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July 11, 2014

California Dance Company Aims to Break Belly Dance Stereotype

by Elizabeth Lee

In the United States and some other countries, belly dancing is often perceived as a seductive dance, performed mostly at specialty restaurants. One California dance company is trying to get more people to appreciate it as form of art. The group Bellydance Evolution is hoping to redefine people's view of belly dancing by fusing western dance styles with belly dancing and performing around the world. 

For many people, belly dancing is seen as sexually provocative, but Jillina Carlano is trying to get more audiences to appreciate it in a different way.

Art appreciation

“At times, I felt very discouraged by that discrimination, that we weren’t respected artists. I had to really fight hard to prove myself and to prove my dance company. It’s a beautiful, rich art form that has thousands of years of tradition,” said Carlano.

Carlano’s dance company, Bellydance Evolution, incorporates Western dance styles with Middle Eastern belly dance in its theatrical performances, to make the ancient art form more relevant to audiences today.

“We have a break dancer in the show who does hip hop. We’ve had Georgian dancing mixed with the folkloric dancing, American tribal fusion,” explained Carlano.

An eclectic group of dancers from around the world perform in these stage shows, including Olga Kramarova from Ukraine.

“The dancer is imitating the instrument with her body. So it’s not meant to seduce, which is contrary to common belief.  It’s a total free form of self-expression with percussive quick movement as well as the fluid soft movements,” explained Kramarova.

Fusion

Lauren Boldt grew up learning ballet and jazz, but she found something in belly dancing that she didn't find in other dance forms.

“Growing up I had always assumed that power was more of a masculine energy and belly dance really showed me that it was a feminine energy as well,” said Boldt.

Boldt has performed around the world with the dance company. The main dancers also lead training sessions when they are abroad.

“It’s really amazing how belly dance has really sprung up all over the world. In China and Taiwan and Japan it’s relatively new, and women are really, really excited about it,” said Boldt.

Bellydance Evolution also includes local dancers in performances when the company tours. 

Carlano said she wants to give her audiences a different image of the Middle East.

“What we see in the news a lot is a lot of repression and war and violence and things like that. Part of my goal is to share the beauty and the richness and these elements of part of that Middle Eastern culture,” said Carlano.