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Originally published Friday, November 23, 2012 at 11:01 AM

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Belly dancing: Bring out the inner you

At Skin Deep Dance studio, women of all shapes and sizes show up for belly dancing and proudly bare their torsos. At a beginner class, newbies were easy to spot; we were covered up, says Fit for Life columnist Nicole Tsong.

Special to The Seattle Times

Check it out

Skin Deep Dance

www.skindeepdance.com2524 16th Ave. S., No. 311

Seattle

Deep Roots Dance

Seattle

www.deeprootsdance.com

Tin Can Studio

http://tincanseattle.com3130 Airport Way S., No. 510

Seattle, 206-909-5744

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ONE BY one they showed up wearing full, gorgeous skirts, some tie-dyed, some edged in ribbon, with sparkly scarfs tied around their waists. Crop tops revealed belly and back tattoos. My tiered white skirt and navy tank top were plain by comparison.

I'm sure there's a traditional reason to wear full skirts, but reason or not, it sure is fun to twirl in them.

At Skin Deep Dance studio on Beacon Hill, women of all shapes and sizes show up for belly dancing and proudly bare their torsos. At a beginner class recently, newbies were easy to spot; we were covered up.

Owner and artistic director Katrina McCoy took the class right into the moves learned the week before, and I worried I wouldn't be able to keep up. But she soon broke down the undulation required for the torso wave — heart up, lean back, neutral torso, tuck.

My torso still would not obey, and I occasionally found myself contorting my shoulders in weird ways to try to make up for a torso that would not do that cool wave.

I fared a little better in a circular move. When demonstrated by Katrina, it looked magical as her upper body circled above her waist, arms perfectly extended and her lower body staying almost totally still. I got a little closer.

For the first half of class, we moved slowly to music, attempting to perfect the coordination of the torso movements with our arms. Katrina has an artful way of explaining the moves. When she added arms to the circular torso move, she advised us to think about plucking a tissue from the box with first our left hand, then our right. For the torso wave, she cautioned us against collapsing into our lower backs.

I had a breakthrough during the hip bump. I'd never understood how belly dancers moved their pelvises so vigorously. Katrina had us dig our fingers deep into our hip to find our psoas muscle, and then had us keep pressing the psoas so we could feel it contract. Instead of lifting our legs, we needed to lift through that deep hip muscle. Hallelujah! My hips found new life and expression.

After learning to hip bump, we went on to add arms and twirling. By the end, we were a full, moving circle of women dancing while hip bumping. I yearned for a little hip bling.

Beginning belly dancing was not vigorous, but it did require a lot of technique. Once you get going and practice enough, though, breaking a sweat seems inevitable.

But for now, I just loved the technique. Katrina's explanations helped me access my body and move it in ways that at least imitated what a belly dancer looks like. I have no doubt if I kept it up, I could get the torso wave.

I was disappointed we didn't get to my newly purchased finger cymbals; I clacked them together in the car afterward. But between the finger cymbals, the swirly skirts and the technique, there's every girlie reason in the world to try belly dancing.

Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: papercraneyoga@gmail.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.

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