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Shimmy Away the Shyness: Belly Dance Classes Boost Self-Esteem

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Do I need to have a fit belly? What do I have to do with my belly?

These are questions that come to mind when you’re invited to your first belly dance class.

One minute with dance instructor Sarah Jane Melville, and worries melt away. Women of all ages, shapes, sizes and skill levels shimmy their shoulders, roll their hips and beam confident smiles.

“We were all scared when we first went, but I think this class helps bring out that inner self-esteem,” says Margaret Sundin-McCann, 54, who has been hooked since her first class three years ago.

Instructor Melville was once shy herself, living in a small town in England when she stepped into her first belly dance class with an Egyptian instructor, more than 20 years ago. “It changed me in such a positive direction, to start feeling beautiful,” she says. “And I see the change in the ladies. Some were coming in very closed and now they just light up. They’re empowered, embracing femininity and fun.”

The exact origin of belly dancing is unknown, but temple engravings depicting dancers have been found in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece from as early as 1,000 B.C.

“It brings out this primal instinct to move and be fluid with our bodies,” says Sundin-McCann. “We’re designed that way.”

Aurelia Gove, 70, who has been coming to Melville’s class since it began at Club Northwest in October 2013, is a belly dance believer.

“We were all crying last Christmas because of our changes and our improvements,” says Gove, who lost four inches in her waist after three months of combining belly dance and Zumba classes. “We were overwhelmed. It is showing on everyone and we are telling each other.”

Gove especially appreciates the ability to dance after 40 years in a wheelchair, due to debilitating fibromyalgia. At 67 years old, she found the right supplements to aid her condition, and belly dance was a beginning to a new vibrant life.

Doctors once told Gove her condition would only worsen, but she emphasizes the importance of never giving up. “It doesn’t matter what the condition is. Don’t buy it. I’m going to do everything I want to do. I’m going to strive for the best in this life, for quality of life. That’s called not buying it.”

Gove’s eyes fill with happy tears as she considers the physical progress she has made, but the most emotion comes as she considers her new friendships.

Melville concurs. “I love the friendships that are formed in there. It’s like a big family.”

The family also welcomes newcomers, as regulars run over to introduce themselves and provide the jingling hip belts that make each shake more fun.

“We are not judging each other. We are encouraging each other,” says Gove.

“It’s not about being a professional dancer,” says Melville. “It’s about connecting with the body more. You do what’s right in your own body.”

Benefits are not only physical and social, but emotional. “It boosts my mood and overall well-being,” says Jarita Irvin, 32.

Students agree that the positive energy begins with Melville, who has taught Latin dance and belly dance for more than ten years. “Her classes have grown so big because she is not only an exceptional instructor, but she is warm-hearted,” says Gove. “We have fallen in love with the class because of that, her loving and kind heart.”

On January 14, Melville will teach a free workshop from 11 am to 1 pm at Club Northwest, followed by a class from 1 – 2 pm. Non-members need to request their free pass in advance by calling Sarah at (541) 218-7051.

Melville also teaches four classes per week at Club Northwest. Classes are free for members or $14 for a day pass that includes access to all classes and facilities. Find out when classes are offered by visiting clubnw.com or by calling 541-955-2582.


Belly Dance Workshop

Jan. 14, 2017, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Club Northwest, 2160 NW Vine St., Grants Pass



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