Belly dance is, like many other forms of art, misunderstood.
Local and international dancers of the ancient form agree that pop culture interpretations, such as the over-sexualized fantasies of men depicted in spy movies during the belly dance scenes, have detracted from the truer aspects of the tradition.
Chattanooga audiences will have an opportunity this weekend to witness what the dance is really all about during an intimate evening of improvisational and traditional Middle Eastern dance in the C.C. Bond Auditorium at Chattanooga State Community College.
Headlining the evening will be a performance featuring six star dancers from the world-touring Bellydance Superstars, performing together for the monthlong Club Bellydance tour.
Promoters with the Bellydance Superstars, who have produced 800 dance performances in 23 countries, believe the ancient art form has a much more universal and mainstream appeal, and they aim to do for belly dance what Riverdance did for Irish music and dance across the globe.
"When you see the actual art of belly dancing, you can find appreciation in the music, the costuming and the strength of the women performing. This is about women expressing themselves beautifully on stage. It showcases the ability of a woman to be soft and strong," BDSS dancer Moria Chappell said.
Chappell, whose dancer profile page describes her as "feminine and fierce," will be performing and teaching in Chattanooga this weekend.
Although Chappell and the other dancers, Sabah, Petite Jamilla, Lauren, Stefanya and Sabrina, were a part of what has been called the "biggest belly dance shows ever produced," the smaller "club" performances, like the one this weekend in Chattanooga, are a way for them to connect to the communities where they perform.
"This helps create a tighter-knit energy. You will feel like you are a part of it while you are watching," Chappell said.
Audiences will also be treated to some of the more contemporary interpretations and fusions of belly dance. Newly choreographed dances will be presented as part of the tour's aim to also provide the dancers a chance to try new ideas not possible in the full theater show.
This celebrating of new, improvisational and collaborative forms of belly dance will begin with the local Dandasha Dance Company, which has been invited to give an opening performance.
More than a dozen local dancers with Dandasha will perform during a 35-minute slot before the superstars take the stage. The opening program includes group dances performed by the local company as well as several solos.
Dickerson said it will also mark one of the last performances with her long-time dance partner, Mattie Waters, as Waters pursues an acting career in New York City. The two will perform two duets, one choreographed and the other completely improvised.
Improvisation and collaboration are Dickerson's favorite ways of creating in dance. "To be able to dance and communicate with each other nonverbally is pretty exciting," Dickerson said.
Belly dance boot camp
The belly dance boot camp lead by Chappell is for all levels, but beginners should have some basic understanding of the "vocabulary," Dickerson said. Learning how to isolate small muscles above and below the belly—"the muscles between the muscles"—can be done at any level of experience. "If you have more of a connection with your own body you will pick up things faster, but all the exercises are the same for everybody," Chappell said.
On stage, audiences can see Chappell and the others in full command of their strengthened, isolated muscles as they "articulate" each move with very specific contractions timed to each beat of the music.
"The dancers are really pulling the beats into their bodies, which is part of what makes belly dancing alluring to people. The dancers internalize the music as opposed to tap and ballet dancers," Chappell said.
Dickerson said she hopes Chattanoogans will come out and support the show, which she said is one of the bigger productions devoted just to dance to come to the city.
"Dance is more underground than the music scene here, but the dance community is huge. Dance is another form of entertainment ... I'd like it to be on the forefront of people's minds as an option to consider a dance production as something to go check out," Dickerson said.
Plan to go: Performance
What: Club Bellydance
When: Saturday, March 10, 7 p.m.
Where: C.C. Bond Humanities Auditorium, Chattanooga State Community College
How much: $20 in advance, $25 day of show
Plan to go: Boot camp
What: Moria Chappell belly dance boot camp
When: Saturday, March 10, 10:15 a.m.
Where: Zanzibar Studios, 600 Georgia Ave.
How much: $50 in advance, $60 day of workshop