Hips don’t lie

Forget the gym: GaiaPente Belly Dance offers classes that will help you stick to those pesky New Year’s resolutions

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It’s mid-January - that precarious time of year when the novelty of New Year’s resolutions to get fit are starting to wear off… or have already dissipated. 

Hitting the crowded gym is only bearable for so long before finding an alternative is in order.

Cue GaiaPente Tribal Fusion Bellydance.

Tara Cole-McCaffrey and Erinne Roth have spent the last 10 years practicing and teaching American Tribal Style or Fat Chance Belly Dance.

Both names refer to a newer branch of belly dance, which popped up in San Francisco in the ‘70s.

An alternative to classic Egyptian or beledi dance styles, American Tribal Style fuses Middle Eastern, North African and Indian influences (among others), and has gained worldwide recognition for its more grounded, improvisational approach.

GaiaPente recently noticed a surge of interest from Winnipeggers embracing this culture.

“It’s growing really fast right now,” Roth says. “It’s taken off in the last two years.”

“It’s still a subculture, there’s maybe 100 women doing it (in Winnipeg), but it started with maybe 30 back in the day,” Cole-McCaffrey echoes, literally, from their gigantic shared studio space in Artlington Gallery.

Roth and Cole-McCaffrey teach two classes every Thursday night from Jan. 10 to March 7 that focus on two different veins of American Tribal Style: Arabic (from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.) and Ghawazee (from 8:15 p.m. to 9:15 p.m.).

Both classes are open to drop-ins and welcome dancers of all ages and skill levels.

GaiaPente’s inviting atmosphere is a perfect introduction to this foreign genre, and their passion for teaching and engaging students is obvious.

“It’s a lot of fun, and (working together) allows us to do a lot of things that we wouldn’t be able to do separately,” Cole-McCaffrey says.

“Like giving each student individual attention in the class and having different levels,” Roth adds.

When the duo isn’t teaching dance, they’re showcasing their talents on various platforms throughout the city.

They have performed in clubs with DJs, at private venues, and at many festivals, such as the Manitoba Electronic Music Festival and the Osborne Street Festival.

However, you’ve most likely seen them at the Winnipeg Folk Festival - and no, you weren’t hallucinating.

“We usually do a full show at the base of Pope’s Hill with the fire dancers,” Roth says.

Roth has come a long way from her small town upbringing in Saskatchewan to belly dancing at Pope’s Hill.

“I was raised as a Mennonite and had never danced,” she says. “There wasn’t a lot of access to dance in my community, but there was access to all other kinds of weird things, like gymnastics and figure skating.”

Cole-McCaffrey acknowledges that belly dance can be just as strenuous as most sports for someone unaccustomed to the exercise.

“People tend to think it looks so flowy and serpentine, so they think there’s not much involved. But the core strength required to do it is extremely taxing. So it’s good, you’ll work up a sweat.”

GaiaPente Tribal Fusion Belly Dance offers classes Thursday nights at the Artlington Gallery (618 Arlington St.) from Jan. 10 to March 7. First class runs from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. and the second runs from 8:15 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. Both are open to dancers of all skill levels. Drop-in fee is $15 or $96 for the full eight weeks. Visit www.gaiapente.com for more information.

Published in Volume 67, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 16, 2013)

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