Briefly clad dancers with hips swaying under the palms are iconic images entwined in the history of the Hawaiian Islands. While hula may be the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people, another feminine artform takes center stage when Middle Eastern practitioners from around the world gather in Honolulu this month for the 10th annual Hawaii Belly Dance Convention.
The convention is a labor of love and brainchild of dancer and producer Malia Delapenia. Born and raised in the islands studying everything from ballet, hula and martial arts, she found that a belly dance class with mentor Shakti Sundae Merrick stole her heart. “It was so woman-empowering,” says Delapenia. “I fell in love.”
She has traversed the world teaching her particular style—“Malia Delapenia,” a mix of the Saidi, Ghawazee, folkloric, American cabaret, Egyptian, tribal and fusion styles she has studied. Her impetus to create the belly dance convention was to bring the various practitioners she’d encountered to the islands to teach, and to expose Hawaii to the artform. By introducing one ancient culture to another, Delapenia is doing her part as cultural ambassador. “It is one big crazy celebration,” she says. “The whole thing feels like putting on a wedding each year.”
Begun as a one-day event, the convention is now five days of classes, with performances, showcases, lectures, a pop-up marketplace, social gatherings and plenty of opportunities to admire the natural beauty of the islands and taste local flavors. The “Belly Dancers Gone Bad” catamaran cruise off Waikiki and hike to Maunawili Falls are highlights. Delapenia curates opening night “Shimmy Showcases,” which take place at the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, stringing together many styles and choreographies geared toward entertaining and educating her audiences. “This year we have decided to produce a two-show format, so performers and audience have the space to explore both sides of the artform,” she says. “Essence will showcase traditional movements, and The Unveiling will be a more modern and sensual exploration of the dance.”
On day two of the convention, hundreds of students will participate in “Shimmy with Aloha” workshops and lectures, held at the Neal S. Blaisdell Convention center. Classes titled “Tight Locks and Luscious Layers,” “Fingers Cymbals the Ambidextrous Method!” and “Egyptian Spice” are taught by Ashley Lopez, Shahrzad, Amira and the convention’s first male teacher, a pioneer of tribal fusion belly dance, Frank Farinaro.
The convention takes place October 10–14. DT
For more: hawaiibellydanceconvention.com
Rachel Berman is a former dancer with the Paul Taylor Dance Company and an educator, manager, fundraiser and freelance writer.
Photo courtesy of Hawaii Belly Dance Convention; map ©Thinkstock