By Kaylynn Paynter
Sept. 29, 2014
When Amy Amierah dances, people pay attention.
The vibrant costumes adorned with gold coins and sequins and her hypnotic hip bumps never fail to pique the interest of those around her.
Amierah, a professional belly dancer, has been showing off her Middle East moves at various locations around Charlottetown since moving here just over a year ago. As Charlottetown’s only belly dance teacher, she recently started taking on students, hoping to share some of that Lebanese flair with other woman who are willing to learn.
Growing up in B.C., Amierah’s first encounter with belly dance was in Grade 10 through a school club.
“I was in a drama club and for one of the workshops we had we were to pick a card and whatever our card said it was going to be our workshop for that weekend. Mine was belly dancing.”
Amierah fell in love with the dazzling dance and participated in classes in her hometown until they ended six months later.
Years passed and Amierah finally decided it was time to pick up where she had left off.
“When I moved to Ontario I got back into it when I was 24. In Brampton, I learned the Lebanese style and then in Oakville I learned the Egyptian style.”
Belly dancing, which has folkloric roots, has become a fusion of the various styles since coming to Canada.
Aimerah decided to take that blended version of belly dance and become a group instructor after some recent weight gain started to weigh heavily on her mind.
“I had gained about 25 pounds in one year and I was just feeling really run down. I joined a gym and started eating better and at that point I felt I wanted to help encourage others to turn their life around too.”
Aimerah moved to the island in October 2013, and is teaching belly dance at Largo Fitness Center on Belvedere Avenue in Charlottetown.
Although interest in the exotic dance was minimal at first interest is growing Amierah said. She hopes to create a troupe within the next year and perform at different events around the island.
“I find a lot of young people find it intriguing, but you’d be surprised how many older belly dancers there are as well. It doesn’t matter what your age or your fitness level is, you can belly dance.”
Some women who are not educated about what belly dance really is have a hard time seeing past the undulating midriffs and over exaggerated hip movements of the bedazzled dancers, said Amierah.
People don’t know exactly how belly dance originated and all they have to drawn conclusions from is the over-sexualized version they see in the movies, she said.
“There are a lot of ideas around birthing and the movements helping during childbirth and labour. There was the idea women only belly danced for women and that it wasn’t really for the sultan, it was for the other women. It was just a celebration of women and it’s empowering in that sense.”
Alison Loney, a student of Amierah’s, has been belly dancing for four years. She agrees if more women were educated about the origins of belly dance, it would be more widely accepted.
“A belly dancer isn’t sex personified like so many people assume, they’re a highly skilled dancer celebrating bodies and their abilities. The empowerment and self-confidence that comes from belly dancing stems from that knowledge.”
The exposure of a culture that seems worlds away from our own will have nothing but positive outcomes for the island, said Loney.
“I think that if there was more exposure to new and fun activities from different cultures on the Island people would be more aware of the wider world and what it has to offer.
Participating in diverse activities opens up a window into another culture, and I think that openness brings understanding and acceptance in our own community.”