Ethnic dance students 'hip'-notize locals

By Melissa Garcia - July 31, 2005

The soft chiming of finger cymbals, jingling of jewelry and rustle of taffeta could be heard from backstage as the audience waited for the show to begin.

An afternoon of hip-shaking and belly-grooving was to come for about 50 people who attended Ethnic Dance Expressions School of Belly Dance's Third Annual "Veils and Visions Revue" at the India Cultural and Education Center on Sunday.

Students and faculty from Ethnic Dance Expressions celebrated the school's sixth anniversary with a program of short dance routines that mixed Arabic dancing with Egyptian and Latin movements.

Marjorie Malerk, 53, known onstage as Sallamah Chimera, is the owner and director of the school. She took the name "Sallamah" from a Persian dancer who had blue eyes like hers and added "Chimera" to mean "illusion or fantasy," she said.

Her interest in belly dancing began when she was only 11 and saw photos of a 14-year-old belly dancer in a newspaper, she said.

Malerk said at that age she felt awkward about her body and wanted to feel composed and beautiful like the veiled and costumed girl in the pictures.

"I thought if I did that I could be feminine, too," she said.

She started taking classes in 1979 and performed on stage for the first time at UF's Constans Theatre, she said. In 1999, she formed the dance school to offer both performance and fitness classes to women of any age, she said.

"It's a constant challenge. Every time you open up another page, there's a whole new dynamic of the dance," she said.

Malerk, who performed in the first act of the afternoon, said she always gets nervous before performing in front of an audience. She said her group did not have a chance to rehearse on the stage to get used to its space.

The stage was decorated with two large red, orange and yellow banners that resembled magic carpets. Modern Arabic rhythms surged from the speakers, creating an upbeat, cultural vibe.

Most dances were examples of simple cabaret belly dancing, Malerk said. However, this year's performances included some more complicated dance techniques such as traditional Egyptian Ghawazee dances and routines that use veils and canes as props, she said.

During a Ghawazee basket dance, the audience clapped to the beat of the music and cheered for Adianna, known offstage as Angela Sanderson, who balanced a basket on her head as she hopped, shimmied and spun around the stage.

In total, 21 dancers performed in multiple routines, often changing costumes backstage or during intermissions.

Dancers' costumes used both full and mermaid-style skirts and ranged in color from neon pink and lime green to basic black and white. All attire and accessories were designed and sewed by Malerk, who said she has made over 150 veils and several hundred full costumes for herself and her students in her 26 years of belly dancing.

Each dancer wore colorful hip scarves or jingling belts covered with Egyptian coins, which often fell off during dances.

"You gotta love any performance where they're shaking off money," said emcee Jud Philpot as he picked up the tiny coins on the stage after a few dances.

During an intermission, UF graduate student Gail Keeler, 50, said she thought the event was perfect entertainment for a hot summer day.

"The music and the beat just appeal to me. It would be a fun thing to do, belly dance," she said.

Although she has never been to an event like this before, Keeler said she remembers seeing a belly dancer at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Pennsylvania years ago.The dancer's movements and costumes were beautiful and interesting, she said.

She said she hopes to try belly dancing in UF's recreation class or with Ethnic Dance Expressions in the future.

Keeler said she was glad to see women of all shapes and sizes proudly performing in front of an audience. They all seemed so comfortable with their bodies, she said.

However, some dancing students chose not to showcase their skills to the world such as 29-year-old Barbara Little.

"I have stage fright," she said, predicting that she will never star in a performance.

Instead, Little, who said she began belly dancing at the school two years ago for exercise and some "fun with the girls," helped with ticket sales for the revue.

After two intermissions and 20 dance routines, all the dancers filed on stage, danced together and bowed for the audience, who applauded and cheered.

Malerk presented certificates to both beginning and advanced students, celebrating their progress in classes and with the dancing group ensemble.

Belly dancing is a lifetime study that is just always fun to do, she said.

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Melissa Garcia / words + designs