The joy of belly dancing

WAILUA HOMESTEADS — There’s no wiggle room in the Garden Nile Belly Dancers’ schedule. Dixie Prichard, Nelleke Pielaaf and Krystal Juarbe — the trio who comprise the group — are busy teaching, working and rehearsing for their April 21 showcase.

But you won’t hear one complaint from the dancers.

“We eat, sleep and dream it,” Juarbe said.

And that’s exactly how they like it.

The April 21 show, titled “The Mirage,” will feature Kalae from O‘ahu’s Shakti Dance Movement and other local belly dancers. On April 22, the Garden Nile Belly Dancers troupe hosts Kalae for two workshops at The Children of the Land in Kapa‘a.

“This is a respectable art form,” Pielaaf said. “It’s not a bunch of good-looking girls shaking their hips.”

The Garden Nile Belly Dancers were founded in 2001 by Prichard, who fell in love with the dance in the 1970s. When Prichard moved to Kaua‘i, she knew she wanted to start a troupe.

“I got really involved in Egyptology and that drew me to the dance,” Prichard said. “When I first saw it, I thought, wow, it’s beautiful.”

Pielaaf joined the Garden Nile Belly Dancers in 2004, and Juarbe started dancing three years ago.

“We are not only a troupe, we are a little family,” Pielaaf said.

Belly dancing — also known as raks sharqi (dance of the East) — is an art form steeped in tradition. It can be traced back more than 6,000 years and is found throughout Greece, the Middle East and Northern Africa.  

“It’s music coming to life,” Pielaaf said.

The dancers interpret the music they hear through concise and controlled body movements. Instruments and the rhythm of the music dictates the dance. When flutes hit high notes, the movements are in the air, Pielaaf said. If the music is heavy — such as the beating of drums — their movement comes from their hips.

Turkish belly dancing is “earthy” and involves a lot of floor work, while Egyptian belly dancing is soft and lyrical. American belly dancing is a cabaret, Pielaaf said.

“Only in America do they call it belly dance. When people question me, I say I’m a Middle Eastern dancer,” Juarbe said.

“I love the freedom of belly dancing. It honors all types of women, and I love the music and culture.”

The members of the Garden Nile Belly Dancers range in age, body type and height. It’s an art that honors women with a few extra pounds, since traditional dancers have voluptuous figures. Adding to the mystique are the colorful props the dancers use — veils, belts hung with coins, scarves — and exotic Middle Eastern music.

The Garden Nile Belly Dancers’ art has taken the dancers all over the world. They have competed in California, Florida, Las Vegas, Germany and Canada, and they are looking forward to a competition in Oregon.

The group choreographs its own routines, pulling from different styles and regions.

“The thing about belly dancing is you have to make it look easy,” Pielaaf said. “It helped my body image a lot. As a teacher, hearing students say they get confidence is the best thing.”

The dancers encourage other women to try the art.

“You don’t have to be super serious about it,” Juarbe said. “It’s like Zumba. You come to have fun and get a good workout and enjoy the company of other women in the class.”

“These young women just bloom,” Prichard added. “They gain so much confidence.”

The dancers say they do allow men — they used to have a man in their troupe — but the men have to be respectable and serious about the art form.

“I would love men to come to class, if they are serious,” Pielaaf said. “It has to be a safe environment.”

Pielaaf teaches an intermediate and advanced troupe, and in May she will start teaching beginner classes out of a studio in Kapa‘a. Juarbe teaches beginner classes in Kilauea, and Prichard offers private instruction from her home in Wailua. “Some people have a living room. I have a dance studio,” Prichard joked.

For more information, call 639-9980 or 651-8238.


Want to go?

What: Garden Nile Belly Dancers present ‘The Mirage’

When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Church of the Pacific

Cost: $15 at the door



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