By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor
Who knew there was a whole belly dance “community” in and around Glens Falls?
Lisa Bohannon of Queensbury says she tapped into just that when she started taking, then teaching, belly dance classes — most recently at the Glens Falls YMCA. A core group of 25 women attends her Sunday afternoon classes.
Now she’s organized Coalescence: An Evening of Belly Dance at the Wood Theater in downtown Glens Falls on Saturday, April 25.
Time: 7 p.m. Tix: $9.50, $8.50 in advance, Box office: 480-4878.
The show — featuring amateur and professional belly dancers —is a benefit for Randy’s Patient Assistance Fund at the Charles R. Wood Cancer Center.
It’s fitting, Ms. Bohannon said, because many of her dancers are cancer survivors or professionals who come to her through the Cancer Center. Because sponsorships will cover the theater rental and other costs, 100 percent of proceeds will benefit Randy’s Fund, she said.
Dancers will include Ms. Bohannon’s own SunDancers amateur troupe, belly dance instructor Kim Fitzpatrick of Core Exercise Studio’s professional group Kalila’s Jewels, Ms. Tina’s Tribal Belly Dance Company of Ballston Spa, Habiba Belly Dance of Albany, and the Three Early Girls from Syracuse and Ithaca.
SPoT Coffee will furnish beverages, and Pinky Bakester will provide desserts. There will also be an extensive basket raffle, Ms. Bohannon said.
She says she kept the price low, under $10, because “I’d rather have a full house than just a few people there for a bigger ticket.”
Started with WACM dance class
Ms. Bohannon says her entry into belly dance started when she and her sister brought their mother to a series of belly dance workshops offered by the World Awareness Children’s Museum, when WACM was still located in the Godnick’s building (now SPoT Coffee) on Glen Street.
When the class ended, she and a friend kept dancing — first, in the friend’s living room — until more friends joined them.
“Then the living room got too crowded,” and they moved to space provided by Caldwell Presbyterian Church in Lake George, where Ms. Bohannon was affiliated. At some point, Ms. Bohannon naturally took over teaching the others.
“I’m not a pedigreed teacher,” she asserts. “So I don’t charge for the classes.”
A fateful moment came when Vickie Yattaw — oncology nurse-educator at the C.R. Wood Cancer Center — got in touch.
“Her women there, they do health and exercise workshops, and they told her ‘we would like to learn to belly dance’ — jokingly.”
“She said be careful what you wish for,” Ms. Bohannon recalls. “I know somebody.”
Her first class, “On a Tuesday afternoon: Forty-two women came.”
The next week, her class at the church grew by 15 women — “we were elbow to elbow,” class member Alesa DelSignore joked during a group interview with several of the dancers on Monday.
Eventually, the group landed at the Glens Falls YMCA. They practice Sunday afternoons when the aerobics room is clear.
The Y provides the space at no charge, through the Forever Strong program for cancer patients and survivors. Entry is typically by word of mouth. The class is nearly full again — but Ms. Bohannon says she can hook someone up with other local classes if they’re interested. E-mail to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why belly dance?
“My mantra is, I don’t sweat,” Ms. Bohannon says. “I never had great luck at a gym. For me, it was: I wrote the check, isn’t that enough? But when this group says they’re going to come out with me every week, how can I not do it?”
For the record, several of her dancers say they do sweat during class — but they’re happy with it. Some also dress up in flowing skirts and makeup, scarves and even beaded and fringed belly dance bras, “to get into the spirit of it.” Sweats and workout gear are acceptable, too.
Ms. DelSignore said, “It gives you flexibility, coordination, using your brain when you exercise and feeling graceful.”
She says, “I struggled with my weight a lot, and I hated exercise.” Her aunt brought her to Ms. Bohannon’s class and “that all changed. Not only is it good exercise, it teaches you to love your body, and accept it the way it is.
“I started to accept myself and even enjoy my body. It’s so empowering.”
She says she lost 60 pounds.
“You start to take care of yourself and work with your body instead of against it. That started spilling into the rest of my life, and I started to treat myself better, with the food I was eating and how hard I was on myself. Dancing just makes you happier.”
Angela Phillips calls herself “obsessed with exercise.” She also happens to be in remission for 10 years now from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She says belly dance makes perfect sense for cancer patients. “It’s a much more gentle way to treat your body. It makes you feel good all over.
“I’m the kind of person, always covered up, but when I’m wearing the belly dance costume, whatever body image issues I have, it’s not there.”
“Belly dance is nothing like the stereotype,” the dancers said. “There’s no jewels in the belly buttons” — “but we do jingle on the way into the gym,” from the decorated scarves and bras.
“It’s for women of all ages and sizes and experience,” Ms. Bohannon says. “We have mothers and daughters and grandmothers. We have cancer survivors, caregivers, funeral directors, social workers, state workers, teachers, engineers, moms.”
The show, they say, is not about ogling although it can be “sensual.”
Dance teacher Ms. Fitzpatrick, who goes by the stage name Kalila, asserts, “It’s not our fault that confidence is sexy.”
Ms. Bohannon said she got the idea for the fund-raising event last August when she danced with Kalila’s Jewels at the New York State Fair, and the group collected donations for the American Cancer Society.
“I said, I bet we could do this at home. No one told us we couldn’t, so we did.”
The SunDancers also perform for the Relay for Life and Making Strides cancer walk. For most of the SunDancers, however, the Wood show will be their first time dancing on stage for a paying audience.
Ms. Bohannon says, “Our biggest goal is to raise as much money as we can for Randy’s Fund.”
Benefits Randy’s Fund, patients
Ms. Phillips says, “As a cancer patient, I love doing this because it goes back to the community. So many people helped me. As a person who didn’t have insurance at the time of my illness, I know those donations make a huge difference.”
Randy’s Fund provides patients with gas cards, lodging assistance, cell phone minutes, and prescription, radiation and chemotherapy co-pay assistance, up to $350 per person, per year.
Besides the good cause, Ms. Bohannon says, “For less than the cost of a move, you’ll get a live two-hour performance with professional dancers, and us sprinkled in. There are so many different reasons to come to this. There’s a good chance you’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s empowering, and family friendly.”
Find more info about the SunDancers on Facebook — search for SunDancers Community. There’s also a Facebook page for the Coalescence event, and details at www.WoodTheater.org.
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