Bellies up

Durango dancers aren’t out to impress anyone but themselves

“It kind of brings out your inner goddess,” said Amanda Aung of the Mataholla Moon Belly Dance Troupe. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald photos

“It kind of brings out your inner goddess,” said Amanda Aung of the Mataholla Moon Belly Dance Troupe.

A keen but unknown observer of the sexes once said, “The difference between the way women look at men and the way men look at women is like the difference between throwing a bullet and shooting it.”

Perhaps this is true of men who watch the members of Durango’s Mataholla Moon Belly Dance Troupe perform, but when their significant others are present, you’d never know it, said belly dancer Amanda Aung. She said men are more likely to study their shoes than watch the dancers if watching the show with their wives or girlfriends.

The troupe put on one of its semi-regular stage shows Friday at the Abbey Theatre. Aung, and other dancers, said women in the audience, especially those older than 50, are far more enthusiastic and vocal at their performances than are the men.

“I think (they men) don’t quite know how to react to it because it’s like, ‘well, I know I’m not supposed to get out dollar bills,’” Aung said.

Mataholla Moon came by its name about 10 years ago by combining the first syllables of the names of its founding members. It’s one of several belly dance troupes in Durango. Members range in age from ladies in their early 30s through 60.

That Mataholla Moon gets such strong reactions from women at its performances is no surprise to members Tanya Lawyer and Tara Kiene, who said the original purpose of belly dancing was not to seduce men but rather to celebrate womanhood.

“Belly dancers usually dance for other women, not for men,” Lawyer said.

Kiene added: “That’s really a Western overlay and interpretation.

Belly dancing has continually changed over time as it spread from the Middle East through Europe, borrowing from the dance traditions of those areas. Kiene said Mataholla Moon and other troupes infuse traditional styles with more modern American influences such as hip-hop and jazz.

The celebration of womanhood takes on various meanings for the members of Mataholla Moon. For Aung, the mother of two young children, the moves they practice, which accentuate the hips, belly and chest, are a celebration of what it means to be a mother.

“We cradle them in our hips when we carry them and feed them from our breasts,” Aung said, noting these same movements can also help in childbirth because it strengthens the abdominal muscles.

Other members, including Lisa Smith, said they enjoy the pageantry of their practices and performance.

“What other art form can you do where you get dressed up, put on makeup, put on all this awesome jewelry and gorgeous clothing ... and you get to exercise too?” Smith asked.

Marty Ragle, 60, said she enjoys the friendship and acceptance she has received from the younger members of the group, all of whom she has known for years.

“It’s great for me to have these women as friends because it keeps me young,” Ragle said.

“She’s a hot 60-year-old,” Lawyer said.

slewis@durangoherald.com.

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