia)

Classic American Cabaret and Egyptian Cabaret


Tia Knight

American Cabaret/ Fusion


Samantha Sheley (AKA Samara)

Tribal Fusion


Wild Iris Tribe

Tribal and Tribal Fusion



Belly Dance/ Hip-Hop Fusion



One-on-one lessons in basic belly dance and hip hop movements

On Facebook as Shanae Bellydance


Corvallis Belly Dance Performance Guild