Village Plains Tribal Fusion promotes belly dance in Opelika/Auburn area
By Alison James
Belly dance is a long-standing art that originated in Middle Eastern countries. It’s also an art form anyone can pick up right here in Opelika under the tutelage of Arianna, and an entertainment anyone can enjoy by seeing her dance troupe perform, Village Plains Tribal Fusion.
Arianna, who is originally from Lanett, began learning belly dance as a teenager with a group in LaGrange, Ga. A little over three years ago, she began teaching classes at Celtic Traditions in Opelika.
“This an art form that is still fairly new to Auburn and Opelika, and I think it’s an art form that could really do well here because it does build such a great community,” Arianna said. “It builds a huge web of artists around it.”
The community factor is part of what drew Arianna to belly dance to begin with, when she first started dancing in LaGrange.
“It was a big confidence booster, and the community is just fantastic,” Arianna said. “The troupe I started with, I was the youngest woman in the group, by 12 years. I was 18 at the time. But it was just like I had found friends through multiple generations and multiple walks of life. They stuck by me, I stuck by them – we still talk. We supported each other through hard times, and that’s what I wanted to bring here: that sense of community.”
And when some of her students began to show real ability, she decided it was time to bring the belly dance community to the rest of the community.
“We really wanted an opportunity to take the dance out to the public and not just keep it in class,” Arianna said. “I approached some of them – some of them had been in troupes before. Some of them had never bellydanced before, troupe-wise. They all said, ‘Yeah, let’s go for it.”
Gayla is one of the trip members to whom belly dance was a brand new experience when she began classes a couple years ago.
“I like the sisterhood of it,” Gayla said. “I stick with it because of the women involved. It’s not always easy to make friends, but it’s easy to make friends with them … (and) they have become more than just friends. They have become family in a lot of ways.”
And she joined that family in participating in the performance troupe.
“(Arianna) came to me with this harebrained idea that we were going to go out in public and dance,” Gayla said with a laugh. “I’ve never been in a dance troupe before. I’ve never even performed publicly before this. So it was definitely outside my comfort zone but a lot of fun.”
Nashiz, another troupe member, had a background in other forms of dance, but belly dance was new to her.
She found the class through a mutual friend, when both women were on a field trip with their daughters’ Girl Scout troop.
“She said, ‘I’m going to a hafla,’ which is a bellydance recital, and she said, ‘Why don’t you come with me?’ I said, ‘Bellydance recital? That’ll be great! Let’s go!’”
She was hooked after that performance. She said what she found challenged some of her preconceived ideas about belly dance.
“When you think about belly dance, a lot of people think it’s very risque, barely there costumes, but when I saw them, that wasn’t what it was about,” Nashiz said. “It looked fun. I wanted to do it. I had been looking for an exercise regime that would keep my interest.”
There are different forms of belly dance, but Arianna and her troupe perform tribal fusion, which she described as being more earthy and spiritual than flashy and sparkly. The group has performed at numerous local events, like Woofstock, Auburn Art Walk and the Opelika Christmas parade. They have also performed at the Uptown Drum Circle and Nerdacon in Columbus.
Although the troupe is a group of well-practiced women, “there’s always a performance opportunity for anyone in the classes,” Arianna said. The haflas, including an upcoming one May 2 at 3 p.m., allow new and experienced belly dancers alike to perform and watch other performers. These events are also open to the public.
For anyone who is interested in learning to belly dance, Arianna’s classes are held Monday nights and Saturday mornings at Celtic Traditions. Monday is basics and drilling. Saturday is more about choreographing combinations. She teaches anyone age 13 and older and can also offer private lessons and workshops.
“We have a lot to offer the community,” Arianna said. “We really want to show people that.”
Gayla said they want to encourage people not to be self-conscious or feel awkward about the idea of belly dance – for any reason.
“We’re not risque in our dances,” Gayla said. “We wear more clothes than most of the majorettes … Don’t think you’re too fat. Don’t think you’re too skinny. Don’t think you’re too old. Don’t think you can’t move your body in that way, because you can. It will take practice.”
For more information on classes and performances, visit Arianna’s website at www.ariannabdance.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find Village Plains Tribal Fusion on Facebook or visit http://vptfdance.wix.com/home.
But whether VPTF attracts new friends and new opportunities to perform or not, one thing remains true.
“We’re not doing this to impress anybody,” said Nashiz. “We’re doing it for the love of the dance, because we feel beautiful when we do it, and for the sisterhood of it.”