The timeless art of the belly dance comes to GV |

The timeless art of the belly dance comes to GV

Eileen JoyceSydney Hunt of Grass Valley (left) follows the moves of teacher Jacquie Castileja-Bucknell during a belly-dancing class at the Grass Valley Senior Center Tuesday.
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Swerving hips, shuffling feet and gyrating to the percussive, somber beat of a sitar, drums and pan flutes, Jacquie Castileja-Bucknell danced across the Grass Valley Senior Center floor.

“All this hip motion, ladies, it’s all in your thighs,” she said Tuesday, the gold pieces of her hip scarf jangling to the rhythm of the Arabic beat.

Castileja-Bucknell stood in front of a half-dozen adventurous if timid middle-aged women just learning the ancient art of the belly dance.

Tuesday was the first time Sydney Hunt of Grass Valley had ever tried a dance guaranteed to melt the heart of the most hardened man.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time,” she said. “I love the grace of it. I’ve always been drawn to it.”

Hunt said she hoped the trance-like dance would improve her ballroom dancing skills.

“I’m hoping this will give me a little more grace,” she said.

Though it may be hip these days to bash Arabic culture in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Castileja-Bucknell insists that the sensuous moves of the belly dance, with supple hips providing slithery moves, is increasingly popular.

For Castileja-Bucknell, 60, the dance is almost like religion.

“It’s just blossomed,” said Castileja-Bucknell, who took up the dance 12 years ago. “Everybody’s belly-dancing, and they’re doing it to keep in shape.”

The class teaches traditional Egyptian dancing, which employs shimmery hip scarves adorned with gold chains that jangle as you sway your hips, swing your lower back, shake your derriere and – well, you get the picture.

“You can strengthen your back, and this gives you flexibility,” Castileja-Bucknell said.

There are other more slightly risque qualities to the dance, which has been known to make many a man weak in the knees.

“It’s like a beautiful flower that you look at. You have to be able to appreciate it as a beauty and not necessarily as a sexual activity,” Castileja-Bucknell said. “It’s meant to be a beautiful dance.”

In the Middle East, entire families, including men,create virtual dance halls in their living rooms, prancing and swaying to beats that make Ravi Shankar’s music seem like child’s play.

“You know, ballet is a lot more sensual,” Castileja-Bucknell said. “With this dance, we always have our legs together and our feet on the ground.”

Henrietta Gillis of Grass Valley, who stopped by the center just to watch, has tried the forbidden dance.

“I love it. It’s a very sexy dance,” she said, “though I never was really good with the cymbals. I don’t know if I could do it now, but I once was able to bend down all the way to the floor.”

And lest you think a size-4 body is required to perform the dance, relax.

“Thin people have to work harder to make a shimmy,” Castileja-Bucknell said.

Shake your hips

The belly dancing class is offered Tuesdays at 3;30 p.m. at the Grass Valley Senior Center. The cost is $3 for Senior Center members, $4 for guests. For information, call the center at 273-4961.

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