Hella Bellies

The Belly Dance Fantasy Festival is more than just an excuse for navel-gazing.

“That nurse taking care of you, she could be a belly dancer,” says Gabrielle Marshall. “Or that pharmacist.” Or that marketing manager, in Marshall’s case. She has her day job, but after work she still finds time to put on her elaborate costume and perform as “Bashira” in the Good Vibrations dance troupe — the headlining act in this Saturday’s Belly Dance Fantasy Festival at the San Leandro Marina Center (15301 Wicks Blvd., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., $5).

The all-day festival is packed navel-to-navel with artistes from the Bay Area’s huge belly dance community. More than fifty individual dancers and ensembles are tightly scheduled into the day’s events, with time out for movement and yoga workshops, a shopping bazaar for costumes and jewelry, and live music by such artists as Sirrocco, Walking Maksoom, and Ellen Cruz. Many of the dances are based on rituals of everyday life, Marshall explains, and dance styles include Egyptian, Turkish, and Tunisian, each of which is distinguished by its music. Overseas political tensions notwithstanding, belly dancing in America is a deliberately cross-cultural enterprise. “If anything,” says Marshall, “the belly dancing community has raised awareness of Middle Eastern culture.”

The festival is the brainchild of Tatseena, choreographer and director of the Good Vibrations troupe — no relation to the female-friendly sex shop. Good Vibrations’ twenty members, who range in age from 15 to 58, clearly see belly dancing as more than just a harmless, arguably sexy spectacle. To its participants, it’s a way of life. Stopping in at Tatseena’s polished Web site (tatseena.vajravision.com) opens up a vast, unfamiliar world to the uninitiated, yet the 32-year-old Marshall insists it’s a warm and cuddly place to be. The troupe, like the festival, provides “someplace where we can do what we want, a place where we can celebrate our sisterhood,” says Marshall, who has been studying the art form for four years. “It’s not just a dance group, it’s a support group. It’s really an uplifting experience, a celebration of our womanhood.” Veiled references aside, she’s got a point there.

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