PUBLISHED: 2:34 PM on Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Tribal style belly-dancing gets the body moving

Photo courtesy of Albert McDonnell
  Maren Thomas, Pilar Scott, and Samia Savell perform as members of the tribal style bellydance troupe, Patshiva.
Running like hamsters on a treadmill gets old-belly dancing is a hot new form of exercise in Juneau. Along with artful expression of the body, exhilarating music and beautiful costume dress, calories are actually burned.

Local tribal-style belly dance group, Patshiva, offers an innovative approach that's quite unlike traditional cabaret style performed.

"It's a little different in that it emphasizes group improvisation versus solo performance, and uses non-verbal communication as to what comes next," said group member Samia Savell. Basically, there is no choreographed dancing.

She said it is very much a community-style dance.

The dance originates from a general area in the Middle East and North Africa. The word "belly dance," is actually a misnomer and a term derived from the Chicago World Fair in 1893, for sensationalism. The original Arabic word, "raqs sharki (pronounced rocks-sharkee)," literally translates as "dance of the east" or "oriental dance;" however, belly dance is the word that stuck in the west.

Savell, 37, who moved to Juneau four and a half years ago, has a strong background in belly dancing as a student and teacher.

Several of the group members, including Savell, formed the troupe in spring of 2003.

Patshiva is a word in the Romany (Gypsy) language that means "parties" or "celebrations." The word refers to what Gypsies would do when they met each other on their travels: get together and share songs, stories, music, food and dance, states Savell. Patshiva, a group of eight, share their talent and passion with Juneau continually through performances. Additionally, students can take classes from a few members.

At Pavitt Health & Fitness, Savell offers tribal-style belly dance from 7:30-8:30 Monday nights. She said she does get a lot of new people, and dedicated students keep coming back for more.

Group member, Maren Thomas, 30, teaches what she calls "tribal fusion," a blend of tribal and cabaret belly dance classes at the downtown JRC/The Alaska Club. Her focus is on group improvisation.

Thomas, who has been a member of Patshiva for two years, said belly dancing is a fun form of exercise and really works on strengthening core muscles and building a body/mind connection.

"It can be very empowering, especially for women," she said.

Another distinction between cabaret and tribal-style belly dance is the costumes. Tribal costumes draw on different cultures from the Middle East and North Africa, there is a lot more coverage, said Savell. Costumes exist of pantaloons, a full 10-yard skirt on top of it, one to two scarves and a hip belt. The Indian-style top, called a choli, sometimes has a decorative bra covering and lastly head wraps are applied.

She explains there is more emphasis on rich textiles and heavier jewelry.

"We try to have a group costume that leads to the cohesiveness and style of group," she said.

Members of Patshiva also play their own music at performances, incorporating drums or percussion, another extension of their creativity.

Each member contributes their own style and favored dance moves.

"It really can be challenging to balance all the styles but (it) also lends variety and makes the show more different than others," Savell said.

Students can learn more at Juneau's third annual Midwinter Shimmy belly dance workshop, Feb. 2-4, from professional instructor Jane Archer of Euphoria Studios in Portland, Ore. Classes will held by Pavitt Health & Fitness and American Legion in Auke Bay. Concluding the workshop is a showat 8p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, at The Island Pub with performances by Patshiva and followed by Archer.

For more information on the workshop or performances, contact 586-3557.