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North Park Teacher Shows How to Belly Up to Exotic Tradition

By Cynthia Robertson

SDUN Reporter

Lucia Herlinda (second from left), with her Flamenco-style dance troupe, performs at special events around Southern California. (Cynthia Robertson/SDUN)

Twelve years ago, Lucia Herlinda went out for Greek food at a restaurant. Her life was forever changed as she sat and watched a belly dancer perform while dining.

“I became intrigued,” said Herlinda, who now teaches classes at Dancing Unlimited on 30th Street in North Park. “So I began belly dance classes for exercise and loved it.”

Herlinda has fallen into step with the history and tradition of belly dancing as much as with the dance itself. She has made the dance her after-hours life following her “day job” as a gala show producer.

In 2005 Herlinda won the Belly Dancer of the Universe award, a coveted title in the belly dance world given annually at a Long Beach competition. This year, she also won the third runner-up in the Fusion Category, as well as the Congeniality award.

Research of the dance and its history has taken her across the world. Recently, she returned from a trip to Egypt, where she studied Oriental belly dance and Folkloric dance at the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival in Cairo.

“I attended workshops for six days, then toured Cairo, took a Nile cruise, went sightseeing, and stayed in Giza for nearly another week,” she said. “It was fabulous.”

“I’ve always wanted to see the pyramids, the Sphinx, King Tut, and other amazing historical sites in Egypt while studying and learning more about the culture,” she said “The country has an amazing history.”

Some say belly dancing, also known as Raqs Sharqui or Oriental Dance, began in Turkey, where women in harems performed for the Sultans and other royalty. Others say it began in Egypt as a dance for women, then for kings.

Through time, Herlinda explained, the dance has changed dramatically with fusion of western influence. Costuming has become more elaborate with jewels, colors, feathers, and other contemporary fibers. The costumes can range from $50 to several thousand dollars.

Just as Herlinda became mesmerized with the art of belly dancing, so have thousands of women, and even men, within the last decade, she said.

“It is more popular than ever,” she said.

At the Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival, there were hundreds of dancers from all over the world—with diversity in age, size, style, and ethnicity.

“This is spectacular,” Herlinda said about the range of people. “The dance and passion is truly international and inspiring on a worldwide basis. Mankind has recognized the artistic value and beauty of the dance while encouraging its continuity.”

Though Herlinda makes belly dancing look easy with her shimmies and undulations, it most certainly is not something that can be picked up in just a few days.

“There are many muscle isolations and core-strengthening moves,” she said. “The music is often complex with varied rhythms and intensity. It can take at least six months to a year to learn basic movements.”

Herlinda also gives private dance lessons. Some of her students are artists with dance backgrounds, making it possible for them to learn belly dance quickly.

Many of her students also perform.

“I invite those who wish to perform to prepare for their first performance and work with them to make it an enjoyable, memorable experience,” she said.

Although she said many of her students are initially reserved, within a short time they discover the joy of sharing Middle Eastern dance with others.

“Students learn to ‘cut loose’ and to relish each move like no other,” Herlinda said.

Within the last decade, Herlinda has performed in, founded, and directed several troupes. Her first experience with troupe work occurred within a year of dancing when she joined a folkloric troupe, the Arab-esque Dance Ensemble.

“It was a fantastic experience and inspired me to eventually commence and direct my own troupes,” she said.

Within five-six years, Herlinda co-founded the Oriental Jewels. Additionally, she founded and is currently directing the troupes Raqs Cairo Ensemble, Veils of Arabia, and Sands of Arabia Ensemble. These troupes have performers from beginning to professional levels of skill, and they perform at a wide variety of events ranging from festivals and restaurants to private parties.

To find out when and where to see Herlinda and her troupes perform, go to Venues and Events.

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