Take a minute to think about bellydance. What do you visualize? Beware, if the first thing that popped into your mind was a smokey seedy bar, or a traditional ethnic event – your impression may be stuck in the early 90’s! The Portland Bellydance Guild is here to teach you that there is so much more to bellydance than previously thought. Bianca McCarthy, current President of the Bellydance Guild describes it this way. “I have been doing this dance style for 14 years, but within the past decade the reaction has changed dramatically. Ten years ago you had to really think about whether you wanted to “out” yourself at work about your bellydance participation. Now, there are so many more bellydancers in Portland and the understanding of the dance form has grow so much that there’s much more intrigue and awareness. Now you are more likely to be met with ‘oh my aunt/sister/daughter does that’ or I saw bellydancers at Saturday Market. People are generally more informed.”
The Bellydance Guild has only been around since 2013 but currently has 150 members. Bianca describes the many different branches of the style. There’s the original folkloric style that originated in the countries and ethnic regions all along the Spice Trail. Dances come out of the Middle East, North and West Africa, India and even in to Spain. In the early 1900’s emerged the more cabaret nightclub style performances at world fairs and other such venues that invited people to experience the exotic. These were glamorous interpretations of the traditional folkloric dances. As for what you will see in Portland today. “At the end of the day we are contemporary people with contemporary ideas. Globalization has changed the art form because you can study with anyone from around the world not just a single regional teacher as it has been in the past. Guild members are always working to include or help host world famous teachers that attract attention from all around the region.”
Aside from the performance aspect of it, the Guild’s role is to connect the dancers for professional development and discussions as a way to maintain the integrity of the art form. “We want to nurture emerging talent, nurture new ideas, especially as the dance form is evolving and becoming more mainstream, but we also want to be able to present ourselves to the community at large in the best possible way. It’s important to us that all forms of bellydance are supported and that people have access to information, training and resources.” But that’s on the professional end. As for the rest, bellydance is one of the most approachable forms of dance welcoming every body shape, every age and any level of experience. Let’s face it, learning the undulations and shimmies is FUN! So if your interest is piqued, check out the Bellydance Guild and be prepared to defy your expectations!