Bethany Crosby, ’19, spins across the Taylor Gym Dance Studio floor, her long flowing skirt with silver coins flying in all directions, jingling and rattling as she sways to Middle Eastern music.
She balances a bowl, filled with a purple fringed scarf, on top of her head to demonstrate her finesse and balance skills. Her body twists and spins in a turquoise top while her hips shake and her feet shimmy as the dancers move into single file.
Crosby is a student choreographer for the belly dance club.
The club will perform at DanceFest this Friday, April 14. Crosby is one of 50 members who practices every Monday and Friday afternoon. The club focuses on portraying traditional belly dance styles ranging from novice to experienced dancers. Most of the members are recruited at the biannual club fair.
The purpose of the club is to provide students with an opportunity to learn a new skill and to offer a social outlet. This year, the club had more guidance under the direction of a new adviser, Nancy Carlisle, a Lehigh assistant psychology professor and an experienced belly dancer.
Carlisle contacted the club after she heard the group needed a faculty adviser. Her role is to provide authentic Middle Eastern music, choreograph specific dance moves and instruct students about the history of belly dance.
In addition to acquiring a new adviser, the club recently purchased new costumes and accessories.
Amber Wallace, ’18, the treasurer of the club, said she assisted in buying the modern two-piece fitted tops, maxi skirts and coin skirts. In total, each costume cost $186.
“The traditional belly dancing costumes vary by region,” Carlisle said. “The reason the coin skirts became popular is because the coins were sewn into the clothing to represent a women’s wealth and independence.”
Crosby said this year is exciting because two male students have joined the group, further diversifying the group’s talent. The men’s costumes are traditional Middle Eastern colorful vests and flowing trousers.
The transition into more culturally appropriate costumes also encouraged more authentic dance steps, such as snake arms, camel walks, mayas and shimmies.
While the group has grown in numbers, it has also cultivated an understanding of the history behind the dance moves.
“Our dance style stems from a different culture, one that a lot of students in the club don’t have a background in,” Wallace said. “When I first joined we danced to pop music, and the costumes were purchased from a Halloween store.”
Justine Gaetano, ’17, the club’s social director, started off as a novice dancer and graduated to an advanced dancer with her own style.
Like Gaetano, the club has transitioned over the years from five students watching YouTube belly dancing videos to a more sophisticated dance club with more advanced, expressive dance techniques.
“None of us had any formal background in belly dancing, so freshman year we pulled from things that looked cool, but weren’t always correct,” Gaetano said. “As we evolved, we used more traditional music, our styles of dance became cultural and our costumes made people want to learn about belly dancing and our group.”
The Americanization of belly dance incorporates a variety of styles, which the group integrates into its biannual performances.
“I’m really proud of how (the club) has grown and how we’ve become culturally appropriate,” Gaetano said. “Everyone is so friendly, inclusive and inviting. When I finish at Lehigh, I know I will want to pursue belly dancing.”
In the dance studio, the group continues to practice its snake arms and camel walks in preparation.
Crosby dances in unison with her peers, accentuating her arms above her head and vibrating her abdomen in a circular motion as she moves her feet to the beat of the Middle Eastern music.
She continues to sway across the floor, shimmy her hips and kick her feet. Crosby knows each practice will perfect her mayas before performing on stage.