Shimmying their hips and undulating their torsos, more than a dozen belly dancers will fill Mayo Street Arts in Portland on Saturday during Raqs Afire, a two-hour show that brings together dancers from Maine, the United States and Canada for a night of intriguing dance, exquisite costumes and Middle Eastern music.

“In this show, I’m showcasing a lot of different styles of belly dance,” said organizer and belly dance sensation Rosa Noreen of Portland. “It will be an exciting array of music and dance inspired by Middle Eastern dance.”

In addition to raqs sharqi, those dance styles will include Turkish rom, American tribal and fusion. Expect some of the performances to be more theatrical; others more serene. Some dancers may even weave their way through the audience, offering an up-close look at the costumes and techniques.

As a staple of Middle Eastern and Indian culture, many people in these countries – men included – often learn basic belly dance moves as children. But in this country, people typically discover an affinity for belly dance as adults.

Noreen’s own path to belly dance illustrates this phenomenon.

As a child, Noreen studied ballet extensively. She eventually enrolled in the prestigious Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, Mass., at age 16, and trained to become a professional ballet dancer.

But an injury sidelined her from the dance studio, and she was forced to change her major to visual arts. After graduation, she went on to study liberal arts at Sarah Lawrence College.

Once back in Portland, Noreen sorely missed dancing. One night when she was coming home from a yoga class, she noticed through an illuminated window on Forest Avenue that a group of people were having a really good time dancing.

Determined to find out more, she eventually learned she had witnessed a belly dance class.

“It took over my life,” Noreen said. “At one point, I was taking four classes a week.”

Now she teaches her own classes at her studio, Bright Star World Dance on Congress Street, and is frequently invited to dance at various national belly dance festivals. Raqs Afire marks the fifth time Noreen has organized a belly dance showcase in Portland.

“It’s my personal mission to put on shows that will draw people who normally wouldn’t think of going to belly dance shows,” she said.

Unlike ballet or other formal dance genres, belly dance is a much looser art form.

“Belly dance has a lot of room for individual interpretation and creativity,” Noreen said. “When performed at the fullest capacity, it’s the dancer’s interpretation of the music. It’s improvised in its ultimate expression.

“Belly dance in its purest form is a folk art, like salsa, whereas ballet is specifically designed for the stage.”

What this means for belly dancers is that practice time is no less important, but it takes on a different flavor and function.

“I like to listen to the music a lot (to prepare for a performance),” Noreen said. “I want to get it into my body and my brain, so I know what’s coming next. I do think about stage use a lot, and where I want to be at a particular point in the music.

“At first, I start with nothing, just me and the music. Then I dance to it over and over, and a pattern emerges.”

Those who attend Raqs Afire will see how that pattern plays out on the stage.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

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