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Sensual swivels for all shapes and sizes

A belly dance instructor says it is one dance that fits all and is good exercise for women.

By MAUREEN BYRNE

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 2000


SEMINOLE -- In the land of soccer moms, minivans and PTA meetings, a group of women is learning how to move their hips to Middle Eastern music.

They meet Tuesday evenings in a strip center off Park Boulevard where folks can pick up a pizza or have their hair permed.

"Right. Left. Right. Left," Johanna Krynytzky, 25, says as she shifts her hips from one side to the other.

Her students follow her lead, some better than others.

A professional belly dancer, Krynytzky fell in love with the ancient Middle Eastern dance in 1995 while on a two-week tour of Turkey. What she saw wasn't like anything she had seen on television or in the movies.

"I was completely amazed," she recalled. "I had never seen anything like it before, where it was beautiful and sensual. It was very positive. In Western culture, we've always been taught to repress that area of the body."

Not so in belly dancing. Krynytzky, whose dance name is Xenobia, says she has seen women of all sizes move with amazing rhythm and grace.

She said she thinks a one-size-fits-all philosophy is one reason why women across the country are discovering belly dancing. In today's world, where one can never be too thin, a dance that celebrates a woman's feminity, regardless of size, is a welcome change.

"Everyone's bodies are different and come in all shapes and sizes, and belly dancing accepts that and allows everyone to move according to their own particular style," Krynytzky said. "The best belly dancer I've ever seen was, by our standards, overweight and over 50."

Lesley Klein, owner of Oak Trail Books, says some of the most requested items in her metaphysical store in Palm Harbor are books and videotapes on belly dancing. She will begin offering belly dancing lessons at her store in January.

"I think it's all tied to the growing goddess or women's spirituality movement," she said. "I think belly dancing fits into that whole idea of women empowering themselves."

It's good exercise, too.

"You're moving this whole center section," said Shoshanna Henya of Clearwater, 53, one of Krynytzky's students. "This isn't about washboard abs. I think it's healthier."

By and for women

The beginnings of the belly dance can be traced in archaeological finds of Egyptian hieroglyphs, ancient Hindu statues and pre-classical Greek sculpture. Kryntzky says there are many theories on the dance's origin: spread west by gypsies from India, developed from ancient Egyptian dances or founded on ritual dances of Stone Age goddess religions.

More than likely, Krynytzky says, the dance is not based on any one of these, but is a compilation of different traditions spread across cultures and passed down over time

"It is a dance that has evolved from its earthier beginnings to the contemporary form, which is seen in a variety of places today, from drum circles to Egyptian nightclubs," she said.

The dance's erotic overtones were never intended for the male audience. "This was a dance done by and for women," Krynytzky said. "I think one of the biggest misunderstandings in belly dancing is that it's associated with stripping and that you must be doing it for men and not for yourself."

Betty Eason of Largo, who has been belly dancing for nearly 20 years, says it is unfortunate that some dancers perpetuate that image.

"Granted, there are women who do that," she said. "They bubble out of their bras and their belts are way below their bellybutton."

"But there are no bumps and grinds here," said Eason, 71, president of the Bay Area Middle Eastern/Multi-Ethnic Dance Association, whose members perform at festivals, conventions and assisted living facilities.

Eason, a retired nurse, has been dancing most of her life, starting with ballet at the age of 5. As she aged, she wanted to continue to dance for exercise, but realized she needed something her body could handle.

She took a belly dancing class at a YMCA and was hooked.

"I'll keep going as long as I can," she said.

Dancing our bellies

When Krynytzky returned to the University of Chicago after her tour of Turkey, she saw a flier advertising a Middle Eastern dance troupe on campus. It was fate, she said.

"I took to it right away," she said, adding that she had no prior dance experience. "Our bodies aren't trained to move that way, but it feels good once you get the technique down.

She eventually became the artistic director for a Middle Eastern dance troupe in Chicago, presenting shows, lectures and workshops.

Krynytzky finished college in 1997, receiving degrees in anthropology and art history. She juggled jobs as an education program specialist at a museum, the leader of the dance troupe and a private dance instructor before moving to Seminole in October.

She is enrolled at the Humanities Center Institute in Pinellas Park, where she is learning to become a massage therapist. She hopes to open a wellness center where one can get a massage, drink herbal tea and take belly dance, yoga or tai chi classes.

But for now, she'll continue teaching her one-hour belly dance classes at Curves For Women, a fitness center at 11125 Park Blvd., and conducting three-hour workshops with titles such as "Rediscovering the Body: Dancing our Bellies" and "Dancing with Finger Cymbals."

Han Nguyen of Seminole paid $36 for a month's worth of lessons. "I want to do this for myself," she said after last week's class. "It's good exercise. It's something different. And it's beautiful."

Wearing a white sweater, black exercise pants and a multicolored scarf around her hips, Nguyen followed Krynytzky's every move. She learned the difference between the more earthy moves of the Turkish style and the more airy moves of the Egyptian technique.

Nguyen and the other students practiced sashaying across the floor, lifting one leg and then the next. They learned how to rotate their hips in just the right way. And at the end of the class, they found their own corner of the room, closed their eyes and danced to the music.

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