Eager students arrived early to participate in a beginner’s belly dance class at Wheelock Fitness Center Sept. 18. Instructor Jackie Daniels led the small group. Daniels, a grandmother, works full-time at Fort Polk’s Emergency Operations Center. She has taught and trained in belly dancing for 38 years.
Giving her students a brief historical view about how the dance transpired, she said that belly dancing was taught to women in the Middle Eastern countries to alleviate childbirth pains.
“The rocking of the stomach was a way to guide babies down the birth canal. However, individuals from the West witnessed this experience and turned it into a sensual dance,” said Daniels.
Dance scholars have debated the origins of who started belly dancing. Mesopotamia, the first civilization, seems to have started the dance because there was documentation found in their hieroglyphic writings. Some intellectuals dispute the information claiming that the dance was started in Egypt.
Wherever the points of origin, it was the Arabic terminology that defined two styles of belly dancing: The Rakis Baladi and Raqs Sharqi. The Rakis Baladi is a folkloric belly dance that can be done by both women and men. This type of dance was done at social gatherings in the Eastern world.
As Westerners began to explore the region they became familiar with the term Raqs Sharqi, meaning solo performers. The movements were more dramatic and amplified the hips and exotic attire.
The beauty of the dance inspired Daniels when she lived at Fort Knox, Ky. Explaining her credentials, she said she was mentored by fellow belly dancer Patty Perryman. “I was 21 and I went from a beginner to advanced dancer in six weeks. Earning my certification in belly dance, I began to teach on post as an instructor and personal trainer,” she said.
Prior to the Sept. 18 class, Family member Michelle Stucky spoke of how she rearranged her schedule to attend the class.
“I’m really excited and ready to see what we’re going to learn,”she said. Equipped with her coin wrap, a hip scarf with decorative beads that shake, Stucky got wrapped up and began moving her hips to the rhythmic beat of Arabic music.
Daniels passed out additional scarves to students and told them, “If you guys came out to twerk then you’re in the wrong place.” Twerking was made popular this year by pop culture and is known as a form of erotic dance. The goal for this class was to focus on low impact exercising.
Slightly bending her knees and repeating the phrase “diaphragm-belly button-bladder,” Daniels taught the essence of dance as a way to stay physically fit. The class learned how to elongate their stomach muscles, breathing techniques and posture.
With so many concerns on mental and physical health, Daniels advised the group of women that this exercise is a great way to get rid of stress.
“This exercise is good for building your self esteem and tightening your stomach muscles.
“The body movement alone promotes healthy digestion and can help individuals who suffer from back pains,” she said.
Many people who were exercising in the main gym walked by to see the class. Attracted by the music and the shimmering coin scarves, they could be heard in the hallway asking for the next class schedule.
As of now, Daniels’ classes are scheduled Mondays at 4:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 10 a.m. at the Wheelock Fitness Center. She offers private classes and is able to work around individual schedules. If you’re looking for a way to stay in shape this fall by getting rid of the stomach bulge or want to hang out and meet new people, then this might be the class for you. For more information please contact the Wheelock Fitness Center at 531-6794.