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Contrary to popular belief, belly dancing is not aimed at pleasing men — it's done to please the dancer herself.

Beautiful Bellies

After a long day at the office, many women want nothing better than to share dinner with their families and then relax in front of the TV. Then there are women like Joyce Newsome, aka Naima, who gets back in her car after dinner to meet with fellow women for an evening of belly dancing.

Naima, Newsome's chosen dance name, works as a secretary for Richmond's circuit court and has been dancing ever since fellow clerks invited her to a class at the YWCA. That was 25 years ago, and she not only dances weekly, she heads periodically out of town on weekends to partake in regional belly-dance gatherings. She's also organized a show to take place Saturday, July 1, "Middle Eastern Dance Recital at Naima's Medina," at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen.

"I love the dance," she explains. "It creates a good feeling. It makes me relaxed. It brings out my creativity." Many other women love the form, too. Classes in belly dancing are offered throughout town, both privately and through Richmond's, Henrico's and Chesterfield's Parks and Recreation departments almost every night of the week. This weekend's recital includes local women and several from Virginia Beach, Norfolk and North Carolina.

Much misinformation prevails around this tantalizing dance of undulating bellies and gyrating heads, chests and hips. It is not, as many believe, aimed to entice men. To the contrary. Originating in the Middle East and North Africa, in countries such as Turkey, Morocco and Egypt, where men and women rarely socialized together, belly dancing was practiced by women to entertain themselves and other women. For the most part, men were not welcome into these private gatherings of women. That did not, however, stop them from writing about the dance, much based largely on fantasy.

Locally, the dance is practiced by women (and a few men), ranging in age from 14 to 80 and who are students, secretaries, nurses, legal assistants and other professionals, many of whom will be participating in the recital. Mary Dyer, aka Selma, began dancing at 67 when her husband gave up their shared pastime of ballroom dancing. Now 79 years old, and a great-grandmother, she dances at schools, nursing homes and wherever she can. "You got to have something you enjoy," she says. "Some have tennis, some golf. I have belly dancing. I'd hate to ever have to give it up."

With more than a dozen women performing in traditional costumes at Glen Allen, Naima encourages anyone to try the dance. All that's needed is stamina. For her, she says it's about "the beauty of being a woman and the beauty about being alive, regardless of age and shape."

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