Once a month, a dozen or more ladies of all ages, education levels and careers step outside their comfort zones and into the world of belly dancing with the Central Texas Belly Dance Association.

Khaliqa Mitchell, 61, president of the association and a Harker Heights resident, has been belly dancing since the late 1970s.

“As it worked out, I became a belly dance instructor,” she said. “My dream was to have a cohesive belly dancing troop here and encourage other people to be strong and true to ourselves.”

The Central Texas Belly Dance Association encourages women to get out of their comfort zones and get fit by doing something that is a little different and, most importantly, legal, Mitchell said.

“Some people think it’s stripping, but it’s not. We are fully clothed at all times.”

Because of that stigma, most dancers use stage names and do not reveal their real names to the public.

Indeed, the greatest misconceptions about belly dancing is that it’s intended to entertain men. But as one of the oldest forms of dance with roots in many ancient cultures, belly dancing is a ritualized form of expression that was usually performed for other women during fertility rites or parties preparing young women for marriage, according to bellydance.org. In most cases, the presence of men was not permitted.

Along that line, Mitchell said her group of belly dancers is not only talented dancers but also close friends. “We try to

encourage each other, like a big sisterhood.”

But the belly dancers also take every opportunity to perform in public, even if means performing for men. One of their favorite regular gigs is at the William R. Courtney Texas State Veterans Home in Temple, where they are scheduled to dance Feb. 9.

“They’re awesome. We have a lot of fun over there,” Mitchell said.

It seems the feeling is mutual. Carolyn Rumfield, activities director at the Veterans Home, said the residents enjoy the dancers, who usually come out to perform every three months.

“Some of them will get up and try to dance with them, and others just enjoy the view,” she said, adding that still others are often reminded of foreign countries they visited during their time in the service. “Some of them will say, ‘I served in Egypt and saw this type of dancing there.’”

For more information about the Central Texas Belly Dance Association, call Mitchell at (254) 699-9650.

Contact Kristi Johnson at kristij@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7548

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