For nearly 30 years, Jane Berube’s belly dancing group has made a difference in Olympia, one shimmy at a time.
Tired of traveling to Seattle or Portland for a belly dancing fix, Berube started the Mas Uda Middle Eastern Dancers to fill a void in the area. Aside from exposure to Middle Eastern music and rhythms, she said, the beauty of belly dancing is that anyone can participate.
“You don’t have to be 20 and in fantastic shape,” said Berube, who teaches year-round and especially enjoys dancing with finger cymbals.
Berube soon turned the group into a fundraising vehicle, starting with the Children’s Cancer Foundation. She was initially inspired by her 33-year-old son, Jervais, a long-term survivor of brain cancer.
On Saturday, the Mas Uda dancers hosted Evening at the Oasis at Olympia High School. Belly dancers from across the region participated in the charity performance, which will donate funds to the Carol Milgard Breast Center in Tacoma. The annual event has raised as much as $5,000. Past beneficiaries include North Thurston and Olympia education foundations. Mas Uda also performs a Christmas show for the Woman’s Club of Olympia.
In addition to Saturday’s performance, the group is raising money with an array of workshops all weekend. Saqra Raybuck, a belly dancer for 37 years, arrived Saturday from Kent to teach a workshop called Saqra’s Shimmy Dictionary. She said the shimmy, which she describes as the vibration or oscillation of the torso, is a “rest step” that can be relaxing after someone has been dancing for a while.
“There are 85 different kinds of shimmy that I teach regularly, and we’ll get through as many as I can,” she said before leading warm-ups with nearly a dozen workshop participants. Minutes later, Raybuck guided the class on one proper shimmy technique as she swiveled her hips in a figure-eight pattern. The women in the class shook their hips and jangled their coin belts.
“Make sure your gut is engaged and your butt is engaged,” Raybuck said as the class explored the world of shimmy while Middle Eastern music created an exotic ambiance.
Like other belly-dance groups in the area, Mas Uda has continued its charitable ways partly out of necessity. The charity angle means the groups pay less to rent facilities for performances, Berube said.
One of Saturday’s participants was Aberdeen resident Loni Hooper, who leads a pirate-themed belly dance group called Hips Ahoy. Hooper’s group performs throughout Grays Harbor and Pacific counties to benefit charities.
“We have dancers from all over the region,” said Hooper, noting that Hips Ahoy is the only group of its kind in the two counties. “There are lots of places to dance.”
CHECK IT OUT
Spots are still available for a pair of Sunday workshops hosted by Mas Uda. Registration begins at 10 a.m. for a workshop on Turkish Oriental style dancing; cost is $30. Registration for a Flamenco belly dance class begins at 12:45 p.m.; cost is $35. Workshops will be at the Olympia High School performing arts center, off Carlyon Avenue. All proceeds benefit the Carol Milgard Breast Center in Tacoma. To learn more, visit mas-uda.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 email@example.com