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Butera belly dances her way around the world

Loni Butera
Loni Butera

When Loni Butera first discovered belly dancing in the mid 1980s in her native Germany, she was ironing.

"I was watching television at the same time, which is the only way I'll iron," said Butera, who said she was enchanted by the music, movements and costumes of the Middle Eastern folkloric dance on TV.

In what Butera calls a case of kismet, a friend called a few days later to cancel their plans, saying, "My belly dance class starts tonight."

"That was it for me," recalled Butera, who started classes that night. Since her initial foray, Butera has studied belly dancing intensively in Germany with prominent instructors from Europe, North America and the Mediterranean basin.

"I'd previously done ballroom dancing, but that really doesn't compare," she said, noting that one can begin belly dancing at any age, and with any figure or size. "With practice, you can become very flexible and limber."

Butera has been an administrative assistant with the Tech Catholic Community at the MIT Chaplaincy since 1996. She'll demonstrate her belly dancing skills in an Artist-Behind-the-Desk performance at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 3 in Killian Hall.

Belly dancing is believed to have its origins in the spiritual and ritual birth dance of the pre-Islamic Middle East. No special skills are needed for the art form, according to Butera, who teaches belly dancing at the Boston Center for Adult Education and at MIT through the Spouses & Partners Program on Tuesdays from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Her classes are designed to make participants feel comfortable with their bodies while offering aerobic training, improved body tone and exercises focusing on body isolations, coordination and a sense of rhythmic affinity for the music.

"Some students have been with me for eight years and others for only three weeks," said Butera. Her classes accommodate all levels of experience. Butera devises the routines herself so that everyone can get something from the class. With belly dancing, she says, exercise is always fun. "I used to run," she said, "But there was always a reason not to--it was too rainy or windy or cold."

Butera owns a wardrobe of 10-15 costumes she uses in performances at birthday parties, weddings and international festivals.

"I love to see how much people enjoy my dancing," said Butera, whose husband often babysits when she performs. "My daughters are not yet belly dancing," said Butera, "But the five-year-old does imitate me, and the two-year-old copies her."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 27, 2004 (download PDF).

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