(Melina/Melinda Heywood at far left teaching in Newton Highlands, MA)
Boston Globe Calendar Article 10/3/02
By Monica L. Williams, Globe Correspondent
I'm still getting used to the looks. When friends find out that I've taken up
belly dancing, their eyes immediately drop toward my middle.
Attention was the last thing I was seeking when I decided earlier this year
to try this latest fitness craze. I hadn't gained a pound in my 20s. Then,
almost overnight, pockets of fat began to settle around my abdomen and hips.
Silently, I panicked.
Belly dance has long had a reputation for being a seductive and provocative
art form. But it's gaining respect as a legitimate dance and as a way to work
An Internet search turned up several classes nearby. Despite my fears, I
drive one evening to Karoun, a Newton restaurant that held drop-in sessions this
summer. About 30 women are warming up when I arrive. "Geesh, there are people
eating - and watching - here," I think, as I hide out in a booth. My college
sweats and yellow T-shirt must give me away, because soon I'm asked to join the
Most of the women appear to be in their 20s; some have exposed bellies and
fancy coin belts. The class is taught by Melinda Heywood, a second-generation
dancer (and Boston College French lit professor) who performs at Karoun on
weekends. Heywood guides us through a series of hip workouts. "Bang, bangbang,
bang, bangbang!" she coaches as we move our hips toward the outside of the
"This is easy," I think, as we shake to the sounds of Omar Faruk Tekbilek.
After all, I grew up in '70s Motown.
My bubble is soon deflated. Heywood throws in a few foot moves that trip me
up. Within seconds, I hear snickers from two young male diners. My first
thought: They're laughing at me. But Heywood's exultations of "good" and "that's
it" make me feel that I'm doing something right - not that I know what right is.
My arms ache from holding them over my head. The 8-year-old student seems to
be getting the hang of things a lot faster. I must have a "duh" look on my face
because Heywood says with a smile, "Fake it. I'm a huge proponent of faking it."
After one night, I'm hooked. But frankly, I'm not sure I can hang. So I drop
in - at classes throughout Greater Boston.
To my surprise - and delight - the six women who show up one night for class
at Robicheau Martial Arts in Georgetown all look older. Their shapes look more
like my mother's, but half of them are baring their midriffs. After a warm-up,
we try twists, shimmies, head slides, and hip lifts. The instructor, Amy Smith,
43, lends me a hip scarf and gently corrects my missteps. Smith produces a
newsletter and maintains a Web site on New England's burgeoning belly dance
Eventually, I brave an intermediate class at The Dance Complex in Cambridge.
Most of the students are wearing black tights - and black is for serious
dancers. I'm also wearing black, but the long skirt I've chosen is designed to
hide my figure.
OK, so maybe I'm not quite at the intermediate level yet. But my commitment
hasn't waned. My waist is more defined, but, no, the abs haven't shrunk; in
fact, my belly looks larger than it was a few months ago. Still, I have more
stamina, fewer backaches, a love for the art, and a new appreciation for my