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All the right moves

Weekend is exotic blend of belly dancers and the elements that surround the art.

April 24, 2010|By Liana Aghajanian

With belly chains jingling across the waists of gyrating dancers, and vendors selling exotic jewelry, music and clothing from the far corners of the Mideast, belly dance aficionados didn’t have to travel far to indulge in their passions — they found it all in Glendale.

“Raqs L.A.” returned for the third year last weekend to the Glendale Civic Auditorium for the two-day celebration and festival of belly dance, modern fusion, Bollywood and more.

Raqs, which means “dance” in Arabic, showcased an explosion of culture in the form of Persian cuisine, international belly dance star Mesmera, books on the art of playing finger cymbals and bustiers made out of fine fabrics and copper coins.

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Glendale has been the perfect locale over the years, said organizer Marta Schill Kouzouyan, who has conducted similar events in other locations.

“It was like a dream come true; it was so much better than before,” she said, citing the auditorium’s great facilities and the city’s huge Middle Eastern and Armenian population.

Belly dance instructor Marla Martin, also known as Leela, echoed her sentiments.

“We have a phenomenal Middle Eastern population, an incredible Armenian population, an amazing Persian population and Lebanese population,” said Martin, of La Crescenta who teaches belly dancing for the city of Glendale’s Community Services & Parks Department and in eight other locations.

The festival, celebrating one of the oldest forms of dance, attracted a mix of enthusiasts not only from Middle Eastern backgrounds, but also Asian, Latino and American women. Kouzouyan appreciates this diverse interest, especially after a Whittier-area venue asked her to take a similar event elsewhere after Sept. 11, 2001, she said.

“I was thinking there would be a backlash, but I have seen such a growth and interest, and I love that because I think it proves that the people here can separate art from politics,” she said.

Glendale resident Elizabeth Corona, a dance enthusiast, said she has been coming to the festival for two years.

“I love the dancing here. I’m taking a class at Luna Dance on Colorado Street and I love it,” she said.

Liliana Sanchez, editor in chief of “Belly Dance, A Raqs Sharqi Magazine” based in Burbank, said Glendale was a good fit not only because of its central location and population, but because it allowed her to discover belly dancing.

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