Dance like an Egyptian

by Lindsay Craven

‘It’s 7:30 p.m. and the ladies line up, moving their bodies in a serpentine motion as their coin belts jingle to the rhythm of Middle Eastern music.

On this night they work on the Raks Assaya, a cane dance. Teresa Dickerson, the class instructor, explains that the dance originated in Egypt and was created to mock a men’s martial-arts stick dance called the Tahib. This intermediate bellydance technique class gathers here once a week to work on choreography for future live performances around town, but they also gather together as a dance family. “These ladies didn’t think about anything tonight except about the step and where that cane was supposed to be,” Dickerson said. “It’s like a beautiful escape for not a lot of money. It’s a vacation from life for as long as you’re in here.” Dickerson, better known as Saphira to her students, began to love bellydancing before college. She trained with a former professional dancer from Las Vegas who studied under Bert Balladine, a well respected instructor in the bellydance community. “She was just beautiful and the movements were beautiful and I thought that this was the most incredible thing I had ever seen in my life,” Dickerson said. “I fell in love with it right from the start.” Dickerson put a pause on dancing to attend college at Eastern Carolina University and UNC- Charlotte. She received certification to become a high school English teacher but after spending time teaching she realized that dancing was much more satisfying. She began taking classes with Samra, an instructor in Mt. Airy, and rediscovered her passion for bellydance. Dickerson and Samra performed together for about two years before co-founding Three Graces Entertainment. The name Three Graces derives from Greek mythology. According to legend, the three graces presided over banquets and other entertainment events. They also served as the overseers of dance. Samra eventually left Three Graces and moved to Fancy Gap, Va. and now Dickerson runs the company full time, teaching over 80 students in seven classes a week plus private lessons and live performances. Three Graces Entertainment offers basic, beginner, intermediate and advanced bellydance classes as well as classes taught in Spanish, for pregnant women and instruction in poi, the art of spinning poi balls while incorporating bellydance movements. Classes stretch from Winston-Salem, Clemmons and North Wilkesboro to Valle Crucis and Boone. “Anyone can learn it, you do not have to prior dance experience at all,” Dickerson said. “You just have to have the desire and don’t quit — if you quit you’ll never learn it.” Dickerson’s students vary widely in age, size and personality. Her youngest student is only five and her oldest is just shy of 80 years old. But Dickerson says age has no affect on your ability to learn bellydance as long as the dancer has passion. The Three Graces Entertainment studio, once located on North Liberty Street, had to close once the classes continued to grow and the instructors found it difficult to choreograph large groups in the limited space available to them.

Now Three Graces calls Women’s Wellness & Fitness Center in Winston-Salem its headquarters. Other classes take place at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Clemmons, Forsyth Tech and Wilkes Community College. Despite the economy Dickerson says that her classes have only grown in the past few months. She has had the same class fees since she began Three Graces Entertainment in 2001. Dickerson says that many of her students begin the class after seeing “Shimmy Shimmy,” a bellydance workout show on FitTV or watching artists like Shakira who incorporate bellydance into their acts. These forms of bellydance represent American bellydance, she says. “It’s taken from Raks Sharki and classical Egyptian but the movements are a little larger, more out of the core whereas with classical Egyptian the movements go more inward,” Dickerson said. “[‘Shimmy Shimmy’] is not a bad thing but I think it’s not a substitute for a teacher by any means because you need a teacher to give you feedback.” Dickerson says that one of the biggest problems facing bellydance today lies in the stigma surrounding it. She thinks that the stigma exists mainly because it’s a relatively new form of dance. “We are educated women,” Dickerson said. “We’re bright, smart and intelligent women who like to bellydance. It’s not about seduction for men.”

Three Graces Entertainment; 690 Jonestown Road, Winston-Salem; 336.830.3479; www.