By day, Christina Donovan is a homeowners' claims adjuster. But at night, she heads to the Englewood Recreation Center, dons a jangly belt called a hip wrap and becomes Zeina Azara, joining a tradition of belly dancers whose ancient origins are lost …
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By day, Christina Donovan is a homeowners' claims adjuster. But at night, she heads to the Englewood Recreation Center, dons a jangly belt called a hip wrap and becomes Zeina Azara, joining a tradition of belly dancers whose ancient origins are lost to history.
“You teach yourself things you never thought you'd be able to do,” Donovan said recently after an energetic routine in a dance studio at the recreation center. “It teaches self-confidence. It's about being feminine, vulnerable and emotive.”
Donovan, who has been belly dancing for more than five years, attends the women's belly dancing classes at the Englewood Recreation Center, taught by Jessica Stokes, who goes by the dance name Adina.
“This sisterhood that quickly forms among belly dancers is so cool to be part of,” Stokes said. “Every size, shape and age is represented.”
Stokes said the roots of belly dancing are from the Middle East, though the origins are unknown.
“There are cave paintings depicting women doing something like belly dancing,” Stokes said.
Though the dance has a reputation for being erotic and seductive, Stokes said it got that reputation upon gaining popularity in America, and that American belly dancers are sometimes asked if they're prostitutes.
But belly dancing is about personal transformation and empowerment, said guest instructor Lisa Kraemer, who goes by the dance name Aziza of Las Vegas. Kraemer is an IT project manager by day, and said that belly dance makes her feel OK to express her femininity.
“You can be beautiful and powerful,” Kraemer said. “You can let go of your fears and be confident.”
Everything about belly dance is challenging, but the rewards are great, said Indica Barnett, a 16-year-old Littleton High School student on her fourth lesson in Stokes' class.
“This is a big community, so women can connect with women all over the world,” she said. “Martial arts or marching band aren't like that.”
In the long term, Barnett, who goes by the dance name Zuli, would like to dance in Europe during a planned student-exchange trip her senior year, but in the meantime, “I just want to get my shimmies down,” she said.
The four women in the dance studio practiced different moves and routines with precision and enthusiasm, their movements accentuated by flowing veils. Belly dancing is centered in the hips, said Stokes, but also involves chest work and fluid full-body movements.
There are many types of belly dance around the world, and Stokes' group practices the Cabaret style, with origins in Egyptian dance.
Stokes also leads the Sadakat dance troupe, which practices at the Englewood Recreation Center on Monday nights, and will be performing with another troupe next month at Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret in the old D&F Tower in Denver next month. She also teaches lessons at the Maha Soul yoga studio in Littleton.
Beginner and intermediate belly dance classes are held Tuesdays from 6 p.m. to 7:30. A month of classes costs $42 for residents and $46 for non-residents. Advanced classes are Monday from 6 p.m. to 7:30, and a month of lessons cost $48 for residents and $52 for non-residents. Anyone interested can call Stokes at 303-883-1861.
And, yes, men are welcome, too.
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