Archive for Thursday, December 17, 2009

Belly Bump and Grind: Lawrence embraces the swaying subculture of belly dance

Amber Proctor, local belly dancer, performs Thursday at the Jazzhaus.

Amber Proctor, local belly dancer, performs Thursday at the Jazzhaus.

December 17, 2009


Past Event
Cory Phillips / Amber Proctor belly dance / Joe Avery

  • When: Thursday, December 17, 2009, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.
  • Where: The Jazzhaus, 926 1/2 Mass., Lawrence
  • Cost: $3 - $4
  • More on this event....
Princess Farhana, a.k.a Pleasant Gehman, on the poster for filmmaker Steve Balderson&squot;s movie "Underbelly."

Princess Farhana, a.k.a Pleasant Gehman, on the poster for filmmaker Steve Balderson's movie "Underbelly."

First of all, belly dancing is not striptease. One is an ancient Middle Eastern art form celebrating the female form; the other is a sweaty hoochie dance for money. They’re both noble pursuits, of course, just distinct from each other. To many that distinction is fuzzy, and it’s a misconception that bedevils belly dance to this day. Not that belly dancing is completely chaste, however.

“Belly dance is probably the oldest form of dance in the world, and I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that it was used to teach girls a little something about sex,” speculates local belly dancer Amber Proctor. “I think it was also used to tone feminine muscles around the pelvic region to prepare for childbirth. It’s completely unrelated to stripping and burlesque, which were imitative offshoots of belly dance.”

“Belly dance is misunderstood, I think, because of where it comes from” says Kansas filmmaker Steve Balderson. “If our culture was more embracing of Middle Eastern culture, then I don’t think it would be such a mystery. And our culture is uptight. Any time we see any kind of flesh in a performance, we’re told to look away. It’s just not part of what we see every day.”

The mystique and exotic allure of this misunderstood midriff movement inspired Balderson to make the feature-length documentary “Underbelly,” about belly dancing’s most prominent American practitioner, Princess Farhana, aka Pleasant Gehman.

“Pleasant was in Lincoln, Nebraska, teaching some classes and performing at a weekend seminar, and I went up to videotape the classes for her so she could make a ‘how-to’ video,” says Balderson. “When I went up there I saw all of these women, who are absolutely crazy and fun and full of life. I didn’t realize there was such a huge belly dance world out there. I’m all for making products that market to a niche audience, and I started to find out we had an underbelly in our world devoted to this dance. Every community has a large following of belly dance, and no one realizes it.”

And Lawrence is indeed one of those communities with an undulating underbelly. Along with Proctor’s newly formed Chainsaw Shimmy Productions, performing more provocative tribal-fusion dance at nightspots like Wilde’s Chateau 24 and The Jazzhaus, dance troupe Raghsidad has been practicing more traditional Middle Eastern dance around Lawrence for nearly 15 years. “I think it’s absolutely making in roads,” says Raghsidad founder and belly dance instructor JoAnne Zingo. “On any weekend in this country, someone is teaching a seminar somewhere. If it’s a fringe, it’s a long fringe. Maybe a better analogy is that it’s frayed way up into the fabric. I think there’s more to it than people think, but if you’ve never done it, you don’t know.”

The allure of the art

Zingo has been teaching classes through the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Center since 1988 and has seen enrollment increase in recent years.

“I used to ask my classes, ‘What made you take this class?’ I would get everything from the same reason my sister and I took the class back in the ’70s — ‘Oh, we just thought it would be fun’ — to ‘It’s something we always wanted to do’ to ‘My husband made me do it.’ You name it, I heard it, but people are mostly just curious. I also hear things like, ‘My chiropractor told me it would be good for my back.’ One of the dancers in the company right now has some scoliosis. Middle Eastern dance really helps because there’s a lot of personal awareness involved. It’s also prescribed sometimes as a more gentle exercise. It’s not that physically grueling,” says Zingo, adding with a laugh, “If it was, I’d be a size 10.”

Depending on what style and the frequency, however, belly dance can be a folkloric Zumba with finger cymbals.

“After I had my baby, I was a little overweight,” Proctor says. “I was unhappy with traditional exercise. I used to run, but my chiropractor said I was destroying my knees. So I was looking for something low impact and my friend had passed along some VHS tapes on belly dance. I dusted off the tapes and started dancing at home. I was hooked by it immediately. I lost about 50 pounds within a year. It’s quite a workout.”

Local belly dancer Amber Proctor.

Local belly dancer Amber Proctor.

Cultural diversity

All body types are welcome, though. “Not all women who belly dance are small by any means,” Proctor says. “The moves are different on a voluptuous dancer, which adds a lot to the diversity of the dance. Anybody can belly dance. Young or old, heavy or thin, men and women — everyone can belly dance.”

It’s that inclusive attitude toward the body that ironically may keep belly dance an excluded subculture. “One of the first things Pleasant teaches in her class is that you shouldn’t be ashamed of your belly — push it out and be happy with it,” Balderson says. “The breaking down of those societal barriers was very exciting to me to see. Our culture doesn’t celebrate women. Our culture tells them they need to lose weight, they have to look a certain way, they can’t be round, they can’t have a belly, they can’t have shapes. So when you see belly dance, it goes against everything that we’re taught. That’s why I think it still remains underground, but in that context, this community is huge.”


Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 6 months ago

These people are trying to justify belly dancing by insulting those who don't like it. I don't care who does it, where or how or why. It is okay not to care for belly dancing. It is okay to want to change your body shape. Excess belly fat is responsible for a lot of health issues.

firemedic301 8 years, 6 months ago

Is that pit hair I see in the bottom picture? I know part of the pic is blurry but that's what it looks like to me...

Stuart Evans 8 years, 6 months ago

the misnomer about belly dancing is that they are all hot. in fact, 90% are extremely scary. 5% are acceptable husky women. 4% are men, and 1% are hot. if you are lured to a belly dancing situation, be warned that you will likely not walk away a satisfied man.

Bellydanceraqs 8 years, 6 months ago

I really dislike this article. I think it is sensationalizing the connections between bellydance and sexuality thus the title "belly bump and grind." I agree that there are ties to sexuality and fertility rights in bellydance's ancestral dances and certainly the stage art is sexy (like many dance forms, salsa, polynesian, modern, and even music theater) but the atmosphere around this article seems to be about titillation rather than representing the facts. It offends me greatly as someone who has worked long and tirelessly to present this art within the context of its authentic sexuality rather than a Western Orientalist fantasy.

In response to all this commenting on hotness, or lack there of, . . . grow up!

puddleglum 8 years, 6 months ago

I just grew up and saw the under-arm hair.

yeah. that is under-arm hair all right

maybe this article can spend some time with anna undercover and make the whole thing incredibly interesting?

emeraldeyes 8 years, 6 months ago

Among other issues I have addressed with individual users is this...physical appearance of women. It's nice to think the dancer is attractive, but that has nothing to do with the quality of her dance. AreUNormal goes as far as to insult women and to imply that belly dancers dance to satisfy men. So very wrong. We dance for ourselves, our fellow dancers, and for respectful and appreciative audiences. And yes, that is underarm hair. She is a grown woman, so that makes sense. I have to agree with bellydanceraqs about the issue of "hotness". I also recommend rethinking physical beauty's relevance when it comes to the dance. When we perform, we all try to represent ourselves in the most positive way that is appealing to the eye, but this is not and should not be the focal point. The dance itself is the point.

BigPrune 8 years, 6 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

denak 8 years, 6 months ago

"....Women should never let their garden grow especially in America. Please ladies, groom accordingly!..."

According to whom????? According to you or a perverted societal standard that tells a woman that her natural hair is somehow unclean, disgusting and wrong. Here's a shocker, if a female has gone through puberty, she is suppose to have hair. Hair has a legitimate role to play on her body (ie shock absorption) and woman shouldn't have to "groom accordingly" simply because men buy into the Playboy fantasy of what is sexy.


P.S. Bellydanceraqs, I agree with you that the article didn't do belly dancing justice. The article could have been done better.

Mel Briscoe 8 years, 6 months ago

my mom used to be in a bellydancing troupe.

emeraldeyes 8 years, 6 months ago

actually, the chick with armpit hair lives in TOPEKA!

Raider 8 years, 6 months ago

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Rae Hudspeth 8 years, 6 months ago

Surprisingly, long term dancers are fitter and healthier than the average gym rat, we live longer too. Some dancers shave, some don't, just as some women do and some don't. There's plenty of variety out there for everyone, just as there is in the dance world.

Lawrence has embraced the subculture of bellydance for over 30-odd years, it's nothing new.. Nejat used to teach here in the 70s, and we've been represented and applauded ever since. We've also been misrepresented and misunderstood by the likes of hillbillyjim. I know of very few Muslim dancers, and most of us who dance for American and Muslim audiences adhere to an American and Muslim standard of expected grooming, which means shaved pits. I have yet to see a news reporter who can refrain from using words like "gyrate," "bump and grind" "titillating" .. it's more a commentary on the Puritan beginnings of America than on dancing for enjoyment or as performance.

I thank the journalworld for making a decent presentation on the local scene, and although I've not been visible on it for a few years, it's good to know it's alive and well.

aka "Roya" bellydancing in Lawrence KS since 1994

Ricky_Vaughn 8 years, 6 months ago

There's nothin' wrong with a little bump and grind...

Ricky_Vaughn 8 years, 6 months ago

Ladies who are completely shaven disgust me...

I mean adults have hair in those areas...children don't...I'll just leave it at that...

garyr 8 years, 6 months ago

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KansasPerson 8 years, 6 months ago

With all the unpaid copy editors in the commenters' section, I'm surprised no one picked up on "finger symbols!"

-- KP (still chucking at "shock absorption" -- sorry denak, it just struck me as funny -- particularly in the armpit area under discussion)

denak 8 years, 6 months ago


You may have been talking about the armpit area but I wasn't but I will let you and the others figure out why one might need "shock absorption" or "friction reduction" in certain area.


If women have to put up with hair on a man's body, then men should have to put up with hair on a woman's body.


I agree with you. I have always wondered why some men insist on women being bare and why some women buy into the notion that they need to wax their pubic hair in order to be sexy. Why is looking like a prepubescent child sexy????


gaziyeh 8 years, 6 months ago

Certainly lots of interesting comments. I won't make value judgments, but I do have a few repies: 1) pit hair is personal - not sure why it drew more conversation than belly dance. maybe belly dance is not so controversial after all. click into some of the archive articles if you are interested. 2) I have nearly 33 years on the Lawrence dance scene. Raghsidad has been here since 1988 and before that we had the Ghawazee Dancers. Middle Eastern dance is an ancient art form with many faces. Judging any of them takes a learned eye. 3) I never said don't try to change your body shape. I have been trying to get back to normal since I quit smoking. The inference here is that like any movement form, dance or exercise, it is how much time and energy you can devote to it. I have a day job - nobody else pays my bills. 4) and finally, Neither Ms Proctor nor I intended to insult those not interested in the dance form. We responded to questions asked by a reporter. The article is what he decided to write. Thank you raerae, emeraldeyes and bellydanceraqs

handlon 8 years, 6 months ago

Gotta love the "slightly" exaggerated headline...

Lawrence embraces the swaying subculture of belly dance.

Yeah, I'm telling you just about everywhere I go in town people are belly dancing or talking about belly dancing or saving money for belly dancing school or shoes. I'd say its obvious we have thoroughly embraced every aspect of belly dancing in our community. Heck, I saw three belly dancers workin it at the grocery store today.

Where is Barbara Eden when you need her!

AnnaUndercover 8 years, 6 months ago

Ah! Wish I had time to comment on this article, but I'm writing my next piece.

All the same:

Rock on, bellydancers of Lawrence, Kansas!

Fred Whitehead Jr. 8 years, 6 months ago

"hoochie dance"??????? In the Republican Journal World??? My God, is nothing sacred??????

BigPrune 8 years, 6 months ago

Wow Multi - I actually prefer Nair. It burns like a mother but at least I am as smooth as a baby's butt :)

KansasPerson 8 years, 6 months ago

For cryin' out loud, editors, I've been waiting over six hours. Please fix it already!

"finger cymbals" not "finger symbols"!!!!!!!!!

Thank you.

jenniflip 8 years, 6 months ago

I think she is beautiful. I find the concept of an "American" standard of beauty to be narrow minded and ridiculous. There are 300 million Americans that all have their own standards of beauty. I feel fortunate to have a healthy body and attempt to treat it with respect through movement and diet. I also accept my body as I choose: e.g. stray or gray hairs, wrinkles, stretch marks, etc. (What was up with that comment? Wow, I've had a baby, I should be ever ashamed of the results on my body?) Feeling free to express yourself through dance is beautiful. Take care of your body. Love your body. Take it for a walk or a dance. It will thank you. Feel comfortable in your own skin.

Stuart Evans 8 years, 6 months ago

so I may have insulted some women. but if you're going to make such an outright gesture for attention, you're bound to get some that you don't like. luckily I have my view of what belly dancing is, and you have yours. in my world, I am 100% correct, and so are you in yours.

yankeevet 8 years, 6 months ago

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Deja Coffin 8 years, 6 months ago

So belly dancing can be used to strengthen pelvic muscles for child birth? Well, I would do it, but this far along in the pregnancy and I'm afraid it'd look more like the Truffle Shuffle then any belly dance.

Deja Coffin 8 years, 6 months ago

Hey I will say that I like to have my legs and arm pits smooth and soft like a baby's butt..... especially in view of other people. But... there are those winter months where you get a little lazy and think, "what the heck, nobodies really going to see them." so you put shaving off for a couple weeks. Then one night you roll over to your husband and ask, "babe, how come you never cuddle with me anymore?" And he lovingly looks in your eyes and say, "well honey, it's cause I feel like I'm snuggling a dude!" Yep... might be about time to shave again! :-)

Paul R Getto 8 years, 6 months ago

This is a non-article (can't they do some investigative reporting sometime?) followed by a bunch of non-comments, this being one of them.

denak 8 years, 6 months ago

"....Ah! Wish I had time to comment on this article, but I'm writing my next piece...."

Yes, Lord Forbid you should actually write something other than a piece that proclaims, "Look at Me, Look at Me, Look at Me"

AnnaUndercover 8 years, 6 months ago

"All body types are welcome..."

That is so cool. In the ballet world, dancers either fit the perfect mold or they do not dance professionally with much real success. I wasn't too sad to miss out on professional ballet, but I might have liked it if I had the opportunity to do it. Sigh! Glad to know the belly dance world is much more accepting. I didn't know that it can help you prepare for childbirth. Maybe my sister should have tried belly dancing to help her get ready for the athletic event of her life!

Amber: Like I said in my comment a day or two ago under your picture, you need to get multiple prints of it! It's just gorgeous. Separate and apart from the fact that it's a remarkable capture of a beautiful moment in dance, it's definitely the best picture I've seen in the LJ-W.

Tom Pfeiler 8 years, 6 months ago

Its nice to see you people philosophize about me hope you conformists can think...

emeraldeyes 8 years, 6 months ago

For Denak... As far as the "Look at me. Look at me." comment....I've noticed that Amber does a lot more than cry out "Look at me." Unlike a lot of entertainers out there, she likes to actually say something more than "Isn't this cute?". She chooses music that discusses social problems, political issues and the like. So maybe she has a decent reason to say "Listen to me". Sometimes a little "Look at me" has to come first to nab some attention. Do your homework before you open your mouth. Just because it wasn't discussed in the article doesn't mean it doesn't exist...Ever heard of youtube?

emeraldeyes 8 years, 6 months ago

Girl's got some thick skin to handle this heat.

emeraldeyes 8 years, 6 months ago

Marion says..."I din't know pit hair was art."

I don't think anyone said that pit hair was art. If you could read rather than just pointing at pictures, you would notice that there is an article. The article is about belly dance. Belly dance is an art. Someone who practices it is an artiste. I think that's what jontomknuff meant, since the article, if you were able to read it, is about the ART of BELLY DANCE rather than the POLITICS of HAIR.

emeraldeyes 8 years, 6 months ago

She's wearing a rhinestone on her lip, Marion Lynn.

emeraldeyes 8 years, 6 months ago

Wow, you're kinda scary. Doing your homework on her. Well, it's only fair that she know who you are. I'll give her a ring, let her know that some crazy person is obsessing, and that she may need to watch her back. If she needs a restraining order, at least she'll know who she's dealing with.

emeraldeyes 8 years, 6 months ago

address, phone number, even pictures

Nice try...anonymous.

celly 8 years, 6 months ago

There have been quite a few good comments concerning this issue but I would be lying if I didn't say that I am a little embarrassed with the American culture right now. I have a mother from Europe and a father from South America and my mother and the rest of my relatives have never shaved. This is what I grew up with. That side of my family is gorgeous and I am saddened by the fact that some hair almost became more of an issue than the fact that there was a little cultural goodness/self expression being injected into this "red" state. I truly don't know what to say to those people focusing on body hair, other than they should be ashamed of themselves.

Rae Hudspeth 8 years, 6 months ago

Marion, you really got yourself a troll-sized dinner today. Hope you're enjoying it.

Mata Hari, she ain't, because for the record, Mata Hari wasn't a belly dancer at all. I thought you were further educated than that. I guess all that hanging out at Henry's taught you nothing about alternative art scenes.
At least Dave has the decency to show support for it, and welcomes alternative performers to his venues.

Raerae Roya

emeraldeyes 8 years, 6 months ago

Marion I suggest you go hang with the Phelps in Topeka...

Tom Pfeiler 8 years, 6 months ago

For a guy who hangs out in coffee shops you would think Marion would be more open minded...he seems really closed minded...kinda shallow...kinda mean...kinda spooky...

emeraldeyes 8 years, 6 months ago

yeah. spooky. picking on a young woman without any cause and TRYING to frighten her by demonstrating potentially dangerous mental problems. she's just out there doing what she loves for appreciative audiences. if you don't like it, don't look.

everyone knows you're that creepy old townie that skulks around down town, now you're the even creepier old man that picks on belly dancers.

while i hate to further any more conversation about hair, i just gotta say to YOU...

that little children are the only ones out there who are naturally endowed with only the slightest peach fuzz.

i think everyone knows how you feel about that. so we all know about how you feel about hair and what your ummm...preferences are.

notsospecial 8 years, 6 months ago

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