Art of belly dancing comes to campus

Portia Lange, a belly dance instructor and performer, teaches her Tuesday afternoon class for students Gita and Virginia. Portia founded Belly Motions, a Middle Eastern dance school, in January 2005. Over the past six years it has grown to be one of the largest belly dance schools in South Florida with over 2000 students. Danielle Peloquin//The Miami Hurricane

For many, the words “belly dance” bring to mind images of scantily-clad women gyrating their hips in an exotic harem, an image local belly dance performer and instructor Portia Lange calls the “Arabian fantasy.”

“Belly dance is extremely misrepresented in popular culture,” Lange said. “In the western world and especially here in America, sexualized things really sell and make money so a lot of the belly dance that you see is very commercial and very sexualized.”

In reality, belly dance, called raqs sharqi in Arabic (literally dance of the east), is a social dance and folkloric tradition.

In 2005, Lange established Belly Motions, a Middle Eastern dance school, to bring authentic raqs sharqi to South Florida.

Since then, Belly Motions has taught more than 4,000 students, while educating the community about this often misunderstood aspect of Arabic culture.

“A lot of times you’ll hear people so negative about Islamic culture and women being suppressed,” said Caitlin Ray, a belly dance instructor and UM alumna. “Then we have belly dance and we see this girl who isn’t covered up, and she’s dancing and shimming and somehow we don’t connect the two.”

Belly dance is an ancient tradition in the Middle East that thrived even after the advent of Islam. Today, belly dance continues to be an important part of social functions and celebrations in Islamic countries.

The dance has been growing in popularity worldwide, and if you talk to any belly dancer, it’s easy to understand why.

“I started taking belly dance classes for the fun of it and then I was hooked,” Lange said. “It was an art form that I could actually learn, and it made me feel really beautiful and empowered”.

For many women, learning the art of belly dance is a life changing experience.

“Belly dance gave me something that I really loved and I really started to love myself,” Ray said.

Belly Motions continues to grow as more women discover the art of belly dance.

“We’re raising the bar one hip at a time,” Lange said.

Lange will be teaching a belly dance workshop at the University of Miami, sponsored by QuantUM Entertainment.