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When the Music Pulls You in: An Interview with Piper Hunt

By N.A. Miller

At a table in the City Café on Cathedral St. in downtown Baltimore, you might walk by Piper Hunt and notice her lively eyes or her long strawberry-colored hair. You definitely couldn't miss her soulful laughter. But you might not realize you have just passed a woman who carries on a tradition of goddesses.

Hunt is a Renaissance woman of sorts. On May XX she will receive her Phd from Johns Hopkins University. She has lived all over the world and has a working first-hand knowledge of many foreign cultures. But before all this, she was a bellydancer.

  Picture her now as an audience might see her with those same strawberry waves of hair flying through the air, long skirts sparkling and swirling as she glides fluidly across the stage, hips swiveling in ways you didn't know a woman could move?all with a sword balanced on her head. See the goddess dancing now?

During her years as a professional bellydancer, Hunt experienced a little bit of everything. She has done more than 12,000 performances and even won Bellydancer of the Year in 2000 at a contest in California. Her story is rich in the memories of the music and the dance that she loves that have been an integral part of her whole life.

"My professional career started at age 14," said Hunt. "My mother hurt her knee and her boss said 'Let your daughter dance for you.' I was panicked.

By the time her mother, bellydancer Rhea, recovered, Hunt wasn't interested in stepping off stage. She did as many as five shows a night, seven days a week, working regularly with live bands. Hunt's career started in Greece, where she and her family move so that her mother could make a living as a bellydancer. Hunt had few formal lessons. She grew up around the dance, so it came naturally to her.

Hunt started dancing professionally in tourist clubs in Athens. These establishments had stages and live Greek music. Before long, she also danced at Arabic clubs.

"The music pulls you in. The Middle Eastern, Arabic music- its so complex. And the audience at Middle Eastern clubs, it's their dance, they know this dance. At a Greek or American club people clap at the showy parts. But when you're doing a show for Egyptians, they pay attention, they clap at the hard parts," she said.

Nowadays Hunt spends more time in a white lab coat at Johns Hopkins than she does in her hip belt. She is about to earn her degree in human genetics and molecular biology. Her main area of study focuses on trafficking in lyosomes, which has to do with how cells in the body get nutrients from one place to another.

Still she finds time to teach two classes a week at Morton Street Dance Center in Baltimore. "With my students, I really want them to learn how to dance and how to carry themselves. I want them to be able to project inner joy, which is the whole purpose of the dance," she said.

This interview first appeared in