BELPRE-At a belly dancing studio tucked in the back of a plaza in Belpre, several women recently took a lesson, trying their very best to master a unique form of dance.
"It's a bit challenging but it's fun and we like it," said Belpre resident Cyndi Condrey, 49, who is taking the class with a friend.
Jessica Duckworth, who started taking belly dancing lessons about 10 years ago at the age of 17, opened up the studio in June and now she's preparing to start her third set of sessions.
ASHLEY RITTENHOUSE The Marietta Times
Women participate in a belly dancing class at the Gypsy Rhythms studio in Belpre.
Attendance numbers indicate there is strong interest in the activity.
"The last session I had 11 people and I might be at 12 right now," she said. "Thirteen is my limit in each class - I want everyone to have the attention. If you get more than that, it's too much to manage."
The next sessions at the Gypsy Rhythms studio begin Sept. 20, with children's and beginners' classes scheduled for 6 to 7 p.m. and intermediate classes beginning at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays.
If you go
What: Belly dancing lessons.
Where: Gypsy Rhythms, Washington Square Plaza, Washington Boulevard, Belpre.
When: Children's and beginners' classes are from 6 to 7 p.m. with intermediate classes at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays.
Cost: $60 for six weeks.
For information: Jessica Duckworth, (304) 615-6826.
For Parkersburg resident Clarice Johnson, 28, the draw has been the workout.
"That's the most motivating piece is working out without trying," she said. "And I listen to a lot of funky music and a lot of this is incorporated into the genre I listen to."
Johnson and her mother, Parkersburg resident Pamela Johnson, 52, just recently started belly dancing lessons.
"I got the belly dancing CDs but I've never been motivated on my own to do it," said Pamela Johnson. "I like the music and the movements."
Although Duckworth didn't start taking lessons until she was 17, she became familiar with belly dancing long before that through her mother, who belly danced as a hobby.
When Duckworth was 17, she saw a television program that featured a belly dancer, and it prompted her to follow in her mother's footsteps.
"There's so much energy and it's so exotic," she said. "It's mesmerizing."
Belly dancing can be traced to the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Africa.
Historical evidence shows Egyptian tomb paintings dating from as far back as the 14th century BC depicting partially clad dancers whose positions look very much like those used in belly dancing.
Those in Duckworth's beginner's class were recently learning how to move their hips in a circular motion while keeping the upper half of their bodies completely still.
Many of them wore coin sequined skirts and with every move they made, a jingling sound filled the studio.
At first, picking up on the movements can be a bit tricky, according to Duckworth. For instance, training one's hips to form a backwards figure eight doesn't exactly come naturally at first.
"At first it's actually not the physical challenge that's the hardest, it's the mind challenge," she said. "You're learning to move your body in ways that you had no idea (you could move it in)."
Duckworth took lessons at the YWCA in Parkersburg until it closed, then she took classes in Morgantown, as well as Charleston.
She has performed at many venues, including the Smoot Theater in Parkersburg, the Mid-Ohio Valley Multicultural Festival in Parkersburg, at birthday parties and in restaurants.
To this day, she still belly dances with three of the women she started out with 10 years ago.
One of them is Parkersburg resident Kim Honey, who assists Duckworth with teaching classes at the studio.
"I started it as an exercise class after I had my fourth child," she said. "I thought it would be fun and not too strenuous."
Honey said "definitely" anyone can belly dance - people of all ages, shapes and sizes.
"You can make it a good cardio workout or you can go easy," she said. "You can practice it anywhere. You don't need equipment."
Fran Williams, of Vienna, belly danced several years ago but had to give it up because she didn't have time for it.
She recently started taking classes at Gypsy Rhythms.
"It's a chance to fellowship with other women - it's a unique type of dancing for any person," said Williams, 66. "As you get into it, you learn more and more and more."