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.

King’s Cup raises questions about gender inequality

Out of 29 players at this year’s University of King’s College’s intramural hockey game, only six of them were women.

The 4th annual King’s Cup hockey game took place on Saturday, in a flurry of beer guzzling and joking rivalry, with the Bays defeating Alex Hall 4-1.

The King’s Cup is played by intramural sports teams, organized by residence building. Competitors play for the residence they lived in during their first year at the University of King’s College. The residences consist of Alexandra Hall, Radical Bay, Middle Bay, North Pole Bay, Chapel Bay and Cochran Bay.

Teams were evenly matched skill-wise, but there was a large gender gap on the ice. Out of 29 total players on the roster, only six women played in the game.

Gender inequality didn’t seem to be an issue at the King’s Cup, but it raised questions regarding gender inequality in sport.

Emily Gautreau, a fourth-year player and ringette coach with the Halifax Chebucto Ringette Association, played for Alex Hall this year and said her experience has been positive so far.

“There have always been a core group of us who’ve stuck together from the beginning, and these dudes are the greatest,” she said. “They respect me and the other ladies, and make sure the other guys do the same.”

The Bays pose for a photo after winning the King’s Cup. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

Silas Brown, a fourth-year player and co-captain of the Bays team, said this year’s King’s Cup had the most female players since it started four years ago.

“We try and see every year, for King’s Cup, how many girls we can get to come play,” said Brown. He added he doesn’t know why more women aren’t playing in the King’s Cup.

“Obviously, not as many girls play hockey as boys do,” he said. “We do go to a liberal arts university. There’s probably not that many people who are athletically oriented.”

While the King’s intramural team is welcoming, Gautreau said overall respect for women in sports is a prevalent problem. Women should have equal access to resources in sports associations, such as ice time, she said.

“This is particularly noticeable when leagues don’t support teams at the rec levels as much as they do at the competitive [level],” she said.

“I think it’s still an issue that a lot of sports are still kind of considered men’s sports,” said Brown. “I don’t know if women’s leagues are helping to change or enforce that stigma.”

A 2010 report states gender inequality in sport is still widespread, especially within the coaching sphere. Gautreau said this is something she has experienced herself.

Gautreau said two experienced male coaches mentored her this ringette season, boosting her credibility and also parents’ respect for her.

“I got so lucky this season and my head coaches are wonderful, supportive, respectful guys. But, I shouldn’t have to be lucky,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to worry about how I’ll be treated because of my gender.

“I don’t really have a solution, but I do believe that talking about it is the only way to deal with it,” she added.

In the meantime, Gautreau will continue to play with the King’s intramural team.

“I haven’t stopped yet and will only stop when I graduate.”

Womb Boom’s drums beat on International Women’s Day

Womb Boom, a group of female hip-hop drummers, performed at the Bus Stop Theatre to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Driven by the steady beat of a drum, women of all ages and backgrounds danced, tapped, sang and jammed at the Bus Stop Theatre on Sunday to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Womb Boom, a group of female hip-hop drummers, showed off what they had learned in the past months as they led the jam.

The group is a pilot project of the Music Liberatory School which is “aimed at dramatically increasing the number of female instrumentalists by providing free music education, with emphasis on developing and maintaining the cultural leadership of women of colour,” according to the online Kijiji ad for the drumming group.

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Tamar Dina, founder of the school, began the afternoon leading a kitchen table discussion about women and their experiences in music.

Shari Clarke played the violin and flute during Womb Boom’s jam session.

“It’s about the focus on women and creativity,” said Clarke. “It’s a fabulous gathering place for us to meet and share our creativity and celebrate who we are.”

Dina talked about her inspiration for the project and the school, and why women’s presence in music is so important.

“When I was thinking about what could change the world,” said Dina, “I settled on the idea that I want to do the thing now that I wish will still be happening in a transformed society.

“That’s true about music.”

Dina’s vision

Dina’s experience working in crisis centres dealing with issues of violence against women shaped her vision for the Music Liberatory School.

“A lot of women don’t have a means to deal with violence immediately,” said Dina. “So the way they usually deal with it is self destruction.”

The steady beat of the drum, and the easy, accessible way to be a part of that sound, became the foundation of the pilot project.

They began with percussion and drums “because that’s your fundamentals in music,” said Dina.

“When women are first coming together on the drum, we’re not using words yet,” she said. “We’re just expressing our experiences through rhythm.

“Then, as we get more comfortable and we’re willing to trust each other more … Then those stories can start turning into songs.”

The core group of five to eight people, with more than 20 women loosely connected, meet weekly at the George Dixon Centre.

Childcare provided on-site

Childcare is provided, which enables women, especially single mothers, who would have usually stayed home to come out and drum. This is one thing that separates them from other music programs, along with Womb Boom’s emphasis on a high standard of music.

“With a lot of music programs the emphasis is on progress,” said Dina.

“This is a feminist art project,” she said. “We are constantly trying to improve our music intellectually and musically so that it can be effective.”

The International Women’s Day event at The Bus Stop Theatre showed off that high standard of music, while the simple beat of the drum kept the music accessible to all women in the room.

Alexis Smith is a talented bass player and musician. She brought that fusion of quality and effectiveness with passion and meaning to Womb Boom’s jam.

“For me, it’s all creative for the mind,” said Smith. “And it’s just good for the spirit.”