Belly Dancing for Every Body

Dance for your strength, body image and well being. No tummy tuck required

Originally Published as the cover story of the Jul-Aug 09 Issue of Rochester Woman
By Amy Brase

Every belly dancer has a story. For Terri Allred of Rochester, the story began with an errant soccer ball. Allred was hosting a fundraiser at a professional women’s soccer game in North Carolina in 2003 when she was struck in the head by a ball. After the incident, chronic migraines and fatigue prevented her from working full-time as the executive director of a women’s center for victims of sexual assault. While in rehabilitation, Allred’s therapist encouraged her to take a dance class.

“Belly dance was offered at an art center just a few minutes from my home,” says Allred. “At first I couldn’t make it through a whole class without getting dizzy, but I persevered. Belly dancing was physically very good for me; I experienced a transformation from injury to health and found an inner-confidence.”

Allred, known also by her stage name Sadiya, which means “happy,” is now an accomplished dancer and instructor. “It all started by teaching friends in my living room and then my niece for her sixth birthday,” says Allred. “If you would have asked my husband if he thought he’d have a belly dance studio in his house one day when he married me, he would have said not in a million years!” Allred’s supportive husband, Daniel, now serves as a photographer at shows, helps with advertising and manages her Web site.

Belly dance is good for you

Belly dancing, which originated in the Middle East, enhances physical strength, positive body image and self-esteem. Known for its graceful and repetitive motions, belly dancing works with the female form rather than against its natural inclinations. Hip drops, rolls and pivots utilize muscle groups in the abdomen, pelvis, trunk, spine and neck. Belly dancing can reduce stress, improve posture, aid in digestion and even prepare a woman for childbirth.

“Every woman’s body will respond to one move or another,” says Allred. “The drum beat in Middle Eastern music is what the hips represent and most people can shake their hips! I always start with the hips in class because everyone can experience success.”

Some women do experience difficulty in moving the chest and ribcage areas because it requires more strength and flexibility. “It’s a great workout for your core. I lost 35 pounds when I became a belly dancer; I had just given birth to my second child when I experienced the head injury,” Allred explains. “After being laid-out flat in bed for a year, I used dancing to regain a healthy body.”

Many women have taken dance lessons at some point in their lives. Many also admit to feeling like they never really fit in. “I’m 42 and I don’t look like a model,” says Allred. “I dance with my belly showing and I’m a regular woman. That’s what helps other women to identify with me. My philosophy is that all women should have access to dance, regardless of size, income level or physical wellness.”

Generations shimmy together

Jan Schuck and her 8-year-old daughter Gracie have been taking belly dance classes with Allred for almost a year. Recently, they performed for the first time together. “I can see how my daughter is more confident and carries herself in a different way since taking dance classes,” says Schuck. “I hope she will have the ability to bypass some of the body issues that I have struggled with and realize that her body is perfect, strong and beautiful just the way it is.”

Schuck says belly dancing has strengthened their mother/daughter relationship as well. They both love the music, the workout and the closeness with other students. “There are no worries about how big or small or how in or out of shape we are.”

In the Middle East, belly dancing is a family dance and part of the culture, says Allred, who has training in Arabic rhythms, history of belly dance, various styles of dance and cultural context of the art form. “We’ve made it into more of a performance dance in the west, but it’s still a dance where women become a community of friends.” Allred’s students enjoy talking, laughing and expressing themselves through dance. “They are not self-conscious; they are at ease learning the moves.”

The Shaia Dance Collective, started by Terri Allred in 2008, consists of both professional and semi-professional belly dancers. They meet weekly to share ideas, discuss teaching techniques and offer feedback. Their performance style ranges from Classical Egyptian to Tribal Fusion.

“It’s a celebration of everyone’s creative artistic vision,” says Allred. Shaia performs regularly in Rochester and beyond. They will be featured dancers this summer at Rochesterfest, Rochester’s ARTigras, Winona’s “Drops and Drama” and the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.

Youth can do it

Bellydancing has gained popularity among the youngest of Rochester girls, as well. The Happy Hips Youth Oriental Dance Troupe, directed by Allred, is a positive, girl-friendly group that will perform in this year’s Rochesterfest Parade. Allred is amazed at how the children blossom in a healthy, encouraging dance environment. “In ballet, you do what your teacher tells you to do. In belly dance, there’s improvisation; children are great at that.”

Those who have tried it insist that belly dancing is for every woman. For Terri Allred, it’s a vehicle to fulfill her life mission of working on behalf of women and girls, whether they are healing from violence or improving self-esteem. “People say when they watch me that they get this overwhelming sense of joy, and that’s exactly how I feel,” Allred says.

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