While wearing traditional sashes and skirts with jingling coins, Lehigh Belly Dance Club strives to create an inclusive and comfortable space on campus by encouraging members to embrace their bodies.
Emily Newman, 24, president of the club, said that 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 played at Merger in December 2021 and will perform at Dance Fest on April 1, 2022.
Belly dancing originated in Egypt and is a dance form that focuses on the movement of the hips and torso.
Tova Marshall, 24, treasurer of the Belly Dance Club, said she recognizes that gaining confidence while belly dancing isn’t always easy.
“I saw a lot of people come into the room and initially they are a bit uncomfortable,” said Tessa Dougan, 24, the club’s vice-president. “But once they’re comfortable, they’re not scared anymore and they start to realize that their body can do such cool things and move in such cool ways.”
Newman said the club’s board and senior members work to create a safe environment to help new members learn the skill without fear of judgment.
“We promote the jiggle,” Newman said. “When you promote the jiggle, it makes people have more body confidence. Everyone shows the stomach. You should, it’s part of the dance.
Newman said that body-positive focus is reflected in the club’s approach to belly dancing history.
At the first meeting of the semester, Marshall said the group teaches new members the history of belly dancing 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 get together in the same room, I feel like we’re all on the same level and everyone is really amazing, open and honest with each other.”
The club also receives guidance on belly dancing movement and culture from Nancy Carlisle, assistant professor in the psychology department and club advisor.
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 the traditional aspects of the dance while adding some of their own ideas.
“We basically play music and start doing some moves, and if we have an idea of what we want to do, we shout it out and try it,” Dougan said. “If it works, we keep it, and if it doesn’t work, we move on to the next improvisation.”
Newman encourages students who might be interested in joining the club to come try it out.
“If one of the reasons for not joining is to feel nervous, embarrassed or scared to play, we’ll try to get all those nerves to dissipate,” Newman said.
Carlisle said the Belly Dance Club is open to all skill levels and does not hold try-outs.
“For the most part people get into it and then a lot of people stay with the club for many years and become quite proficient,” Carlisle said. “Our former president is now part of a dance troupe based in Phillipsburg. It can become a skill for life.