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New Year, new me, etc. Maybe lose weight with…belly dancing!

“I’ve danced my whole life,” said Sabrina (858-337-1728; sabrinabellydancer.com). “I studied dance at UC Irvine, and in my second year I saw belly dancers at a festival. They were moving in a manner that was the complete inverse from what we were learning in the dance department. In Western dance, the movement is very solid core, with limb-generated large movements. But belly dancing is all generated from the core, moving out. Being the movement nerd that I was, I said, ‘I need to learn how to do this.’ I fell in love and never looked back.”

Sabrina said her entry-level class (eight classes for $80; ten classes for $100; $12 for a drop-in) is about “fun and movement. I find there is great camaraderie. The beauty of belly dance is that, as long as you are able to do moderate exercise, the level-one class is good for everyone. I have ladies who are size zero and ladies who are over 300 pounds. They all do the movements together. Remember, the ideal body type for belly dancing is not a runway model. It’s a social dance for regular people, and everyone can learn level one.”

In the class, “You get an overview of movement and music from a lot of different countries, though we focus mainly on Egypt and Lebanon. We also talk a bit about folk dance from Greece and Turkish belly dance. You learn the basic shapes of movement and the basic rhythms and you learn how to string them together into a ‘sentence.’” She estimated that after about two months, “You’ll have enough knowledge to improvise a dance for a full song, probably four or four-and-a-half minutes. From there, we start learning layers of movements, what the music means, what the lyrics mean, and how to move appropriately within the context of a song.”

Sometimes that movement might be pretty contained. “Because the belly dance starts from the core, it is possible to dance a whole song without moving your feet. That’s one of the exercises I give my students. Then you can layer more movements on top of that; you might do a shimmy with your legs, a figure eight with your hips, and some sort of stylized hand movement.”

Bellies need not be bared. “People wear something comfortable — yoga pants, a jog bra, maybe a T-shirt. I also require students to wear a hip scarf [$10$15, available from Sabrina or some dance stores]. I have some with fringe, some with rhinestones, and some with coins. People like to have something jingly around their hips, but it also helps to give a visual aid. You can see if your form is correct.”

Sabrina offers classes Monday–Thursday at various locations; check website for details. She can be seen performing in venues such as the Bird House in Encinitas and Marrakesh in La Jolla.

Leilainia of the Shimmy Sisters (619-884-7707; theshimmysisters.com) told me, “I’m a fourth-generation belly dancer. I have a troupe with my sister, and we perform all over. We grew up watching dance, and I learned all the styles, but I’m not a stylist. I call what I do ‘cabaret collage.’ It uses belly dance basics, but it has a vibe of loving the dance and loving your body. When the music plays, we dance to it.”

When she conducts classes, Leilainia likes to “build on a move, just like a yoga class would. Not everyone has to be able to do everything all the way, but you go as far as you can go. I’ll show you a basic hip-up or a hip-up with a shimmy — where you shake a specific part of your body — or a shimmy with traveling. That’s when you actually move your feet. The dance can be very aerobic, because you’re working the internal parts of your body. It’s not running a marathon, but it is creating heat and energy in your body. It takes a lot of energy to be able to isolate and be in tune with those little muscles.”

Leilainia will be teaching a mixed-level class on Saturdays in Linda Vista, January 14 through February 4. See website for time and location. Cost: $50 for four classes; $15 single-class drop-in.

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