Belly dancer inspires followers

Along with the start of a new semester, the College welcomed the arrival of the Belly Dancing Club started by Anshita Khandelwal ’14. An experienced and accomplished dancer herself, Khandelwal established the club to introduce the art of belly dancing to the College community, an opportunity that did not previously exist on campus.

Khandelwal, originally from India, began her dancing career at age seven training in Kathak, a classical Indian dance. She later switched to Bollywood dancing and was selected for the troupe of Shiamak Dayar, a famous Indian choreographer with whom she danced professionally for the next five years. As she recalled, “I received my first paycheck in eighth grade while performing for them. During crunch show time, my mom would pick me up from school and directly drop me off at the studio. Then I would dance until the night and then back to school at 7 a.m. the next morning. It was very intense!” She danced with this troupe until tenth grade when she heard of the first belly dance school in India. She then went on to perform with their troupe, whose instructor is now very well known in India, for two years and performed with them on “India’s Got Talent.”

Her experiences dancing and performing in India set the stage for introducing belly dance to the College. As she explained, “When I came to Williams, I continued dancing other styles but missed belly dancing a lot. So, I informally taught some lessons my freshmen Winter Study and they were really popular! Sophomore spring, I again taught a lesson as part of All Campus Entertainment’s Bollywood themed spring fling.”

Khandelwal continued to teach and perform when she went abroad to London and continued to pursue the idea of starting a belly dancing club. She advertised on WSO, daily messages and Facebook, and received positive feedback from the community.

The club officially began meeting on Feb. 7. Khandelwal decided to lead the first several meetings as open, educational sessions for students to try out belly dancing and familiarize themselves with the style of dance. She received a great turnout – about 15 to 20 people at each session over the past two weeks.

On starting the club she noted, “As I saw more and more students at Williams interested in dancing and arts over the years, I began seriously thinking about forming a new performance club for belly dancing. I enjoy teaching, but it’s also such a cool, powerful dance form that I want to spread awareness about it and try to dispel the negative connotations!” Khandelwal points to the view of belly dance as provocative and overly sexualized; however, as she points out, the dance form “was in fact passed on from mothers to their daughters to prepare them for childbirth and labor. It was and is also a social dance form, engaging both men and women in a circle to show off their skills.”

Belly dancing, perhaps a misleading title, involves movement of the entire body and especially features movement of the hips. The dance therefore requires core strength and helps develop strong abdominal muscles. Club member Lauren Claypoole ’16 stated, “We’ve started slow because it’s a lot harder than it looks, but still a lot of fun.” Another member, Kat Nunez ’16, called belly dancing “an exciting challenge.” She added, “I feel that I can speak for many of the girls who have come out when I say that I didn’t think it would be as hard. However, Anshita is a great teacher and as a group we are improving after each practice.”

Khandelwal will not only be familiarizing the club with the new style and teaching them the necessary skills and moves, but she will also be choreographing their dances and performing as well. The club plans to have its first performance, a shorter show, later this spring at the end of April, but Khandelwal “hopes in the future that [they] can perform for the campus in other avenues and put on a full show!”

Though Khandelwal hopes to have a permanent group practicing for their spring performance, she is open to new members interested in joining the club and learning a new, exciting style of dance. The club is not only a fun, interesting addition to the dance opportunities on campus, but it further diversifies the range of genres and styles. As Claypoole noted, the club is “a great example of how diverse the William community is.” By bringing her unique experience and skill and sharing with others, Khandelwal is further expanding and enriching the College’s social and artistic experience.