|Belly dancers Miriam Cunha, left, Cindy Lee Yelland and Laura Ellie, whose daughter Madeleine Hittel is also pictured, will be just three of more than 20 local dancers who will join five dancers from the world-renowned Bellydance Superstars onstage at the Mary Irwin Theatre when the U.S.-based troupe return to Kelowna for one show on Feb. 21.|
In fact, the hips, not the belly are often the most featured part of the body and the perception of it as being overtly sexual or erotic in nature is not quite accurate, either.
According to Miriam Cunha, who dances under the name Yonisha, while those impressions aren't necessarily all wrong, there's much more to the art form than first appears.
Although the exact roots of bellydancing are shrouded in the veils of history, it came to be practised in a wide geographic area.
"Basically, it came from India, North Africa and the Middle East," Cunha explained. "That's why there are so many different styles, too. You can bring any of the dances from those regions and call them belly dance."
But, whatever it's origin, the art form has a mystique about it, accurate or not.
"The idea the first French Europeans got from the dancers, they were just looking at the sensual," she said. "They were not used to seeing dance like that."
Cunha, along with more than 20 other local bellydancers, will be part of the show when the travelling Bellydance Superstars return to Kelowna for a show at the Rotary Centre for the Arts Feb. 21.
On tour across North America, the troupe features five of the superstars of the belly dance world. Sabah, Moria, Sabrina, Rebecca and Nathalie will all be here as part of the Club Bellydance show, complete with the resplendent costumes and intricate choreography the troupe has become known for.
"The key to it is the isolations," she continued. "That's when you're able to move one part of your body alone â€¦ then you start layering the parts on top of each other."
Bellydance Superstars is also the brainchild of Miles Copeland, former manager of big name bands such as The Police and R.E.M., whose vision has brought the art form to a vastly wider audience than previously.
Confined, at least in North America, to small bars and cafes, the spectacle of the dance now takes the stage in theatres, arenas and even huge outdoor festivals, with some calling the Bellydance Superstars as the "new Riverdance."
"They've brought bellydancing to a totally different level," said Cunha. "They use more modern music and they've made it a really big show.
"They've been criticized by some of the more traditional (bell dancing) groups, but the positive side, I think, is it has brought belly dance to the public and an awareness of what it is."
Born in Guatemala to a Guatemalan teacher and graphic artist mother and a Brazilian father who was a musician and composer, Cunha took up belly dancing in Brazil some 20 years ago.
"I think it was the mystique of the dance and the music," she said when asked what drew her to this particular style. "You have to connect with the music."
Cunha began performing locally after moving to Canada a dozen years ago and she's also studied Middle Eastern rhythms and drumming, and teaches classes and workshops locally and abroad.
As she pointed out, besides the sinuous movements of the dances, the hypnotic music that accompanies it makes for a unique and different experience.
"It's got a different rhythms," she said. "It's not the regular western dance â€¦ one, two, one, two, three, four."
She'll be joined by local performers, many of whom, she included, performed with the Superstars when they were last here, some two years ago.
This time around, they'll also have a male dancer with them. Alex Dedovic, who goes by the stage name Ali, will join the local dancers when they take the stage at the Rotary Centre for the Arts with the Bellydance Superstars.
Cindy Lee Yelland, who dances under the moniker Anajwani, given to her by her first belly dance teacher, is another local dancer who will join the Superstars onstage at the Rotary Centre's Mary Irwin Theatre. Known for performing with what she referred to as "Isis Wings," Yelland practises a style that is more tribal in nature and different from what some might think of as "traditional" belly dance.
Both Yelland and Cunha are members of what they laughingly called the "Loose Hip Sisters," a group of local belly dancers who have been together for more than a decade, practicing and perfecting their art.
Yelland has been bellydancing for more than 15 years, and echoed Cunha's feelings that it's about much more than just meets the eye.
"It's a great way for women to become more confident with themselves," she said. "It helps them to come out of their shells. The sensuality for yourself is important, but to me it's about a sisterhood of dance.
"There's no wrong way to (belly)dance."
Who: Belly dance Superstars live in Club Bellydance
When: Thursday, Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Rotary Centre for the Arts, 421 Cawston Ave., Kelowna
Tickets: $22 - $28, available at the RCA box office, online at selectyourtickets.com, or by calling 250-717-5304.