Belly and Beyond

Karla Hayward
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Bellydance is one of those consistently misunderstood cultural phenomena. Here in "America," we routinely see it as having sultry, sexual overtones and discount it as a seduction technique designed to drive men wild. Truth is, in the Middle East, bellydance is most often seen in a social context, danced by men and women alike during festive occasions, like weddings, for celebration and fun.

Fun and celebration is exactly the motivation behind one of St. John's newest dance troupes - OhMaya Bellydance Company - made up of Andrea Roberts, Amanda Labonte, Heather Labonte, Margaret March and Rhonda Barrett.

OhMaya Bellydance Company is (from left): Margaret March, Amanda Labonte, Rhonda Barrett, Andrea Roberts and Heather Labonte. Photo by Raymond Walsh

Bellydance is one of those consistently misunderstood cultural phenomena. Here in "America," we routinely see it as having sultry, sexual overtones and discount it as a seduction technique designed to drive men wild. Truth is, in the Middle East, bellydance is most often seen in a social context, danced by men and women alike during festive occasions, like weddings, for celebration and fun.

Fun and celebration is exactly the motivation behind one of St. John's newest dance troupes - OhMaya Bellydance Company - made up of Andrea Roberts, Amanda Labonte, Heather Labonte, Margaret March and Rhonda Barrett.

Barrett explains that the group's rather unique name has multiple meanings. First, to grossly oversimplify, Maya translates from Sanskrit as "illusion." (For devotees of Indian religions, it has several, much deeper and complex meanings.) In bellydance, Maya is a movement sometimes known as the Cobra or Reverse Vertical Figure Eight in which the dancer describes a figure eight with their hips. "And that's a move that we do all the time," says Barrett.

"Plus, here in Newfoundland, everyone's always saying, 'Oh my,' so we decided to call ourselves OhMaya!"

More than just shakin'

Three of the OhMaya members teach bellydance classes at the Mews Centre, where they relay much more than simple steps.

"We do a lot of talking about what (bellydance) is, and what it isn't," says Barrett.

One thing bellydance isn't about, she elaborates, is a certain age or body-type.

"The instructors are all different ages, shapes, and sizes. The women who do it are all different ages, shapes, sizes and levels of capability. But the point is that it should make you feel good about yourself. ... I don't want to sound clichÉ, but we do promote women's empowerment. It's about feeling good about yourself regardless of how you look. It's about having fun."

Bellydance, Barrett explains, celebrates those very things that define what it is to be female.

"A lot of these movements use every part that makes you a woman; you're using your hips, your chest, and your bum. ... Everything that we should celebrate but many women tend to hide."

With celebrating womanhood in mind, OhMaya will be appearing at this year's Breast Cancer Retreat in St. John's. There, they'll give a quick and dirty seminar to anyone who wants to learn, and finish up with a performance for all the attendees.

Love of learning

On top of helping others learn to dance, members of OhMaya also love to continue their own dance education. As such, the fab five plan to travel to Joliette, Que., this summer to attend a seminar at which they'll learn gothic and tribal styles of dance alongside some bellydance superstars.

"Seminars here are few and far between," says Barrett. "We have such a small community that many of the people who dance and teach learned from each other, so it's all basically one style. ... We kind of want to delve into something different."

To finance their journey, the troupe will host several fundraisers, including a benefit concert (should any musicians like to donate their time), flea market sales and "random acts of bellydance," and are looking for corporate sponsors.

OhMaya hopes to make more appearances in the St. John's area and, of course, they'll continue to teach at the Mews Centre and inspire women to a love of bellydance - and perhaps of themselves.

As Barrett joyfully says, "Hey, it's great for you. Just try it!"

Call the Mews Community Centre at 576-8499 for information on classes. Or, find OhMaya on Facebook. (www.ohmaya.ca coming soon!)

Organizations: OhMaya Bellydance Company, Mews Community Centre, Cobra

Geographic location: St. John's, America, Middle East Newfoundland Joliette

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Recent comments

  • Margaret
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    If you have any questions or would like more information on our activities/classes/performances, please email me at mmarch@mun.ca
    We'd love to hear from you.
    Margaret March
    OhMaya Bellydance Company

  • Margaret
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    OhMaya Bellydance Company is hosting a bellydance workshop on Saturday, May 10th in honor of Mother's Day. It will be from 6-9pm at the Mount Pearl School of Dance, and will include a keepsake for everyone, a door prize, a short performance by OhMaya and refreshments afterwards. Price is $30 single and $50 double. This will be so much fun for Mom and daughters! Check out our facebook site for more information.

  • sonja
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    It is disappointing to see such uneducated,narrow-minded and straight out ignorant and rude comments still been made about such a beautiful and artful dance as the bellydance.Of course,we realize that there will always be those who are completely uninterested in what bellydance is truely about and just want to sneer and jeer.Unfortunatly,bellydancers are an easy target.For the rest of us,there are dancers like the women who make up OhMaya.These ladies create beautiful, original choreoghrapies,and perform them with integrity,strength,grace and a uniqueness that is truely their own. Their dedication for this beautiful dance is evident in their strong technique,use of isolations combined with very difficult layering.All of this adds up to some pretty fabulous bellydancing.Aside from the performing aspect, OhMaya also offers classes to give other women[future bellydancers]a chance to learn.Knowing that newfoundland is one of the last provinces to really have a bellydance community,the women of OhMaya are diong a great job of bridging that gap through their performing,teaching and educational workshops.

  • Robert
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Just wondering: what does the 'ks:' in some of the above comments mean?

  • Rhonda
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Thank you for coming to the classes, and we will be on the weather spot this Friday, you're right. Thanks so much Susan for your comment!

  • Susan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    I love the beginners bellydance class I am taking with Rhonda & Andrea of OhMaya at the Mews Centre (they also offer intermediate) + OhMaya has classes in Mt. Pearl. These ladies are so committed to their craft and students, are enthusiastic and are a lot of FUN. So far after 5 classes there's been a lot of learning specific moves - proper posture - including slightly bent knees (who'd have thought!!!). Then isolating body moves - starting with slides of neck, upper body and waist, then moves like figure 8 horizontally with hips and vertically with hips + the flowing snake arms. Of course foot work and combining moves is to come. They are very accommodating to students, recognizing that people learn at different paces and in different ways. They're style is tribal and moves are demure. I'd highly recommend these classes - these are a real dedicated team. These ladies started bellydancing for fun a few years ago and loved it so much they started their own troupe. They work out in regular fitness gyms themselves + put a lot of time in on developing their routines and crafts and passing on their enthusiasm to others. They say theyll be soaking up everything they can. I believe theyll be featured on Places to Go this Friday. Thank you OhMaya!!!

  • Rhonda
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    Thanks Lori for pointing out the different styles available here in town. I know there are a lot of styles available here in town, but I was talking about how our troupe's style developed. The fact that the members from our troupe learned from the same instructors makes us individually very similar to each other in our style. Unfortunately it can be misconstrued to sound like I was saying all groups in town are the same, which clearly they are not. Thanks for making that point!

  • Violet
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    I also take the belly dancing class at the Mews Centre. The ladies make it so much fun they are wonderful teachers and a great inspiration. I just wanted to say Thank You to them for opening up a new world for me.

  • Margaret
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    I'd like to clarify that we did not say that all bellydance is the same. They have common roots but over time there has been many different styles that have developed along the way. Maybe the reporter didn't quite get the point we tried to make which was that there are a limited number of places locally where a person can take bellydance lessons, and a good number of the current instructors have learned from other local instructors so that there may be some similiarities in their dance styles. However, bellydance is so popular and we're seeing more and more instructors setting up classes and we hope this will continue so women can find the style of dance that they love. There's so many beautiful styles of bellydance out there and I think the bellydance community will continue to grow in the province. I'm delighted to be a part of it!
    Margaret
    OhMaya Bellydance Company

  • Margaret
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    As you can see in the picture we are not young scantily clad at all. We wear a dance top or coin bra, a big skirt, huge pantaloons or dance pants underneath, and panel skirts, decorated belts, and plenty of jewelry. I wear less to the beach. As for the young comment, as the oldest member of the troupe I thank you!
    We are trying to dispell the incorrect assumption that bellydancing is all about being sexy. We perform a legitimate dance form that has it's roots in folkloric dance, and we promote it as an activity that improves women's wellness, physical and psychological. It will increase confidence and self-esteem and remind women to love the body they are blessed with.
    Margaret March
    OhMaya Bellydance Company

  • Lori
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    It is wonderful to see articles about bellydance groups in the province. However, it isn't accurate to say that all bellydance is basically the same. The Neighbourhood Strays dance gypsy-style bellydance, the Turkish Delights (Corner Brook) do a lovely form of Jamila Salimpour/Early Tribal style, the group in Grand Falls Windsor are a bit more cabaret, but are now gypsy influenced, The Saltwater Gypsies (CBS) are more Gypsy Fantasy, but with strong cabaret influences, Dounia is African style, Vera Murdova is an interesting blend of Arabic and Turkish, Rita Broderick is more into the Goddess/new age forms. Many teachers teach different styles. People can find a teacher in a style they like, or try different ones to find a style (or styles) that suit them.

  • Lori
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    I think it is important for dancers to broaden their training, which is obviously what you are doing by going to this seminar in Quebec. It is equally important for students in this dance form as in any other to ask where their instructors have received their training, and how much they have received.

  • Susan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    OhMaya Bellydance br (facebook group) br www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=3395722981

  • Marion
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    I think I just came in on an Amway Convention. The people running the business patting themselves on the back. Good way to get free advertising I guess.

  • Rhonda
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Shirley, your comment on this news article strikes me at my deepest. We are hardly scantily clad, in fact, in our costume includes more layers than you can imagine, haha. As for your comment about renting a room from Tom Rideout, we are not to be pimped out by anybody, as we have more self respect for ourselves than that. Your comment does nothing to help fight the stereotype that this dance is nothing more than a highly sexual form of art. I am dissapointed that you would use an article talking about something women enjoy to voice some very angry political views.

  • Margaret
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    If you have any questions or would like more information on our activities/classes/performances, please email me at mmarch@mun.ca
    We'd love to hear from you.
    Margaret March
    OhMaya Bellydance Company

  • Margaret
    July 01, 2010 - 20:20

    OhMaya Bellydance Company is hosting a bellydance workshop on Saturday, May 10th in honor of Mother's Day. It will be from 6-9pm at the Mount Pearl School of Dance, and will include a keepsake for everyone, a door prize, a short performance by OhMaya and refreshments afterwards. Price is $30 single and $50 double. This will be so much fun for Mom and daughters! Check out our facebook site for more information.

  • sonja
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    It is disappointing to see such uneducated,narrow-minded and straight out ignorant and rude comments still been made about such a beautiful and artful dance as the bellydance.Of course,we realize that there will always be those who are completely uninterested in what bellydance is truely about and just want to sneer and jeer.Unfortunatly,bellydancers are an easy target.For the rest of us,there are dancers like the women who make up OhMaya.These ladies create beautiful, original choreoghrapies,and perform them with integrity,strength,grace and a uniqueness that is truely their own. Their dedication for this beautiful dance is evident in their strong technique,use of isolations combined with very difficult layering.All of this adds up to some pretty fabulous bellydancing.Aside from the performing aspect, OhMaya also offers classes to give other women[future bellydancers]a chance to learn.Knowing that newfoundland is one of the last provinces to really have a bellydance community,the women of OhMaya are diong a great job of bridging that gap through their performing,teaching and educational workshops.

  • Robert
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    Just wondering: what does the 'ks:' in some of the above comments mean?

  • Rhonda
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Thank you for coming to the classes, and we will be on the weather spot this Friday, you're right. Thanks so much Susan for your comment!

  • Susan
    July 01, 2010 - 20:03

    I love the beginners bellydance class I am taking with Rhonda & Andrea of OhMaya at the Mews Centre (they also offer intermediate) + OhMaya has classes in Mt. Pearl. These ladies are so committed to their craft and students, are enthusiastic and are a lot of FUN. So far after 5 classes there's been a lot of learning specific moves - proper posture - including slightly bent knees (who'd have thought!!!). Then isolating body moves - starting with slides of neck, upper body and waist, then moves like figure 8 horizontally with hips and vertically with hips + the flowing snake arms. Of course foot work and combining moves is to come. They are very accommodating to students, recognizing that people learn at different paces and in different ways. They're style is tribal and moves are demure. I'd highly recommend these classes - these are a real dedicated team. These ladies started bellydancing for fun a few years ago and loved it so much they started their own troupe. They work out in regular fitness gyms themselves + put a lot of time in on developing their routines and crafts and passing on their enthusiasm to others. They say theyll be soaking up everything they can. I believe theyll be featured on Places to Go this Friday. Thank you OhMaya!!!

  • Rhonda
    July 01, 2010 - 20:03

    Thanks Lori for pointing out the different styles available here in town. I know there are a lot of styles available here in town, but I was talking about how our troupe's style developed. The fact that the members from our troupe learned from the same instructors makes us individually very similar to each other in our style. Unfortunately it can be misconstrued to sound like I was saying all groups in town are the same, which clearly they are not. Thanks for making that point!

  • Violet
    July 01, 2010 - 20:01

    I also take the belly dancing class at the Mews Centre. The ladies make it so much fun they are wonderful teachers and a great inspiration. I just wanted to say Thank You to them for opening up a new world for me.

  • Margaret
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    I'd like to clarify that we did not say that all bellydance is the same. They have common roots but over time there has been many different styles that have developed along the way. Maybe the reporter didn't quite get the point we tried to make which was that there are a limited number of places locally where a person can take bellydance lessons, and a good number of the current instructors have learned from other local instructors so that there may be some similiarities in their dance styles. However, bellydance is so popular and we're seeing more and more instructors setting up classes and we hope this will continue so women can find the style of dance that they love. There's so many beautiful styles of bellydance out there and I think the bellydance community will continue to grow in the province. I'm delighted to be a part of it!
    Margaret
    OhMaya Bellydance Company

  • Margaret
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    As you can see in the picture we are not young scantily clad at all. We wear a dance top or coin bra, a big skirt, huge pantaloons or dance pants underneath, and panel skirts, decorated belts, and plenty of jewelry. I wear less to the beach. As for the young comment, as the oldest member of the troupe I thank you!
    We are trying to dispell the incorrect assumption that bellydancing is all about being sexy. We perform a legitimate dance form that has it's roots in folkloric dance, and we promote it as an activity that improves women's wellness, physical and psychological. It will increase confidence and self-esteem and remind women to love the body they are blessed with.
    Margaret March
    OhMaya Bellydance Company

  • Lori
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    It is wonderful to see articles about bellydance groups in the province. However, it isn't accurate to say that all bellydance is basically the same. The Neighbourhood Strays dance gypsy-style bellydance, the Turkish Delights (Corner Brook) do a lovely form of Jamila Salimpour/Early Tribal style, the group in Grand Falls Windsor are a bit more cabaret, but are now gypsy influenced, The Saltwater Gypsies (CBS) are more Gypsy Fantasy, but with strong cabaret influences, Dounia is African style, Vera Murdova is an interesting blend of Arabic and Turkish, Rita Broderick is more into the Goddess/new age forms. Many teachers teach different styles. People can find a teacher in a style they like, or try different ones to find a style (or styles) that suit them.

  • Lori
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    I think it is important for dancers to broaden their training, which is obviously what you are doing by going to this seminar in Quebec. It is equally important for students in this dance form as in any other to ask where their instructors have received their training, and how much they have received.

  • Susan
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    OhMaya Bellydance br (facebook group) br www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=3395722981

  • Marion
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    I think I just came in on an Amway Convention. The people running the business patting themselves on the back. Good way to get free advertising I guess.

  • Rhonda
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    Shirley, your comment on this news article strikes me at my deepest. We are hardly scantily clad, in fact, in our costume includes more layers than you can imagine, haha. As for your comment about renting a room from Tom Rideout, we are not to be pimped out by anybody, as we have more self respect for ourselves than that. Your comment does nothing to help fight the stereotype that this dance is nothing more than a highly sexual form of art. I am dissapointed that you would use an article talking about something women enjoy to voice some very angry political views.