UMass Belly Dance Club: 2014’s RSO of the Year

(Andrea Comerford/Amherst Wire)

(Andrea Comerford/Amherst Wire)

The UMass Belly Dance Club warms up for their weekly meetings to the sound of Egyptian street style music, each dancer wearing a scarf adorned in gold coins wrapped around their waist.

The bond between the members of the club cannot go unnoticed. However, it wasn’t always this way. In 2010, UMass alumni, Bekah Perlin and Jaclyn Barzvi were the only two members when they created UBDC. The following year, other students took an interest, including junior, Elizabeth Tripp, now the current president of UBDC. The club has 152 members, with more added almost daily according to Campus Pulse, a place to sign up for Registered Student Organizations.

They participate in 15 to 20 performances a semester, ranging from organized events, to dancing outside of the student farmers market. The performances do not stop at UMass. They have also performed at Westfield State University and Harvard University.

“When we perform together it is like a family aspect. I always feel so honored when someone asks us to perform,” said Tripp.

They also hold their own event, called the UBDC festival. It is an all day event in the spring semester in which UBDC invites other belly dance clubs from all over the East Coast. Some of the clubs come from Boston University, Harvard, Stony Brook University and Rutgers. At the festival last spring, they held workshops lead by professional belly dancer, Amar Gamal, from the Bellydance Superstars based in New York.

This fall will be Tripp’s fifth semester with UBDC. “The goal is to have a safe space to dance where body image is at the forefront. It is so important that everyone feels safe, and everyone feels comfortable showing their belly,” said Tripp.

Tripp initially became involved after  “staking out” the various dance RSO’s available at UMass as an incoming freshman. In her search for a group that was really friendly and overwhelmingly positive, she went to the Activities Expo, attended her first meeting and never left.

“I loved that it wasn’t competitive. There is no sense of competition with other dance groups or with other  members of the group,” said Tripp.  UBDC does not require tryouts and anyone with any level of experience can join.

Vincenza Parella, a senior, journalism major with a minor in Native American studies, has been with the club for six semesters. This semester she became the vice president.

“I became interested when I first saw them perform very early on at UMass Got Talent. Bekah sword danced and I fell in love. Now I have a sword and it’s going to be awesome,” said Parella.

The club allows its members to use traditional belly dance props including swords, silk veils, fabric wings, masks and small finger cymbals or “zils.” Perlin and Barzvi, who were self-taught belly dancers, originally taught the club how to use the props. Most of what they learned was through Youtube, however, Barzvi went to Israel to learn from an expert and further her knowledge and skill.

Tripp and Parella both made what they believe will be long friendships through UBDC. Tripp also feels that she has gained skills that will help her throughout life.

“Through the leadership position, I’ve gained public speaking skills and a really healthy sense of confidence,” said Tripp.

Parella agreed with Tripp on the benefits of UBDC, but also described how this confidence carried over in to a more positive body image.

“I admit I don’t have a flat stomach but I am so confident now that I don’t mind showing it, said Parella. “Before, I was very self conscious about my body, but now that’s not even a thing I think about anymore.”

The club’s choreography changes from semester to semester, giving members the opportunity to participate in solos, duets or even trios.

“Doing solos is great. It helps you get over your fear of public performance. Each time gets easier and easier,” said Tripp.

Last spring, UBDC won “RSO of the Year” at the 2014 Sammy Awards. This is an award ceremony put on every year to recognize student leaders and RSO’s. Past President, Barzvi, also won “RSO Leader of the Year.” During the event UBDC was said to be “one of the most in demand performance groups on campus” and “a force to be reckoned with.”

UBDC meets every Monday night at 10:15 in the Recreation Center. Although this may seem inconvenient for some, according to Tripp, “It makes Monday go from the worst day of the week to the best day.” There are no dues, no tryouts and it is open to all UMass students. Anybody can join by going to a meeting and sending a request through Campus Pulse. To find out more, follow UMass Belly Dance club on their Facebook page.

Andrea Comerford can be reached at [email protected].

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