While wearing traditional waist wraps and skirts with clinking coins, the Lehigh Belly Dance Club works to foster an inclusive and comfortable space on campus through encouraging members to embrace their bodies.
Emily Newman, ‘24, the club’s president, said during the pandemic, the club was completely virtual and had only four members. This year, they are back in person and have grown to 15 members.
The club performs at various dance festivals during the school year. They performed at Fusion in December 2021 and will perform at Dance Fest on April 1, 2022.
Belly dance originated in Egypt and is a form of dance that focuses on the movement of the hips and torso.
Tova Marshall, ‘24, treasurer of the Belly Dance Club, said she recognizes that building confidence during belly dancing isn’t always easy.
“I’ve seen a lot of people walk into the room and initially they’re kind of uncomfortable with it,” said Tessa Dougan, ‘24, club vice president. “But once they get comfortable, they have no fear and they start to realize that their bodies can do such cool things and move in such cool ways.”
Newman said the executive board and experienced members of the club work to create a safe environment to help new members learn the skill without fear of being judged.
“We promote the jiggle,” Newman said. “When you’re promoting the jiggle, it allows people to be more confident in their bodies. Everyone shows stomach. You should, it’s part of the dance.”
Newman said this body positive goal is echoed through the way the club approaches the history of belly dance.
During the first meeting of the semester, Marshall said the group teaches new members about the history of belly dance and its different cultural styles.
“Our club is really diverse,” Dougan said. “We have a lot of different ethnicities, social backgrounds, and personalities, but when we all come together in the same room I feel like we’re all on the same level and everyone is just really amazing, open and honest with each other.”
The club also receives guidance in belly dance movements and culture from Nancy Carlisle, an assistant professor in the Psychology Department and advisor of the club.
In previous years, Carlisle was responsible for the club’s choreography. Now, the process is more team-oriented.
During practices, Dougan said the group likes to focus on traditional aspects of the dance while adding some of their own ideas.
“We basically play the music and we start doing some movements, and if we have an idea for what we want to do we shout it out and try it,” Dougan said. “If it works then we keep it, and if it doesn’t work we just move on to the next improv(isation).”
Newman encourages students who may be interested in joining the club to come try it out.
“If one reason for not joining is feeling nervous, self-conscious or afraid to perform, we’re going to try to make it so that all those nerves will dissipate,” Newman said.
Carlisle said the Belly Dance Club is open to all skill levels and doesn’t hold tryouts.
“For the most part, people kind of pick it up and then a lot of people stay with the club for many years and become quite skilled,” Carlisle said. “Our former president is now in a dance troupe based in Phillipsburg. It can become a lifelong skill.”