It’s sensuous, and it’s an art form — not dirty dancing: that’s the gospel Vicky Mitchell preaches to the public. “Belly dancing,” she says, “is also empowering — just watch.”
And the 75 or so aficionados in the Temple College auditorium Oct. 5 seemed fervently in sync with her mantra as they whooped, yelled and applauded the onstage performances at the Central Texas Belly Dance Association’s fourth annual Hafla (belly dancing party). Women age 15 and older donned elaborate costumes and assumed pseudonyms, walked from the wings and displayed their midriff muscle mastery.
“We want to promote the art form,” Mitchell said, resplendent in a diaphanous silk skirt and brief top. “And dispel the notion of ‘naughty dancing’.” It’s a fitting sentiment for Mitchell, since her stage name is Khaliqua, translated: “Well-Mannered.” She’s an indefatigable promoter of “one of the best-kept secrets in town,” president of the association, aka as Maidens of Mystery, and a teacher of classes at Killeen Community Center as well as in Temple.
“All of the girls have a dancing or stage name,” Mitchell said, “sort of an alter ego that lets them leave their inhibitions at home.” Different styles make up the evening’s dance performances; terms like cabaret, tribal fusion and Turkish are overheard during backstage conversations with the participants.
One striking brunette, her apparel a fashion tour de force of dyed silk, jewels and sequins, declined to give her real name. “I teach in the Killeen ISD,” she said. “Someone will recognize me.”
Mitchell wants folks to understand: “When done by a pro, belly dancing looks deceptively easy. But we have to use all of our muscles and have to learn how to control them.” She points to the trio performing onstage. “Once you start dancing like that, you realize how much skill is involved.”
The association performs pro bono at various charity events, such as the Temple VA hospital and will give a show at Day of the Dead festivities.
“We attend workshops in Austin when time and funds permit,” Mitchell said.
Members come from Killeen, Kempner, Copperas Cove and Temple and the association is “a positive, non-competitive family of dancers,” in the words of the women themselves.
Karen Batson and Linda Hartzog, already friends, started belly dancing together six years ago. Neither showed any signs of stage fright before Saturday’s curtain time, with Hartzog asserting, “It (belly dancing) empowers us.”
In the lobby, Jamie Lynn, a professional belly dancer from Austin, had her merchandise arranged and was selling custom costumes, silk veils and private lessons.
Lynn performs at parties and special events, and stresses the public’s misunderstanding about belly dancing.
“The community needs to understand that it’s family-friendly,” she said. While acknowledging that this form of dance is a “fringe” element, she likened the practitioners to “a community — like a family.”
Backstage, Mitchell adjusts the neon-orange shawl on “Vadonna,” the dancer up next. “A lot of these women thought they would never perform,” she said, “but see how they’ve overcome their shyness?” Vadonna manages a shaky smile and glides out onto the stage.
“Watching all of these dancers is like watching my kids,” Mitchell said. “I have seen them grow so much through belly dancing.”