By Marcas Dungavin


A Lexington Tale of Traditional Belly Dance - Introducing culture to the community through dance and music
The studio lights dimmed as the low murmur of the audience was replaced by the hypnotic beat of the doumbek. As the hand drumming continued, a feeling of anticipation washed over me. Gradually the stage lights faded on and drew everyone’s eyes to a still figure waiting motionless for her musical cue. The distinct ‘Doums’ and ‘Teks’ of the drum were joined by string instruments; a hauntingly beautiful and exotic sound that filled the space with its ebb and flow. The dancer’s body slowly came to life. Swaying hips, sinuous arms, and an undulating belly moved in tandem with the earthy beat. The woman was dressed in a crystal beaded bra and belt over long flowing skirts of blue and white. The slightest movement brought the dancers beads to life as they caught the light and sparkled and flashed under the soft sway.  It was mesmerizing.
Then the music changed, and so did the dancer. The ethereal sound of a violin rose above the song and washed over the audience. It gave me chills. The dancer began to glide across the stage to the melody and had a long flowing silk veil trailing behind her like some ghostly partner. It billowed above her, followed and circled her, and seemed to dance with her every command. The performance was amazing and the crowd gave genuine applause. And THIS was only the opening act.
That night we watched a number of soloists and troupes perform an assortment of dances that all belonged to a similar genre. Loosely categorized as Belly Dance, they actually come from a wide range of regions and ethnic backgrounds; North African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and even American Fusion. Despite their obvious differences though, they did share a commonality; whether Traditional, Folkloric or Fusion, they all were Eastern or Eastern -influenced dances. But the similarities seemed to end there. The diversity of dances we saw that night forced us to rethink what Belly Dance actually was. One thing for sure though, it was spellbinding!
When the show ended, a curtain call brought all of the performers back to the stage for a final bow. The dancers were an amazing collective of local, regional and international talent. It was obvious that these dancers were dedicated to their art. The professional performances, the authentic costuming and their passion for dance were a testament to that. They stood there before us and warmly accepted our applause, and I’m sure that at that moment they must have felt that the untold hours of preparation for the show were well worth their investment. Encore!
When the main studio lights came on there wasn’t a sudden urgency for the audience to exit.  We mingled amongst ourselves and with the performers and took the opportunity to explore the interior of this very special place. Not by any means an average dance studio, a lot has gone into giving this oasis its unique vibe. The ambiance was eastern edgy, very welcoming and had a positive energy about it.
Arabesque World Dance is a newcomer to Lexington’s Performance Art community. The positive splash they have made thus far is irrefutable, and yet far from complete.  This is their 3rd year providing a connection to the exciting art that they so skillfully represent, but the studio has much bigger plans.  In June of 2015 they brought International Hand Drumming Sensation, Karim Nagi to Lexington to teach Dance and Drum workshops at the studio. That was followed by a Gala show at the Farrish Theater that highlighted talented performers from across the Eastern United States. Karim wasn’t the first big name, nor will he be the last. Top billing for Arabesque’s Lexington shows will include nationally or internationally recognized artists to add a compelling dimension to their lineup. Every year, Arabesque’s Studio Director, Safiya Nawaar, intends to host those artists, who are also instructors, in order to produce an amazing show, and also provide her students with an eclectic and complete education. You heard right…students.  The Arabesque World Dance studio isn’t just a venue for amazing belly dance shows; it’s also a place for students, both beginner and advanced, to learn the ancient art of Belly Dance.
Some have a yearning for the stage. Others simply want to dance for fun and fitness. But all are welcome.
Safiya mentioned that the studio was designed to be, first and foremost, a school to teach and mentor the aspiring artist, and secondly a social venue where dancers can gather and share their knowledge and love of the art. Her own personal desire has always been to introduce culture to the community thru dance and music, and with her Lexington studio she’s doing just that. Safiya draws from over 15 years of belly dance experience in styles like Raqs Sharqi, Egyptian Folkloric, Lebanese, Turkish Rroma, Persian, and American Vintage. She has graced stages across the Eastern United States from Florida to Pennsylvania, and was the Troupe Captain of the Benat Sharkein dancers in Florida, and now has her own dance company in Lexington, Troupe Hala Alimah. With her extensive dance experience as a foundation, her studio’s success as a school of dance and as a show venue is sure to grow.
So whether you’re a dance enthusiast looking for a unique new style to learn, a fitness lover who’s yearning for exercise that’s challenging yet fun, or simply a spectator searching for a show that’s something new and exotic, Arabesque will have something for you.
If you would like to attend one of Arabesque’s annual shows, visit their events page and mark your calendars. ‘A Dancers Journey’ featuring Eva Cernik will be taking to the stage in June, and ‘Raq the Bluegrass’ and ‘Shimmy’ will return in the Fall.  Arabesque will also be joining the Lex Arts Gallery Hop in 2016 as a performing arts venue. Not only will they be displaying the works of some local visual artists, but during the actual Hop days (3rd Friday every other month, beginning in January), the studio plans to showcase local and regional performers in a free, open gala event that the public is welcome to attend.
Take the opportunity to visit this rare Lexington gem located at 451 B Chair Ave. You won’t regret it. A complete list of classes and events can be found at www.arabesquelex.com or by calling (859) 455-8991.