Belly dance troupe revives an old artform

By PATRICK HILL/Montana State News

The pastel colored walls of the Verge Theatre are decorated with framed portraits of past dance performances and other ornaments befitting of a ballet studio. Tucked in the middle of the theatre is the Rainbow Studio. Rhythmic music pumps from the studio as women of all ages move and sway their hips to the various musical beats.

Initiated in 2008, Bad Asp Belly Dancing Troupe is holding strong in their fifth year and currently revolves around five diverse local women. Each instructor focuses on her own blend and style of belly dancing. The troupe maintains a self-described “Earthy feel” to their Tribal Fusion style of dance. “Our style is about setting our own style,” said Mary Powell.

Sitting comfortably on a wooden bench outside of their studio, Powell is half in costume, half in street clothes while she tells the backstory of Bad Asp and the art of belly dancing.

“We started in the living room dancing and it was a lot like the garage band of dancing,” said Powell. Bad Asp is based in a self-made image to maintain a community-influenced approach to the arts.

Powell sews most of the costumes that are used in the dance performances so what people see is a truly original piece of art. The costumes, too, are a fusion of the traditional and contemporary, designed to reflect more of the dancer’s spirit than anything else.

“I can make them become a part of the vision within the inspiration,” said Powell.

The Fusion Style gets its name from the blending of traditional styles to non-traditional forms of bellydance like tribal, jazz, flamenco, rock, as well as many others. “Fusion Bellydance is a dance art for everyone, all ages, all sizes, all levels,” said Powell.

Members of the groups have come and gone. There have been a number of alterations to the lineup of the group before Bad Asp, but the core remains centered around some of the original belly-dancing members.

Many of the dancers come from a trained dance background – such as ballet – while others are first timers who are simply trying it out for the first time.

Mary Powell, Amy Madsen, Hillari Ladd, Caitlin Dahl and Missy O’Malley have become the core members of the troupe. With two private studios attached to the homes of members of the troupe, they are able to practice and train extensively within their own constructed sanctuary.

While each dancer moves within individual limitations and sets personal goals for a performance, the choreography is in itself group effort. Powell says that specific choreography to a song can take as short as a week or up to a month for a specific routine to be successful.

“Everyone is so cool and supportive of each other,” said Powell. “It’s a very liberating experience for women, giving them a sense of confidence of power.”

There is a very real sense of teaching people to think outside the box and teaching others to feel a sense of confidence, said Powell. “Unlike sitting meditation, dance is the outward expression of the body coming into focus with the center. That becomes rhythm and harmony.”

“Well, since this is a very liberating and empowering experience for women, husbands sometimes find themselves feeling threatened because their wives are now feeling so empowered,” said Powell when asked if belly dancing ever caused issues with significant others.

This statement mirrors what Bad Asp suggests to its dancers: “enter into a loving and supportive environment with fellow dancers as we explore and discover our inner dancer through friendship and dance.”

And it’s not only women who participate in belly dancing. The often clichéd image of women in scantily clad costumes doesn’t begin to cover the history of the art of belly dancing – a true art.  Powell says what is unusual is that “back in the day” it wasn’t uncommon for men to be belly dancers. In fact, the male belly dancers were often the most coveted by the Egyptian kings.

“We had some male dancers with us for a while because of where they were in strength and weight training. They wanted to increase their flexibility while they were training,” said Powell.

Bad Asp seeks to create and foster an environment where students can learn not only from the instructors but each other. The idea of limiting a student to a specific style or technique of dance comes across as counterproductive to Powell and the troupe.

“We really strive to share the joy of dance with our students and if we can’t give you the answer to your questions about dance, we are more than happy to help you find that answer, together,” said Powell.

Powell says that the troupe is available for many kinds of celebrations, but emphasizes that it’s not for bachelor parties or for all male parties. These are rules that will not be ignored and exist for the safety of the dancers, but also for the enjoyment of the audience.

With the unique Fusion Style, the troupe is able to cater to numerous events including but not limited to, office parties, surprise parties, engagement parties and even “Girls Night In” parties.

– Edited by John Kirk Vincent

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