Hi everyone. Ronnie again. I’ve been meaning to write about San Andres’ new hit belly dance scene, but that very same awesomeness has been so (thrilling but) exhausting that I tend to doze off whenever I pick up my pen! As of our second week here, I have been teaching belly dance and dance-aerobics fusion classes to the wonderful señoras, señoritas, and even niñas of San Andres. (For an idea of what kind of belly dance I’m talking about, click here.)
The reason I decided to start this project is because there are so few all-female activities here. Males here have soccer and basketball games almost every night, but women and girls tend to stay home. They face many challenges. Rates of violence against women are high; teenage pregnancy is high as well and on the rise; and gender roles here are very rigid. We’ve seen that our host moms and sisters do the lion’s share of the daily housework and that girls are substantially less likely than boys to speak up in class.
Because of all this, it’s especially important for the women and girls here to have a space to talk, support one another, and build their confidence. Belly dance helps break the ice very quickly—Most subjects just aren’t that awkward after talking extensively about butt squeezes. And, as you might imagine, the dance certainly is a confidence builder. The photos provide a little glimpse into how beautifully the students are doing.
I’ve been catering my classes to the different age groups that come. For my morning (mainly) teenager classes, there is much more Shakira and hip-hop to be heard, and we have ‘circle time,’ where we chat about our lives (and boyfriends) and where I get to stress the fem-power aspect of belly dance (for example, that we’re dancing for ourselves and for our GIRLfriends). We have each others’ phone numbers and talk outside of class too—I’ve already provided several boy-related pep talks!
For my evening and weekend classes, I add aerobics to the mix so that the señoras are sure to get a good workout, and I talk more about core muscles and health issues. Each group has its own choreography, and the señoritas have been so quick that they’ve already gotten through two dance routines and are asking for more! I have about 55 or 60 students, which is pretty substantial in a town of just several thousand people. And as for audience and fans, we certainly aren’t lacking! I don’t have an estimate on the number, but there is always a pretty big—and very enthusiastic—crowd of girls (no boys allowed!) that watches and often joins in!
One of my regulars is Byanka, a 16-year-old high schooler and percussionist in the banda that Jess is working with. She loves the classical middle eastern drum music that I introduced (between modern songs I sneak in some classics!) and inspired a hipwork session today that culminated in a room full of shimmies! Byanka has been a great student, and also a friend; we are always text messaging to keep up with each other.
Another one of my students is Evelyn, a mother of 2 who just a couple of years ago moved back here from Fairfax, Virginia (you heard right!), where she earned a living as a domestic cleaner for over 8 years. Evelyn didn’t know about San Andres’ Biblioteca until I moved my classes there and told her to bring her kids. She has come to almost every single one of my classes (6 days a week), and now takes daily English lessons with her 10-year-old son to make sure that they can hold onto and improve their English. Her adorable 4-year-old daughter, Michelle, often joins our dance sessions (in between drawing or playing downstairs with other volunteers).
This week classes are more intense than ever because we have a big event coming up! The señoras and I are preparing for their San Andres Noche Cultural (Cultural Night) on the 12th of September. They are already looking great, and so I’m just making sure their posture is correct and working on musicality and timing. We are all so excited for the big day—I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!