Beyond Belly Dance fest to feature workshops, international guest stars

The roots of belly dancing run deep, but also far and wide. Steps and techniques differ in Egypt and Turkey, in Lebanon, Morocco and Algeria. But even with the overwhelming popularity of belly dance in the United States, many of those nuances are lost to modern students.

"You don't see that with other world dances," says Sonia Burns, producer of the Beyond Belly Dance 2013 festival scheduled for this weekend. "When somebody signs up for a salsa class, they know they're taking Latin dance. When somebody thinks of samba, they think of Brazil; when they think of flamenco, they think of Spain. With belly dancing, they think of Shakira. They don't understand that it has a cultural context."

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Burns, who grew up in Arvada, has spent the past decade honing her craft as a belly dancer, performing at festivals, restaurants and private events across the state. In addition to appearances at the yearly Renaissance Fair in Larkspur and regular performances with the Bella Diva Dance Troupe, Burns has taught classes at the Arvada Center and the Avant-Garde School of Dance.

Her studies drew from a range of styles and idioms, Burns says, and that diversity will have a big role in the Beyond Belly Dance Festival. The event started three years ago as an informal meeting of musicians, dancers and students, and Burns has worked to make it a broader celebration of world music and world dance.

"There will still be belly dancing in the show. That's my foundation," Burns says. "But I like the idea that belly dancing doesn't exist in a vacuum. There are other dances that led to belly dancing, and traditional belly dancing has spawned its own forms, too."

A workshop series on February 16 and 17 at Kim Robards Dance will include classes by Miriam Peretz, a California-based instructor who will focus on Moroccan Shikhat, classical Persian and folkloric Persian styles. Egyptian musician Karim Nagi will lead lessons on Arabic percussion technique and rhythms, and a line dance from the Levant called Dabke.

"As a self-respecting belly dancer, I can't get hired without knowing Dabke," Burns notes. "They do it at every wedding."

Nagi will also lead a lecture that delves into the structure of Arabic music. "That's something that musicians and dancers can go to," Burns adds.

The showcase performance slated for 8 p.m. Saturday, February 16 at the Denver Center for International Studies will feature performances by Burns, Peretz and Nagi, as well as modern belly dance fusion pieces by the Bella Diva Dance troupe.

"Peretz and Nagi will both perform their specialties," Burns says. "We also have flamenco, samba and a Bollywood routine. We've got some traditional belly dancing, some modern fusion dancing. It will be a pretty good mix."

That ambitious mix of styles, performers and music is an element that Burns wants to keep constant in future festivals. Modern belly dance incorporates cues from a wide range of cultures and a broad set of histories; the festival is designed to convey that sense of history.

"I want to continue bringing out new teachers, with the same idea," Burns adds. "It's for belly dancers who want to expand their knowledge of traditional dance. At the same time, it's open to the general public, people who want to learn about dance from the Middle East and North Africa."

The Beyond Belly Dance 2013 festival runs February 16 through 17 at the Kim Robards Dance studio. The festival showcase will be held at 8 p.m. February 16 at the Denver Center for International Studies. Tickets for classes are $30 in advance and $35 at the door; tickets for the showcase are $20 in advance and $22 at the door. You can register online at Bellydance by Sonia.