A belly dancing class!  "Wow!" as one gentleman so enthusiastically  put it, and that about sums it up for most men.

Terrific exercise? Erotic fantasy? Seduction? Most of us think of belly dancing — especially some men — as a highly suggestive form of dancing done for the pleasure of the male gender. All of us, including women, imagine bare midriffs with maybe a gem in the naval,a highly decorated bra, wild suggestive movements of the hips, and see-through pantaloons with slits in them. All of this is done to seduce men — at least that is what they think.
Helen Meyers, who teaches folkloric belly dancing for the Hesperia Park and Recreation District at the Rick Novak Community Center in Hesperia, wants to correct that image so that people really understand what the folk dance is all about.

"The images that people have of belly dancers today came mostly from Hollywood," Meyers says.

HOLLYWOOD IMAGE

Indeed, with a look back at belly dancing as portrayed in our culture, you may remember the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby Road Pictures. Beautiful women in the aforementioned garb used their ample charms to lure the title characters into all manner of escapades which usually ended in laughter.  "Road to Morocco" comes to mind, here. If you are not old enough to remember the Road movies, then think Disney and Aladdin's Jasmine. Of course, there are the "Adventures of Sinbad" movies, too, and so many more that popularized the idea that belly dancing is a tool of seduction.

"In truth belly dancing's origins date back to the 1400s," says Meyers.

Belly dancing did not begin as a performance. At weddings and other celebrations, it was customary for men and women to be separated for religious reasons. The women would gather in their own room and celebrate by dancing together. No men were allowed.  The men on the other hand would dance together in another room. It was a time for family celebration, but the sexes did not celebrate together.

Being true to the traditional dance means wearing a lot more clothes than you might think, and the purpose of the clothing again different from what you might assume. The silvery or gold charms worn around the waist and over the hips represent real coins that were given to the groom as part of the bride's dowry. The celebrant would be wearing a long sleeve shirt with a decorative bra over it. A vest would cover that layer. Over the pantaloons a skirt would be worn. No part of the torso would be bare.

Women had tattoos that identified to which group they belonged. Sometimes women would be held for ransom by another tribe so it was important to keep the tattoo and the rest of the body covered.

"I would describe belly dancing as continuously moving yoga. It's a lot more fun, and a lot less performance. People tend to disconnect themselves from this (the lower) part of their bodies," says Michelle Wolfe, a 42-year-old nurse. She has been practicing belly dancing for a year and a half now. She says it helps her spondylthesis, a condition where the joints tend to slide. She has three compression fractures in her back because her muscles were not strong enough to hold the joints in place, she adds.

"We relax socially and a lot of sharing goes on. We go for coffee afterwards and we go to performances together," says Jamie Plotner, a 44- year-old teacher who says that belly dancing is part of her stress management plan.
 
Still there are those  — namely night custodians and dancers' husbands  —  who wouldn't mind a little peek in the old rec room to see how things are coming along.