From Volume I, Issue 3, December, 2009
"Belly dance is largely misunderstood," says Amber Proctor, a local dance artist and advocate of artistic dance.
"Dancers are highly sensitive and very serious about developing and maintaining the integrity of the art form," she continues.
"In the West, it's frequently confused with stripping or burlesque and this confusion is dangerous... I always want the dance to be portrayed as the positive force that it is."
Proctor, who has been practicing and teaching the art of belly dance for four years, says that despite these misconceptions, belly dance actually serves a vital purpose for the women and men that indulge in it's mysteries.
"Belly dance stirs deep emotions for women bringing out joy, sisterly love, and self love," she says. "I'd like to make cameos at high school physical education classes so I could catch young women as they are forming their adult identities and promote self esteem, feminine unity, and a knowledge of the most ancient dance form in the world."
"Belly dance was, once upon a time, part of becoming an educated woman," she continues. "A woman would learn this dance form along with academics. Learning to gain control over the body was a key component of education. This is little known and long forgotten."
Attempting to reverse this trend, Proctor recently launched her own production company, Chainsaw Shimmy Productions, with her partner Thomas Pfeiler, and has been making appearences throughout the area. In the past she has worked with groups suchas Tara's Grace Belly Tribe and the Maya Zahira School of Belly Dance, and worked as an instructor through parks and recreation programs. She has performed at spots all over north east Kansas, including Kansas City's Midland Theater, to appreciative audiences.
"I've been known to dance at community events, coffee shops, night clubs, art exhibitions, senior centers, and parades, she says. " I've also volunteered at the Breakthrough house here in Topeka and it's even been suggested to me by a prison employee to come in and teach belly dance to inmates."
Proctor also makes sporadic spontaneous appearances at local bars and nightclubs, crashing dance floors in an attempt to bring the dance to the uninitiated, generally receiving a positive reception.
"I go out in half costume to clubs and live shows every other weekend," she says. "Larger events in Lawrence or Kansas City tend to provide a friendlier crowd, but even Uncle Bo's in Topeka is great."
That reception, however, is not exclusively positive. A few places are less than friendly.
"A few months ago, I was bar crashing in half costume, just going anywhere I could find music," she says. "My boyfriend and I were kicked out of Skinny's after I drew attention on the dance floor."
"People were taking pictures and videos and talking about me," she consintues. "One of the owner's minions approached me and told me that he had several complaints and that I had to leave. I attempted to contact the owner and eventually reached him. He informed me that they don't like to see people dancing alone. The bottom line is that a professional dancer got kicked off an empty dance floor where there was a Dj and an advertised evening of dance."
Proctor specializes in a type of belly dance known as tribal fusion. A fairly recent off-shoot of traditional belly dance, tribal dance allows for a great deal of experimentation by it's practitioners. It combines modern and popular dance forms such as Cabaret and hip hop with traditional elements of dance to create a unique form. As with traditional belly dance, tribal dancers wear lavish costumes, but many of these costumes incorporate elements of street wear and vintage clothing into their appearence, reflecting the personality of the dancer. Proctor's personal touch, for example, includes chainsaws, thus the name of her production company, Chainsaw Shimmy.
"I like to leave the chainsaws a mystery," she says. "While I have many reasons for using the chainsaw, I'll forever let this element affect audiences on a subconscious level."
Despite, or perhaps because of the mystery, Chainsaw Shimmy Productions is "really taking off", acording to Proctor. She'll be performing several times before the end of the year in Lawrence and Topeka.
"Our intention is to bring belly dance into night life as art and entertainment, rather than entertainment alone," Proctor says.
And like all forms of art, the nature of belly dance is social as well as personal.
"I started belly dance when a friend passed me some instructional DVDs," Proctor says. "After I had my daughter, I gained a lot of weight and was feeling unhealthy and unhappy. I tried traditional exercise, but was disappointed with the results and was also terribly bored.
"A chiropractor informed me that running was destroying my knees," she continues. "So I dragged out the old belly dance videos about five years ago, dusted them off, and got really dedicated. I soon began to enjoy the mental and physical benefits of belly dance, renewed confidence and all over body toning. I also lost about fifty pounds during that time."
"While weight loss was a personal goal for me in my dance, it is not this way for everyone," Proctor says. "There are plenty of voluptuous women who are perfectly happy with their bodies out there practicing and performing belly dance. Belly dance moves look different on different body types, which is, in my opinion, part of the beauty and diversity of the dance."
For more information on Amber and Chainsaw Shimmy Productions visit: myspace.com/chainsawshimmy