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Black Women Discover Belly Dancing

Dancers find physical, emotional and spiritual healing with the ancient art

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A dozen women of varying sizes, shapes and ages gather inside a warehouse-turned-haven for women, a few miles west of downtown Detroit.

The barefooted women sensually shake, shimmy and sway their hips, roll their stomachs, gracefully shake their shoulders and snake their arms to the rhythms of Egyptian drums.

They’re all wearing smiles and brightly-colored hip skirts with coins that jiggle as they wiggle, adding to the symphony of sounds that fill this homey space.

Teacher Tene Dismuke leads the women in belly dance at the House of Bastet, a dance studio and women’s empowerment center that she opened in 2007 at 2233 Brooklyn St. in Detroit.  Bastet represents the Egyptian Goddess of Joy, Music, Dance, Pleasure and Strength, Dismuke says.

Women learning this ancient dance say belly dancing gives them all that and more. Increasingly, Black women are being attracted to the dance that is most often associated with Middle Eastern women.

But, in fact, Black women’s affection for belly dancing marks a rhythmic return to our roots, say many who have studied the origins of this ancient dance.

“Belly dance is an African art form.  Don’t let anyone tell you different. It belongs to Africa,” says Dr. Sunyatta Amen, a Washington, D.C.-based neuropath, who is also the natural health adviser for the Michael Baisden Show.

She founded the Bellydancers of Color Association, called BOCA, in 2002 to educate, strengthen and encourage belly dancing among people of color. It also provides a networking site for practitioners and teachers.

Amen points to attendance figures at BOCA’s annual conference that attracts people from all over the country as evidence of its growth within the African-American community. Attendance jumped from 500 to 2,500 from 2003, from the first conference, to last year.

Local proof lies in the growing variety of places where belly dance is being taught in Detroit. You can find a place to belly dance in every section of the city.

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