New Belly Dancing Club Comes to Swarthmore

For all you Pub Nite attendees who grin and bear the booze solely for the final half-hour of stress-blowing shimmying, Thursday nights are looking up. A new belly dancing class, taught by the internationally acclaimed dancer and choreographer Najia of Philadelphia Bellydance, kicks off tonight at 7:30 in Upper Tarble, offering the perfect warm-up for pre-Pie dancing.Not ready to bare all? Not to worry — despite popular misconceptions, dancers are free to leave their tummies covered while taking part in what club board member Mariam Zakhary ’13 describes as “a great fat-burning workout.”

Belly dancing is not a new phenomenon on campus: the Middle Eastern Cultural Society (MECS) held two workshops last year for interested students to work their hips. Photographing the festivities inspired Elena Ruyter ’14, who is spending this semester in Morocco, to seek funding for a weekly class last spring.

MECS board members Zakhary and Marina Tucktuck ’13 are holding down the fort until Ruyter returns stateside. The seniors, who come to Swarthmore from Egypt and Palestine, grew up with the dance, and are excited to work their hip scarves outside the privacy of their dorm rooms.

“I definitely just put on my scarf and dance around my room sometimes,” Tucktuck said. “It’s a fun part of my life and reminds me of my culture. I do it to not be homesick.”

Tucktuck also describes it as a good de-stressor, as the hip movements require focus on the body and the beats of the tabla (the drum that typically accompanies the dancers).

A major component of Middle Eastern culture, belly dancing is often associated with bra-baring women performing for audiences of men; the reality, however, is much different.

“It’s how we dance at parties, at weddings — it is a huge part of our culture,” Zakhary said. “We’re just born knowing how to belly dance.”

Club members need not be affiliated with MECS — in fact, many attendees of the workshops last spring were not members of the group. If all goes well this year, the club tentatively plans to pursue PE-credit certification for the 2013-2014 school year.

“We had so many students at the activity fair come up to us and say, ‘Oh my goodness, we’ve been waiting for this club for so long,’” Tucktuck said with a laugh. “We are just excited to begin.”

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