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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Moving into the mainstream

Erin Greytak, center, of Missoula, participates in the belly dance workshop taught by Amar Gamal at the Simply Dance Studio Sunday in downtown Spokane. 
 (Liz Kishimoto / The Spokesman-Review)

Amar Gamal used to tell people that she was a Middle Eastern dancer.

But as public perception of her profession has changed, she no longer avoids the term “belly dancing.”

“Belly dancing is becoming more popular. Women are discovering it for its health benefits,” Gamal said. “It’s also a way to express yourself while keeping in shape.”

Gamal, who learned the art of belly dancing while growing up in Miami, gave a three-hour belly dance lesson to 18 women Sunday afternoon at Simply Dance Studio in downtown Spokane. Gamal, 29, is a member of the Belly Dance Superstars, who performed Sunday night at the Metropolitan Performing Arts Center.

The 12-member group was formed in August 2003. Gamal said it is the first professional belly dance company in the United States.

The students, some with belly dancing garb like hip scarves with dozens of dangling coins, mimicked Gamal’s hip shimmies, vibrations, turns and smooth movements across the floor.

“They’re very simple steps, but simple steps can be beautiful,” Gamal advised at one point in the lesson.

Deborah Shockley, who uses the name Nadiyah, teaches belly dancing in Spokane and helped organize the class on Sunday. She said belly dancing rejuvenates women.

“When you step into a belly dancing class, it’s like, ‘Hello, I’m a woman again,’ ” Nadiyah said. “It restores them.”

Gamal said belly dancing is popular with women of all ages and all backgrounds.

“It’s an act of concentration,” Gamal said. “They realize that they’re discovering all different parts of their bodies and the way they move.”

Arriety Lowell, said she came from Pullman to the workshop because she doesn’t have many opportunities to belly dance living on the Palouse. Lowell is a graduate student in physics, a field dominated by men.

“This is a way for me to be a girl,” Lowell said. “It’s healthy and a lot of work.”