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Dance from the Heart

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Local dance studio teaches female empowerment, acceptance, and more
by Bradley Donalson

Nestled on the eastern edge of the Heights is a gathering space for people who use their bodies as art. The Dance from the Heart (DFTH) studio on Houston Avenue provides a home for the DFTH belly dance company (also called Middle Eastern dance), as well as the many classes that teach a number of dance styles, fitness programs, and music lessons.

Dance from the Heart got its start a decade ago when a group of dancers came together for a benefit to help tsunami victims in Southeast Asia. They organized and gained nonprofit status in 2007 and began donating to a multitude of causes, including Lighthouse Houston, the Alzheimer’s Association, and Amazing Place. Now, the group focuses their donations toward the Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorder Center. Dance from the Heart will also be a sponsor of the 2015 Houston Oriental & Folklore Dance Festival this coming May.

DFTH provides classes, workshops, and artist-in-residence programs for anyone who might be interested in dance, experienced or not. Classes range from different types of yoga to ballet to fusion belly dance. You can take belly dance courses with Anne Caruthers (president and creative director), Jade Gibson, Kimberly Larkspur (artistic director), Jenny Trimmer, or Clara Ortiz. Or, you can take ballet with Joe Modlin. Multiple types of yoga are offered by Madison McBurney, Jonathan Stein, Jenny Trimmer, and Zymirrah.

The Dance from the Heart studio is filled with bright, lively people who combine artistic expression and a great workout into a unique and utterly enjoyable experience. Their close relationships show not only in how they work together to create beautiful movement, but also in the way they interact with one another. Rehearsals are a mix of laughter, playful banter, and an almost military-like seriousness when there’s work to be done. Larkspur can go from a playful quip about getting a peek at Modlin’s underwear before every class to an intense focus on her movements in about as much time as it takes to pull back her shining river of hair. Justin Piwetz will make a pun and chuckle with the group before starting to pound out a rhythm for the dancers—or just so he can hear it himself!

Of course, when the drums start going, it seems like it would take a Herculean effort to keep this company from dancing. And standing over all of it is Caruthers, sometimes watching the antics like an indulgent mother and sometimes joining in just for the joy of it. The atmosphere exudes a sense of dedication, comfort, and home. It’s a place where hard work produces astounding beauty, and where you can be yourself without reservation. When asked about the company’s relationship with the LGBT community, Caruthers responds, “I’ve never really thought about it that way. I’ve got friends and family who are gay, and it’s not some kind of special relationship. It’s just a part of life.”

While the instructors at DFTH are open to teaching anyone the intricacies of their art, they acknowledge and celebrate the history of Middle Eastern dance as a primarily feminine form. What is commonly known as belly dance has roots that trace back into the mists of time. One thing that most belly-dance scholars agree on is that in ancient cultures it was primarily a dance done by women, for women—usually in the privacy of their homes or at social gatherings like weddings. And when the men danced, it was traditionally for other men. Caruthers says it’s a little different at DFTH. “Primarily, it’s a woman’s dance from a cultural perspective, but we are not gender-specific. At its root, it’s a folk dance. Here, we don’t have that same restriction.”

Some popular theories about the origins or inspirations surrounding belly dance include divine inspiration, fertility rites, and just plain fun. Caruthers thinks belly dancing developed organically. “Women were preparing for childbirth, and my personal belief is that is the root.” Caruthers goes on to talk about how the movements in Middle Eastern dance use the same muscles that are required in childbirth. These thoughts are echoed by Karol Harding, “The Joyful Dancer,” who has written that Middle Eastern women find it amusing that the famous Lamaze birthing classes teach the same movements as belly dance.

Middle Eastern dance is not wildly popular in the U.S., and Caruthers thinks that this may have something to do with Western audiences not caring enough to look up the dance’s history, and DFTH is trying to change that.

Whether you are looking for a way to express yourself, to learn more about the movement and music of other cultures, to exercise, or to fill a weekday evening with a fun and energetic class, Dance from the Heart is more than willing to help you. Their instructors are open and accepting of people for who they are, and everyone who wants to come and experience dancing is welcome.

More information about Dance from the Heart and their class schedule can be found at dfth.org.

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Bradley Donalson

Bradley Donalson is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.
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