Belly dancer shimmies her worries away

Empowering women to be comfortable with their body image through the art of belly dance.

Emily McEwan is 44 years old and has a love for belly dancing that is clearly visible by the way she smiles when describing the feeling it gives her. She believes that belly dancing has a positive impact on her life.

McEwan has always been interested in belly dancing and took classes in Scotland in 1992. However, the reason why she decided to start taking lessons in Halifax was to help her cope with the stress in her life.

Emily McEwan gets read to start her belly dancing class at Halifax's  Serpentine Studios (Photo by Katlyn Pettipas)
Emily McEwan gets ready to start her belly dancing class at Halifax’s Serpentine Studios (Photo by Katlyn Pettipas)

“It takes your mind off things. The thing that finally drove me to sign up for lessons was that I was having a hard time with some other aspects of life and I thought that I needed to try something that was completely different but also that I always wanted to do,” said McEwan.

McEwan quickly fell in love with belly dance and how it made her feel.

“I got some positive feedback when I started doing it so I kind of tucked that away in the back of my head because I had never gotten any positive feedback for how I moved my body to music before. I thought of myself as a klutz growing up, so it was kind of a shock to find out I could actually do this and feel good,” said McEwan.

While belly dancing was creating positive change within her own life, she was very happy to discover that her love for belly dancing could help empower other people as well.

McEwan became a member of a local belly dancing organization called the Halifax Shimmy Mob. The volunteer group of women tries to raise awareness about domestic violence and raise money for women and children’s shelters.

This is an issue that is very important to McEwan.

“I can’t go into any detail but domestic violence is a very personal cause to me. I relate to it very personally so anything I can do that can help, I will. I’m glad that I get a chance to help an organization that’s addressing it,” said McEwan.

Members of the Halifax Shimmy Mob practice their belly dancing (Photo by Katlyn Pettipas)
Members of the Halifax Shimmy Mob practice their belly dancing. (Photo by Katlyn Pettipas)

The Halifax Shimmy Mob raises donations by taking part in multiple charities throughout the year. The belly dance group also creates and takes part in an organized flash mob where different Shimmy Mobs from around the world dance to the same song and do the same choreography. This is scheduled to happen on May 9, also known as World Belly Dance Day.

The Halifax Shimmy Mob also has a goal of raising awareness about the positive impacts associated with belly dancing. McEwan is very enthusiastic about promoting belly dancing because she believes it can be very empowering for women.

McEwan thinks this style of dancing is a great way to help improve women’s confidence, especially in regards to different body images.

“I have found the more I do it the more confident I feel about what my body can do in regards to my ability and also my shape. Which probably like a lot of women I was kind of socialized from a very young age to be obsessed with that and worry about it all the time,” said McEwan.

While McEwan witnesses the positive effects that belly dancing has on women, she believes that there is a common misconception that surrounds belly dancing and she would like to end the stigma.

“Some people have a really mistaken idea about what it is and why people do it. The thing I would want people to know the most about belly dance is that it’s not about women showing off their bodies for men’s pleasures, it’s actually most of the time, by women for women.”

McEwan is also very happy that her nine-year-old daughter, Eri, joined the Shimmy Mob with her because not only are they spending quality time together, but she is also witnessing the positive aspects belly dancing can have on women.

“I think it’s good for her to see women of all ages enjoying this and doing it out in public as well as doing it for a good cause,” said McEwan.

The Seagull takes flight at Dalhousie University

Dramatic play proves ‘life can be endured.’

Dalhousie students in the Fountain School of Performing Arts took the stage on Tuesday to begin their first performance of The Seagull.

The Seagull is a play written in 1895 by Anton Chekhov and revolves around the main character, Nina, who is an aspiring actress, and a man named Konstantin who wants to reinvent the theatre through his writing.

The stage in the opening act as the audience wait for the performance to begin (Photo by: Katlyn Pettipas)
The stage in the opening act as the audience waits for the performance to begin (Photo: Katlyn Pettipas)

Dalhousie’s version of the play is directed by Tanja Jacobs, a theatre artist, director and actress who has been working in the theatre for 32 years. Despite losing multiple days of practice due to Halifax’s extreme winter, Jacobs is happy with how the production is going.

“Considering that we lost time and had problems that we couldn’t control or solve … I find it remarkable how achieved the production is. I’m very pleased with it,” said Jacobs.

This is Jacobs’ third time working on a production of The Seagull in the past two years.

“I would do 10 more versions of it!” said Jacobs. “It’s not the only work that’s going on in my life. I’m also a working actor, but if I was given another opportunity to work with young people in this play, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. I’m not bored with it and I never will be.”

Poster from the production of The Seagull (Photo by: Katlyn Pettipas)
Poster from the production of The Seagull. (Photo: Katlyn Pettipas)

Jacobs’ fascination with this play stems from the idea that, although sober at times, it is so relatable to real life.

“I find this play inspiring because it portrays that life is not just complex but full of disappointments. It proposes that disappointments can be experienced and endured; that life can be endured,” said Jacobs.

She also believes The Seagull is an educational and beneficial production for artists to work on because, like the characters within the play, they share “romantic ideas” about love and art.

Jacobs was in charge of casting while living at home in Toronto and tried to cast the actors in a way she thought would connect to or relate with the characters they were playing.

“[The actors] were asked to tell a story about an experience they’d had in the theatre, whether as an audience member or an actor … I learned a lot about them by watching those stories,” said Jacobs.

The production of The Seagull continues at the Sir James Dunn Theatre in the Dalhousie Arts Centre until April 4.

Student hopes wave of waste will send ripples through Halifax

Environmental sustainability student Anika Riopel hopes to spread awareness of marine waste through a community project recreating a Halifax waterfront icon.

The iconic wave statue that sits along the Halifax waterfront is expected to be replicated this summer, except the new version would be constructed out of garbage.

Anika Riopel, a first year Dalhousie University student in the environmental sustainability program, is very excited to see the pieces of her vision beginning to fall into place.

“We’re going to build it directly beside [the wave],” said Riopel, “and make an exact replica of the wave, which is exciting because it’s a Halifax icon and it’s big. We’re going to try to make a frame and then fill it with marine waste.”

The art project, known as the wave of waste, is designed to raise awareness about ocean waste and inspire people to make positive contributions to their community.

There is still a lot of planning that needs to be done, including obtaining a permit of permission from the city. However, Riopel is confident that it can be accomplished.

The public enjoys the iconic wave at the Halifax boardwalk. (Photo: Katlyn Pettipas)
The public enjoys the iconic wave at the Halifax boardwalk. (Photo: Katlyn Pettipas)

“We just need a permit,” said Riopel, “which is totally achievable.”

While Riopel has a love for oceans, she is also passionate about educating students. She is very excited to be able to include high school students in this project.

The students, as well as the high schools that will be participating in the project, are yet to be chosen.

Riopel said participating students will become project leaders and will make decisions throughout the entire process. She will be there as a guide to help them.

“What we’re going to try and do is walk a very kind of fine line in facilitating the workshops but giving the high school students the opportunity to actually take over the project themselves,” she said.

Riopel is hoping to connect a younger generation to nature and motivate them to create positive change within the community.

TJ Maguire, the urban designer at Waterfront Development, likes the idea.

“However, there is a lot of planning that needs to happen in order to reassure that the waste is safe for the children,” Maguire said.

Riopel is planning to obtain the waste for the project through beach cleanups. She is also hoping to collect waste from the waterfront with help from divers.

Riopel plans to build the wave of waste on June 6. It is unclear how long the wave would be maintained after construction is completed.

The public will be encouraged to participate in the project and help build the wave.

“A small group of people can put together something really cool and actually have an impact on the community,” Riopel said.