“Women dancing for women” is the philosophy of Gypsy Moon Dancers, a belly dance troupe that performs tribal style. The choreography is based upon improvisational steps that reflect the moods and spirits of the participants. Dancing from left: Leanne Haley, Dana Ross, Sharon Moreno, Sheila Suggs. Photo by Phil Houseal
Dancing for each other
by Phil Houseal
There are reasons something goes on for 5000 years.
That is how long the art of belly dancing has been around. A group of Fredericksburg women are living the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits.
Dana Ross teaches dance and leads her troupe Gypsy Moon Dancers.
Most of us are familiar with the cabaret style of belly dance, which is meant to be performed for the benefit of an audience. Ross teaches a different kind of dance: improvisational tribal style. It was developed in San Francisco in the 1980s by a dancer who wanted to move beyond performing for ogling men.
“She wanted to return to what belly dance started out as 5000 years ago,” Ross said. “That was women dancing with women for women, expressing the emotions, spirituality, and phases of womanhood."
As the name says, tribal dance is improvisational. Watching the dance, the forms ripple seamlessly through the dancers, all moving as one, but never moving the same way twice. They accomplish this synchronicity through hand cues, with each dancer taking a turn at leading.
“When your hand does a movement then that means your hips are going to do something,” Ross explained. “By reading the hands and body language of the leader, everyone can follow.”
As with all creative work, the tribal style began with a standard vocabulary of moves. Troupes across the country then blended it with their own moves and styles. “Ours is Gypsy Moon,” Ross said. “We can dance with synchronicity without choreography, and it is a lot of fun.”
The physical benefits are well documented. Belly dance keeps you toned and fit. But it goes beyond that. Ross tells of a student who showed up one night and was obviously distraught.
“I knew something was really wrong, but she said she would talk about it later.” During the dancing, Ross noticed tears in her eyes. “We kept dancing, but I found out her father had died that afternoon. She had a houseful of people, but she jumped up and said, ‘I have to go dance.’ She said they looked at her as if she were crazy, but she told them, ‘It will get me through this.’ Through dance, we can move through our emotions and feel stronger.”
Tribal style belly dance is not geared for public performance as other styles are. During their weekly sessions the dancers spend most of the time in a circle facing each other. But they turn out for a performance party several times a year. They sometimes perform with the drumming circle, and at a public appearance everyone participates, from playing shakers to joining the dance.
Sharon Moreno has been dancing for three years. “We are enjoying ourselves, enjoying the dance, so we don’t necessarily need an audience. But we do enjoy the energy we get back. That’s why we are doing it - for the pleasure of being in the company of other people.”
For Ross, dance completely changed her life.
“It opened me up, and brings so much more joy.” She recounted her struggles learning to move. “When we started, my rib cage did not move. I would almost cry after class. But when that finally started opening up, my whole heart filled with love. I felt more love for everyone in my life. I felt more love coming into my life.”“I used to love methodically developing choreography to fit perfectly with each beat of music, memorizing it, then teaching it. But as I get older, I just want to dance!”