The clink of cymbals and staccato hip stabs, graceful arm movements and undulating bellies.
It's belly dancing, and for some Festival of the Arts performers Saturday with the Aalim Dance Academy of Oklahoma, it's more than just a dance.
It's a passion, an ancient art form with long-term personal appeal, performers said.
Kathleen Redwine, a professor who teaches dance and dance history at the University of Oklahoma, goes by the stage name Najma when performing with her belly dance troupe. She began belly dancing about eight years ago.
“My husband gave me belly dance classes for Valentine's Day,” Redwine said. “I fell in love with this dance form. It's a passion for me, it's a great exercise.”
For Heide Brandes, whose stage name is Aini Amar, it's a dance made for women. Fourteen years ago, she was drawn into the dance form as an audience member. She doubted she could dance the way the performers she saw did.
“It was one of the most gorgeous dances I've ever seen,” said Brandes, who works in public relations and journalism.
A friend took lessons and got her into it. She's been belly dancing ever since.
“I love it,” she said. “It's such a woman's way of dancing. If you're a woman, you can belly dance. It was created for women, and that's what I like best about it.”
The belly dance show drew a large festival crowd at noon Saturday at the Cafe Stage.
The women performed in several styles, some from the heritage of the Middle East; others like tribal fusion, an American spin on the dance form.
The founder and director of the school, Soraya Al Musri, has operated belly dance studios for 30 years. Aalim was opened as a nonprofit in Oklahoma City in 1997, Musri said. Her performers have been an annual fixture at the festival for a decade.
Belly dancing has been handed down for generations, Musri said. Its rich rhythms and ancient roots make it an especially beautiful art form, she said.
“It's all about the music,” she said.
And how about the costumes?
Belly-baring is not the tradition of the Middle East, according to Musri.
“But because we are working and entertaining American audiences, we do bare our stomachs in cabaret costumes,” she said.
“These ladies get into it and they enjoy it so much.”
IF YOU GO
Sunday is the final day to catch Festival of the Arts.