Shaking up preconceptions in belly dancing class


March 12, 2002|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A ROOM in the Stonehouse Community Center in Long Reach was filled with haunting Middle Eastern music last week. Dancers, wearing sashes adorned with coins and beads, swayed their hips. Their arms moved fluidly through the air.

It was Pat Miller's advanced belly dancing class. Miller, better known as Cyra in the dancing world, has been teaching at the center for 16 years.

"Many people don't understand belly dancing," she said. "It's a beautiful art form that's not meant to be suggestive."

Even the I Dream of Jeannie outfits many people associate with the dance seldom are the reality.

"The costumes that are worn in American nightclubs are not what you would see in the Middle Eastern countries where the dance originates," Cyra said. "There, you would see more layers and long evening gowns on dancers."

Belly dancing is an expression of feminine beauty, Cyra said. And it is becoming a new fitness craze.

"What's really nice about belly dancing is, you can start at any age or any fitness level," she said.

Long Reach mom Karen Ross has been belly dancing for nearly two years. She danced throughout her pregnancy with her second child.

"I was looking for a way to exercise, and I always wanted to be more graceful," Ross said. "It was advertised as a low-impact class."

The dance requires moving a lot of small muscles that typically aren't used, Cyra said. It can be low or high impact.

"What's nice about the dance is a lot of it is improvisational," Cyra said. "It's like the children's toy Legos. You get all this equipment, then what are you going to do with it? Are you going to build a skyscraper, a robot or a dragon? That's what you can do with this dance."

The dance philosophy is much like yoga, Cyra said. It's relaxing, yet physically challenging. It takes one's mind away from life's worries.

For mathematician Jennifer Chaffee of Kings Contrivance, the dance, not the exercise, brought her to Cyra's class.

"I lived in Oregon one summer and saw a belly dancer in a cafe," Chaffee said. "I was very impressed with the colors she was wearing and the moves she could do. I wanted to try it."

Cyra started studying dance in Columbia 20 years ago. Since then, she has studied with many well-known Middle Eastern dancers in the metropolitan area. She also has taken many seminars and master classes in New York.

Cyra also directs the Maryland Company of Middle Eastern Dancers. The troupe performs at cultural events, workshops and retirement homes.

Beginning and advanced belly dancing are continuing classes at Stonehouse Community Center in the Long Reach Village Center.

Information: 410-730-8113.

Teen-ager to study abroad

Congratulations to Oakland Mills High School senior Joel Selby. He was one of 300 American students chosen to participate in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program. He will spend the next school year in Germany, living with a German family and attending a German school. He has deferred college enrollment to take advantage of this opportunity.

"We are delighted that one of our students was chosen," said Paula Micka, Oakland Mills High School Language Department chairwoman. "Joel is highly motivated, well-rounded and flexible. He will adapt well to the new environment."

Oakland Mills High School sophomore Anna Beam was selected as a runner-up.

Local teen celebrity

You might have seen Long Reach High School senior Tamarra Stuppard on television last month. Tamarra took second place in Baltimore's Fox 45 and WB54 television stations' 15th "Champions of Courage" Black History Month essay competition. As part of her winnings, she starred in a "commercial" in which she described her essay. The spot ran throughout the month.

Tamarra's "Champion of Courage" was her grandmother, Viola Stuppard, who immigrated to the United States from the West Indies. For Tamarra, her grandmother embodied Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent philosophy of fighting "physical force with soul force." Her grandmother fought discrimination with this quote in mind, Tamarra said in her spot.

Last month, 25 essay finalists out of more than 5,500 applicants from the Baltimore metropolitan area were honored at a luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Baltimore. Fox 45 meteorologist Lori Pinson was host of the event. Tamarra's name was announced with her English teacher's, Zeleana Morris. Tamarra was awarded savings bonds, and Long Reach High School was presented with a cash award.

The contest was co-sponsored by Allfirst Bank, Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Maryland Toyota Dealers Association.

Looking for the Class of 1991

Hammond High School class of 1991 has never had a reunion, according to class member April Gordon, and it is time it did.

Gordon has been poring over her high school year book and searching the Internet for classmates, and she has found about half her class of nearly 200. The reunion is scheduled for May 18.

Information: 443-310-5675.

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