HOLISTIC HEALTH Ethnic dance helps women's confidence

More than just exercise, a dancer's image of herself improves.
In 2000, Ginny Engelhardt felt miserable. She had no energy, everything ached, and she was at her heaviest weight ever. She felt like she was in a downward spiral, too uncomfortable to even exercise. At the emotional level, she also longed to be in touch with other women. She had one brother, (and no sisters), a husband, and two sons. All her time was spent around masculine energies, sports, and activities that boys do.
She had no hobbies of her own, and little self-confidence. Between her family and her job as an ICU nurse, all her energy went toward taking care of others.
One day while in another room, she heard a TV commercial advertising a belly dancing exercise video with Neena and Veena Bidesha.
The music drew her in to watch the commercial, and inspired her to purchase the videos for exercise. She became so interested that she began studying with various teachers. She now owns Ginny's Bellydance Boudoir in Canfield, where she not only teaches belly dancing, but also Latin fusion, and is open to and welcomes all types of ethnic dance.
"When I first started dancing, I didn't want anyone to see me," says Engelhardt. "But I soon found that I knew all the moves, but didn't know how to put them together, or what moves went with what music. When I began studying with Lana Van Auker, of Canfield, she said to me, 'You look yourself in the mirror, hold yourself proud, and say "'I am a bellydancer, and I am great.''' I started to feel a return of my femininity, and wanted to share that with other women."
Knowing her place
When Engelhardt began teaching, she made it clear that she was a beginner teaching beginners.
"I didn't want people to think I was a fraud," she said. "But I wanted to create a safe and secure environment for other women, where there were no outsiders who might not understand ethnic dance, and might ridicule.
"I wanted to create a place where no one would judge, and we could experiment with different ways to use our bodies to express beauty. Here, there is no competition, and we all support each other as dancers."
Engelhardt stresses that every body size, every age, and every level of dancing ability is welcome. She wants all women to feel empowered through dance. "If someone felt that their hips were too big, my answer would be 'big hips make big, beautiful moves.' I know now that I am more feminine and beautiful than I gave myself credit for. This dancing brings out all the beauty of the feminine body, and helps you feel grounded," says Engelhardt. "It uses all the energy centers of the body [chakras], and helps them release tension."
Engelhardt feels that dancing helps distract women from life's other concerns. "You can't concentrate on dancing and think about other things," she says. "You are engaged in the present."
Heart beats
She also shares her thoughts about the spiritual philosophy connected with music and dance of Latinos, Mediterranean and Eastern peoples, and Native Americans: "The music is all percussive, like a heart beat. It makes us want to tap our feet and move our hips. It takes away the inertia, and is a great catalyst to get us moving. These earthy forms of dance are ancient. Women connect with them at a deeper level."
"They also draw out a desire to express emotions," she says. "There are female ritual dances for every major event in a woman's life: becoming a woman, getting betrothed, married, pregnant, starting a new career, ending a relationship, death.
"In Eastern culture, there is a symbolic dance for each event, and the people recognize it by its rhythm, just as we in America can recognize the difference between polka, country, and jazz."
From her own experience, Engelhardt feels that most women are limited to relationships with co-workers and family, and often do not make time for themselves a priority. She has seen women blossom through dance, and gain self-confidence, agility and grace.
"Dance helps women learn to assert themselves," she says. "That carries over to other aspects of life, like applying for a job."
Engelhardt emphasizes that the goal in class is never perfection or excellence, and that she is not really interested in performing, although she sometimes does.
She did get to have a personal lesson with Neena and Veena in California, and also danced at the Marrakesh Restaurant in Studio City.
"It is a Moroccan restaurant where all the people understand and support dancing. There is no mistaking sensuality for sexuality, or seduction for expression," she says. "Dance is part of their culture. It is holistic, healing, self-enriching."
XEngelhardt may be reached at (330) 533-2326. Ginny's Bellydance Boudoir is located at 558 E. Main St., Suite 202, Canfield.