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Dance of the people: Women use traditional art form for fun and exercise

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

With vigorous hip pops and shimmies, members of the Sidra bellydancing group are sending small metal coins and beads flying. The costume decor rolls and bounces across the hardwood floor and the dancers smile, knowing that while it will take hours to sew each of the tiny adornments back on, all that shaking makes for a great show.


And it’s great fun and a whole lot of exercise. That’s why dancers Nicole Wilhelm, Tanya Boroi and Ashley Boroi first got started bellydancing.

“I love bellydancing because it creates an incredibly good body image,” Wilhelm said.

The undulating movements associated with bellydancing — shoulder and hip rolls, figure eights, outstretched arms — provide a sense of grace and beauty. Its skills lend themselves to different body types and abilities.

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Although bellydancing has modern associations with sexuality, the dance actually began as a dance by women for women. Bellydancing often was performed during birthing rituals, simulating movements of childbirth. Members of Sidra carry on this tradition through their dance studio Raqs Beledi (a word meaning “dance of the people”), located on Main Street in Waynesville above the Jeweler’s Workbench. The studio is private, allowing dancers a sense of wild abandon that encourages experimentation with movement.

“We escape to this room,” said Tanya Boroi. “I can have the worst day, come here and when I leave here I just don’t even think about it.”

Wilhelm, Tanya Boroi and her sister, Ashley, got started dancing three years ago in a class offered at the Waynesville Recreation Center led by Crystal Lewis. Lewis asked those who had been in the class a while to join the dance group Sidra (a word meaning “star” or “starlight”). They performed at the Grey Eagle in Asheville and at Space Gallery during one of Waynesville’s first Friday of the month Art After Dark gallery strolls.

“We kept on having people ask us, ‘Where can we take classes,’” Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm, an art teacher by profession, had already led some of Lewis’ classes as a substitute. When Lewis moved out of town it seemed only natural to continue on, and Wilhelm and the Boroi sisters partnered up to begin offering classes of their own.

They refurbished the space above the Boroi’s gallery, creating an inviting and ethnic inspired studio, dressing room and waiting room. The three teach classes Monday through Thursday, at a cost of $10 per student.

Each with full-time jobs, the trio calls their dancing a “self-sustaining hobby.” They operate with a philosophy akin to a folk school’s, each teaching one another new skills from various workshops and offering their individual expertise to form a well-rounded group.

The joy of bellydancing is that the movements themselves are simple enough to learn — speed and the ability to connect them into a dance come later. Students may join one of the several basic bellydance classes at any time.

“Give yourself a few classes,” Ashley Boroi said. “Don’t just come and get frustrated.”

Dancers are available to teach private sessions such as for a bachelorette party.

Raqs Beledi will hold an Open House event including dance performances June 8 at the studio.

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