Belly Dancing Raqs Campus

Sarah Elkeaikati

Every Tuesday and Thursday night in the Sierra Nevada gym, Arabic music is turned up, hip scarves are tied in place, and the Middle Eastern dance class begins its routine.

More than 20 women are enrolled in the class that was added to the schedule in the summer of 2007.

The students are taught the sensual techniques of centuries-old raqs sharqi, or belly dancing, by Tamra-Henna, a belly dancer whose resume is as impressive as her moves.

Tamra-Henna has been performing for seven years, and studied belly dance in eight Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt and Lebanon. She studied with professionals including Nadia Hamdi, Raqia Hassan and Mona El Said.

“Tamra is an amazing teacher,” said Beverly Coleman, a 54-year-old belly dancer of five years, who took Tamra-Henna’s class to improve her technique.

“I have taken classes from almost 30 different teachers in my five years of dancing,” said Coleman. “No one knows how to break down technique as well as Tamra.”
The students learn belly dancing basics including hip thrusts and shimmies, all to the beat of Arabic hits by such as Nancy Ajram, Hakim and Najwa Karam.

Tamra-Henna teaches her students techniques slowly, and has them repeat them several times to the beat of the music. The students also learn a routine that they perform several times during each class.

“When students learn raqs sharqi, they are learning a form of self expression danced by millions of women in the Arab world on a daily basis,” said Tamra-Henna. “Learning this art form is a wonderful inroad to learning about the people of the Middle East and to get a more human perspective on the region than we get in the media.”

Perhaps the most interesting and enjoyable part of the class is the improvisational segment. Students are broken up into groups, and each member dances freely for a couple of minutes with her group members clapping encouragingly.

“The improvisation part of the class is my favorite,” said 20-year-old psychology major Nonia Zargarian. “It’s really fun to just get out there, let loose, and start dancing.”

Adding to the belly dancing, this experienced teacher ends her class with yoga-like movements to bring down the heart rates of the students. These include stretching and controlled breathing.

The stereotypical idea of belly dancing may be that it is an erotic dance, however, there are several health benefits that come along with this exercise.

Belly dancing, depending on how often and how intense one dances you dance, can be a beneficial form of exercise and weight loss. Also, the flowing movements increase the production of synovial fluid in the body which protects joints.

Raqs sharqi is common to the Middle East and Africa, and is usually considered to have originated in Egypt, as far back as the 14th century B.C.

Spring classes will be offered on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7:45 – 9:17.