Belly dancers combat hunger

Shakira is not the only woman whose hips don’t lie.

On April 5, the Yale Belly Dance Society will perform its annual “Hips Against Hunger” belly dance show, which raises funds for New Haven’s Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, or DESK. The two-day show will commemorate the 10th anniversary of Yale Belly Dance with performances by the society and its alumnae; the Yale Jashan Bhangra dance team; the Connecticut College Belly Dance Society; the Shakti Tribal Belly Dance group from Green Mountain College and Rangeela, Yale’s Bollywood dance troupe. Margaret Gorlin GRD ’15, a dancer in Yale Belly Dance, said the group hopes not only to expose New Haven to an international art form, but also to increase awareness of the social issues facing the New Haven community.

“The idea of combining a show with a fundraiser is extremely elegant, in the sense that you aren’t simply going out and talking about a cause you are trying to raise money for,” said Jing Wang GRD ’14, the group’s president and one of its choreographers.

Wang said Yale Belly Dance was formed 10 years ago as both a dance troupe and community service organization. She said that while Yale has many service initiatives, Yale Belly Dance brings a new level of awareness to the community because it combines fundraising with an entertaining art form that attracts large audiences. Last year, the three performances of “Hips Against Hunger” drew an audience of 600 in total, raising close to $4,000. This year, the group hopes to garner even greater support for DESK.

“Our goal is to raise $10,000. 10 for 10,” said Vela Park ’13, a Yale Belly Dance member.

Park explained that she initially feared that the price of an undergraduate ticket — higher than most undergrad events at $10 — would impair the group’s ability to meet its fundraising goal. She said she thinks that if students understand that the show supports a good cause, people will not be deterred by the ticket price.

The show will feature professional lighting and sound, as well as colorful displays of fabric decorating the stage — all of which expose the audience to a high-caliber performance relative to the event’s price, Wang said. The audience will also be treated to performances by revered belly dancer and Middle Eastern scholar Najla, formerly known as Kristen Windmuller-Luna ’08, and international belly dance star Ranya Renee ’92. Yale Belly Dance has been preparing for “Hips Against Hunger” since the group’s October tryouts, when prospective belly dancers learned a few of the pieces that will be showcased this weekend.

“I stand by this 100 percent: The audience is getting … more out of [the show] for the amount they’re paying,” Wang said.

Gorlin said she thinks DESK is the kind of organization that the impoverished population of New Haven most needs. Wang said the group’s involvement in DESK last year made a great impact on the soup kitchen -— last year’s event drew attention from the New Haven Register and even from outside New Haven. The troupe, comprised of New Haven residents and undergraduate and graduate students, attracts friends and family members who live in the neighboring towns of Milford, West Haven and Hamden.

Yale Belly Dance’s prominence among college belly dance troupes, as well as the attention the group attracted through last year’s “Hips Against Hunger” event, inspired the groups from other colleges to join the cause. The Shakti Tribal Belly Dance group from Green Mountain College was so interested in Yale Belly Dance’s work that it reached out through email to ask if the troupe would host them for a performance, said Nicole McNeer MED ’14, Yale Belly Dance’s education and outreach director. McNeer explained that the group saw Shakti’s improvisational, tribal, fusion-style belly dance as an opportunity to expand the show’s scope.

Park said she feels art is an especially effective way to inspire people, adding that the group “literally dances with their hearts out.”

Gorlin said she hopes that this year, the show will inspire New Haven locals to get more involved in the city, for example by volunteering at DESK or tutoring underprivileged children.

“We all feel that New Haven is home to us and we want to engage residents in New Haven and make sure that we get the word out,” Gorlin said. “We’d like to give back whatever we can.”

The first show of Hips Against Hunger opens in Harkness Auditorium at 9 p.m. on Friday. All proceeds from the event will be donated to DESK.

Correction: April 4 

A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Kristen Windmuller-Luna ’08. 

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