Dancer Allison Townsend will both perform at the Festival of the Arts and teach a workshop.
Allison has been a farmer, artisan, graphic designer, salesperson (currently working with the Trent Hills Tribune), and now a dancer and dance-teacher based in Campbellford, Ontario.
I hope you enjoy!
Q: What made you take up bellydancing?
A: I started bellydancing in my early 40s when a group of women at work started taking classes in Trenton. I’ve always loved to dance and bellydancing seemed exotic.
I found out it’s a good workout but a lot more fun! Now in my early 60s, I bellydance three nights a week plus perform with my troupe at local venues. Honestly, it’s one of my main passions.
It’s healthy in many ways: providing exercise for arms, shoulders, hips and abdominals as well as for our brains, improving balance and the mind-body connection, providing social connection and an opportunity to de-stress.
Q: You also teach others. What’s that like?
A: Teaching has been challenging and very rewarding. It’s great to see my students improve. I believe women need opportunities to have fun, even be silly, while in a supportive and caring setting. I try to provide this atmosphere. We are ‘totally in the moment’ and usually forget about everything else that has been on our minds. After class, people say they have gotten a good workout but because it’s fun, they didn’t realize it.
In bellydance, we isolate our muscles and use our body in ways different from what we usually do. That’s why it’s so challenging. There are many styles of bellydance with their own movements and costumes, and props like veils, canes, and swords to add more interest. People can spend decades learning this form. Although I’ve been dancing for over 15 years, I still feel like I’m in kindergarten in many respects.
4: When you dance, what does it feel like?
A: There is something really great about dancing in unison with a group. Our troupe is supportive and encouraging; we’re here for each other. We joke around a lot and laugh as much as possible.
We’re called ‘The Firelights’, and we’ve been together for over eleven years. We are a diverse group: about 14 women from their 40s to 70s in all shapes. We meet once a week and practice from our list of over 20 different routines.
When we dance in public, I hope the audience sees the joy it brings us.
There are so many reasons to bellydance and getting used to performing in front of others is one more. But even if you never overcome the nervousness and butterflies, there are great benefits, including exercise, memory practice – gained while learning choreography – all the while having fun and expressing yourself.
I’ve been teaching Beginner classes for almost two years and now some of my students are joining our troupe, the Firelights, and are learning the dances so they can perform with us at community festivals, fairs and retirement homes.
At these events we love to involve audience-members. Women, men, teenagers and children come forward. We recently had a lady who was almost 99! We tie a jingly hip-scarf around their waists and teach some basic bellydance moves. Then we put on the music, I call out the steps, and we do a simple routine. It’s fun!
I’m looking forward to participating in the Festival of the Arts this October, providing both a Beginner workshop (on Saturday October 26) and an evening performance. It’s fantastic to share this dance with everyone!