Denise Harris didn't dance much as a child, and the professional accountant still describes herself as a natural introvert.
So how is it that she teaches weekly belly-dancing classes and performs at metro area restaurants and arts festivals with a tribal- fusion dance-style group?
"About six years ago, I had a client who was a dancer and she took me to a show in Dallas," the Oklahoma City CPA said. "I was amazed and enchanted with the whole thing, and I decided right away that I wanted to learn how to do it myself. ... This was completely opposite of how my personality is, usually.
"But it's been one of those personal goals you set in your life, and I've been fortunate to be able to move toward it," she said. "Being a good dancer and presenting myself in a professional manner has really helped me a lot in other aspects of my life."
Most of Soraya Al Musri's students come to her for similar reasons - because it looks challenging and fun - or as Harris quickly discovered, for the physical health and fitness aspects. Al Musri operates Aalim Internationale, a nonprofit dance school in northwest Oklahoma City, where she teaches about 150 students from a wide range of professional backgrounds. She also has children's classes beginning at age 5.
Native to cultures in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, belly dancing is one of the oldest social dance styles in the world. But Al Musri said some people still misinterpret the nature of the movements and costumes.
"There are some feelings, especially in this area in central America, that belly dancing is something it's not. It's the Bible Belt, after all," she said. "And if people don't know anything about the countries this dance comes from and how it's respected over there, they get the wrong idea. ... Hula dancing is accepted, but belly dancing is not. And hula dancers wear a lot less costuming than we do, so go figure."
Heide Brandes is well-aware of the potential problems. As the director of community relations for a major nonprofit organization in Oklahoma City, she must always be careful of other people's perspectives, she said. But the activity keeps her healthy in mind as well as body.
"It's a way to stay sane," Brandes said. "Because you've got all this stress at work, and you've got to be careful about what you say and what you do. You must be …