Byline: SARAH MOODY
Swaying hips are becoming hip.
The exotic tradition of belly dancing, prevalent for thousands of years throughout the Middle East, is beginning to emerge in Northeast Florida.
Though some dance studios like Beaches Jazzercise Studio and Dance Elite in Riverside offer belly dancing classes, the first studio in Jacksonville devoted solely to the study and practice of belly dancing has opened on Philips Highway.
Owner Simone Alsafeer, who previously taught belly dancing at Florida Community College at Jacksonville, launched Simone's Belly Dancing Studio because she wanted to provide a haven for men and women to learn the art of belly dancing.
Her goal is to not only teach the traditional style of the exotic dance, but also varying modern interpretations.
Alsafeer and her students usually shimmy to the rich sounds of Arabic, Egyptian and Turkish music, but on occasion, she enjoys stepping up the beat and performing to contemporary pop music like Buttons by the Pussycat Dolls.
"Every time that song comes on the radio, it makes me want to stop and dance," belly dancing student Florica Chandra said.
Performing since she was a child in Lebanon, Alsafeer is eager to help both men and women discover the sensual and uplifting nature of belly dancing.
Alsafeer offers a variety of classes at her studio throughout the week, including a session devoted to teaching beginners the basic movements associated with the hypnotic dance. She also offers sensual, artistic and contemporary belly dancing classes that expose students to the origins of an ancient dance used throughout the world as a tool of self-expression and celebration.
"You come out of the classes walking on air," Ortega resident Connie Lorey said. "You feel like a goddess. …