By Kristen Miller
Belly dancing isn’t just about the sequins, pretty scarves and costumes that evoke images of I Dream of Jeannie. And it sure isn’t just about the belly. This is one thing Eastern’s Middle Eastern Dance Club aims to teach, not only those who dance but to those who watch. The club was formed in the fall semester of 2006. One of the founders, Savannah Marlow, a senior English major from Richmond, is now the president and the director of the dance troupe. Marlow said the club is all about exploring the Middle East’s culture, music and dances.
“I guess you could say the MEDC is a club (of) enthusiasts,” Marlow said.
The club focuses mainly on Americanized tribal belly dance and hopes to find enough money to bring in instructors to teach Egyptian and cabaret styles, Marlow said. The tribal style of dance is focused on improvisation within the group, tells a story and is very experimental, as well as controlled, she added.
“It’s a showcase of how well you can control movement,” Marlow said. “Belly dance is sort of a misnomer. It’s not just about your belly.”
The tribal style of dance looks old and authentic, as the group uses authentic coins and props while dancing. But it’s one of the newer forms of belly dance and can be traced to the 1970’s. Even if someone doesn’t have any experience in dance, Marlow encourages people who are interested to join anyway.
“There are people who come to practices and have no belly dancing experience,” Marlow said. “It’s a whole new language.”
By the end of last fall, there were seven people showing up regularly to practices. Marlow said one problem with the small numbers is the inconvenient meeting time and the fact that the group has to share space with other organizations on campus, such as the theater in Campbell and the dance studio.
“I hate that, but we have to find a time to practice,” Marlow said.
Sarah Ellifritz, an English education major from Weston, W.Va., is one of the original members of the club and was in the dance class that inspired the club with Marlow.
“I fell in love with the style and when Savannah approached the class about starting a club, I decided to join,” Ellifritz said.
Both Ellifrtiz and Marlow said the best thing about the club is not only the way the dancers come together and form what Ellifritz calls a close-knit group, but what it does for women.
“It allowed women to have a space where they can come together…dancing for each other,” Marlow said.
Marlow said there is no certain size or shape for the club.
“There’s no limitation. There’s no too old, too fat or too skinny,” said Marlow.
With the negative attitude toward the Middle East pervading some parts of American culture, Marlow isn’t surprised that some have a bad attitude about the club.
“I think that it’s something that’s out there,” Marlow said. “There’s a big cultural difference between us…it’s hard to get past the violence. Sometimes you can tell someone is uncomfortable with the whole thing. We just try and educate people.”
So what do the dancers of the club hope people will get out of watching a performance? For Marlow, it’s all about an attitude towards being a woman and women in general.
“I hope women have a sense that they don’t have to look like Paris Hilton,” Marlow said. “And for men to come away with a different attitude about what beautiful is.”
Ellifritz hopes for a different attitude towards a form of dance that may have a stereotype on it.
“I hope the audience sees that it isn’t a sexual form of dance and that it’s about female bonding,” she said. “It’s a form for all sizes and ages.