Above: Jessica Tran of Mansfield and Shannon Cornelius of Fort Worth, who are sisters, practice the twirl of a scarf during a belly-dancing class at Isis Studios in Bedford.
Hundreds of belly-dancing enthusiasts seek inspiration and fun in Grapevine
Story by Ellena F. Morrison ¨ Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Sometimes Mary Stewart feels a little frumpy.
But never as Sidonya, swathed in silk and sequins, capable of captivating an audience with a roll of her stomach or turn of her hand.
“You put on the costume, and you turn into this glamorous alter ego,” said Stewart, of Watauga, who has performed as Sidonya, a belly dancer for six years. “You get to be so feminine. With my costume on, it’s like, ‘Oh, I am still a woman.’”
Releasing women’s and men’s inner beauty and confidence is part of the lure of belly dancing, also called raks sharki, said Isis Bartlett, founder of Isis and the Star Dancers in Bedford and several other dance troupes. Dancers nationwide will be in Grapevine on Friday through Sunday to experience this transformation and learn more about the craft at the third annual Yaa Halla Y’all, a three-day Middle Eastern dance conference. More than 1,100 dancers are expected.
Belly dancing “lets you reveal the sides of yourself that you hide,” said Isis, who organizes the conference and has danced for 26 years. “It’s about history and art culture.”
Yaa halla is Arabic for “welcome.” And “y’all” is Texan for “everyone,” said Barbara Arnold-Feret, who has danced under the name Zel for five years.
“We are a little bit Middle Eastern and a little bit Texan,” she said. “That’s reflected in the people coming in as well.”
Isis and the Star Dancers, a 400-member troupe, will perform a different production each night. Eight well-known Middle Eastern artists, including Karen Barbee of San Antonio and Fahtiem of California, will perform and offer instruction. Vendors will sell scarves, elaborate costumes and accessories.
“I told people I got involved in belly dancing because of the twirly skirts and the sparkles on the twirly skirts,” said Chris Hilbert, organizing editor for The Chronicles … A Dancer’s Oasis, a magazine published by the Isis Foundation. “I have a thing for twirly skirts.”
But all the dancers are not wearing skirts. Isis added an exclusively male belly dancing class several years ago after receiving telephone calls from men. Currently, the class, which also includes Polynesian dance instruction, has between five and 12 male dancers, including several who will perform this weekend.
The number of male dancers is impressive because “most studios just have one,” Isis said. “We teach them the belly-dancing moves, but we change their positions for the arm or hand movements so it has a masculine touch.”
Belly dancing is rapidly growing, but myths still haunt the art form, said Sa'diyya, who won first prize at the Belly Dancer of the Year Pageant in California last month. The truth is, she said, belly dancing takes years of practice; it’s about empowering women; and it is not centered on seduction.
“They think it’s a seductive, erotic dance, and it’s not about seduction,” said Sa’diyya. “It’s really a joyous dance.”
The goal of the conference, for both professionals and amateurs, is the same, Stewart said:
“Inspiration. It’s what I get every year.”
Above: Flavia Paulino of Fort Worth practices at a belly-dancing class with the help of a mirror at Isis Studios in Bedford.