Belly dancing gains popularity on the North Shore |

Belly dancing gains popularity on the North Shore

Courtesy imageThe women of Shakti.

The wood winds and drumming begins ” bold, booming and hypnotic. The pounding resonates from the floor through pattering feet. Up, up, it writhes, seeming to overtake the heartbeat and replace its dull pump with an invigorating new rhythm.

The women of Shakti, a North Shore belly dancing troupe, begin their exotic dance. Pink and red toenails dart from eccentric skirts. Hip scarves decorated with silver and gold coins jingle like delicate windchimes in a raging storm.

The beauty of these women’s movements, their fluid motions accentuated by robust hips and vibrant garments, is mesmerizing.

One of history’s oldest dances, today’s form of belly dancing is a far cry from its mother form ” a female pelvic dance tied to birth rights and other women’s celebrations and ceremonies.

“No one knows where the dance originated ” it’s beyond recorded history,” said Christine Karnofski, a Kings Beach resident who has been belly dancing for more than 30 years and who teaches the dance locally under the stage name of Diane.

What is known is that over centuries of social evolution, religious oppression, wars and exodus, the dance has faded from a number of cultures, but chief among the areas where this dance survived is in the Arab world.

For centuries dancers were considered prestigious for their knowledge of the art, but by the 19th century their status dropped and belly dancers carried a reputation of ill repute, a stigma that still lingers.

“People have the impression that belly dancing is related to prostitution,” Karnofski said.

So much so that while living in Salt Lake City in the mid-70s, Karnofski couldn’t even place an ad in the local newspaper to promote her belly dancing lessons. Nonetheless, the persistent teacher established a large following.

“I had Mormon women wearing their long underwear under their dance costumes,” she said.

But, as is often the case with arts, a handful of pioneering women latched onto their historical dance and pulled it into the light of the developing world, allowing it to be influenced by Western artistic ideals.

From that point onward, as belly dancing entered the mainstream, the once symbolic art underwent a series of changes from form, to costume, to audience and found its way into nightclubs and cabarets across Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Historical records or none, traditions are slow to change, and thousands of years after its creation, belly dancing is alive and well on Tahoe’s North Shore.

“Once you feel the music, you crave it,” said Tahoma resident Mary Catalano, who has been belly dancing for 11 years. “It’s the purist joy of my soul. It makes me giggle and giddy.”

That enthusiasm and passion shows on Catalano’s face and in her heavy breaths as she twirls and undulates over the hardwood floor.

Belly dancing, for women around the world, is about more than steps and beats, it is about a body, a spirit and a power within. So it’s no wonder that this exotic and ancient dance has remained over centuries and has now come to captivate women in Truckee and on the North Shore with surprising popularity.

“I realized that I had been teaching up here for 20 years, and I never held a beginning class, they were just ongoing,” said Karnofski, who also leads Shakti. “As soon as I started (a beginning class), it was an avalanche, and now most of my students take classes twice a week.”

In her first beginner class, 30 women walked through Karnofski’s door. They were all ages and shapes, eager for an experience that was personal and unique.

“I love to have moms come with their daughters ” it’s a great way for them to share something special. It creates a very strong connection at any age,” Karnofski said. “I have had women in their 70s. As long as you can walk and move your arms, there is no age limit.”

It seems that no matter the age or level, participants are all saying the same thing ” the dance is inspiring, empowering, and fun.

“I see a lot of surprise on the faces of new-comers,” said Michelle Bell of Tahoe Vista. “Someone who might seem shy, you can watch come out of their shells. You see this light. And It’s one of the few places that I feel pure joy.”

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