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Belly Dancing
Celebration and Expression

"Belly dancing is a method of celebration and expression," said Amanda Carson, a teacher of yoga and belly dancing in Tamaqua.
 

"Belly dancing is a method of celebration and expression," said Amanda Carson, a teacher of yoga and belly dancing in Tamaqua.

"People of any size can do it," the trim 21-year-old noted. "Some people look at me and say I'm too thin to be a belly dancer. They say I don't have enough jiggle."

Carson opened her school this year in the former First Presbyterian Church in Tamaqua, which she shares with her fiancé, painter Stephen William Bennett. Bennett left New York City and purchased the building three years ago to find affordable loft space in which to paint his nine-by ten-foot canvasses.

Carson grew up in the New River suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, where her mother ran a wellness retreat. At the age of four, she became curious about the chants of "Om" coming from the next room, wandered in, and began taking yoga classes.

In high school, she was exposed to ballet, tap, jazz and modern dance, and became so enraptured that she spent every available moment "free-styling in my room by myself with the music blasting," she said.

She revisited yoga, took several classes, and decided to become a yoga teacher. She completed a 500-hour course in one year, and began offering classes at her mother's retreat.

 

It was at a California yoga festival that Carson met Bennett. His portraits of indigenous people were featured on plastic bottles of Nika Water, sold by a nonprofit that donates its proceeds to eliminate poverty among indigenous people.

Carson joined Bennett on a gig at the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai, where he was exhibiting his paintings and spent four months demonstrating his painting style in public. Each night, after his demonstration, they supped at a Lebanese restaurant featuring entertainment by belly dancer Graciela Pischner.

"She is a professional belly dancer," said Carson. "A tall, dark, gorgeous Brazilian woman. She was awesome." Pischner performed two 15-minute sets each night and Carson was there for every one.

Soon they became friends, and Carson was invited into Pischner's dressing room. "She had racks of all her belly dancing outfits, about 50 of them," Carson said. "She had all kinds of decorative belts—often with tassels, some with jingly bells, She had scarves and skirts that flowed down the front leaving her legs exposed, and bra tops. Then there's jewelry, and she had props—like a sword and a candelabra with candles lit up that she balanced on her head.

 

"I wanted to do this," Carson said. "I watched her dance, and then I went home and I tried it out. I asked her all about how she got into belly dancing. She gave me pointers. I'd watch a video and try to feel those parts of my body.

"Belly dancing is a dance of isolations and circles. You're moving your body in ways that you normally don't move. Those muscles haven't developed, so you need to develop them in order to do it. How often do you slide your rib cage to the right and keep everything else still?"

After weeks of practice, Carson danced for Pischner, who was so impressed that she gave Carson one of her costumes, a green skirt with jingling coins.

After returning to the US, Carson took several belly dancing classes in Phoenix and New York City, while continuing to teach herself through videos.

She recently joined Bennett in Tamaqua, created a yoga studio in the former church and, since no one was offering belly dancing in the Carbon/Schuylkill area, she added it to her class schedule. "My heart wants to do it," she said. "Every part of me wants to do it."

Amanda Carson's Baretoes Yoga is located at 224 West Broad Street in Tamaqua, PA. Contact her at 570-668-1622, or baretoesyoga@gmail.com. She expects to begin offering belly dancing classes in Jim Thorpe in the early fall. Click here to view a video of Amanda dancing at a recent drum circle.

© Al Zagofsky 2012

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