Many are drawn to the mysterious glamour, fascinated by the coin-covered hip scarves and excited by the long, flowing skirts.
Belly dancing attracts women intrigued by the beauty of the costumes and the movements. Then they get caught up in the lifestyle - one that involves making new friends, feeling comfortable and having fun.
That's according to students at Habeeba's Women's Activity Center in Grandview, who talk about their hobby as they lounge around in athletic wear and messy ponytails.
Belly dancing, they say, is not scandalously seductive.
It is, however, quite a workout. Each one-hour class - whether beginner or advanced - includes lots of hip shaking and footwork combinations, requiring plenty of coordination.
In a cardio class, the 15 or so students follow the lead of the instructor while studying their movements in a wall-to-wall mirror. The class works on mastering a series of steps through repetition, then builds on that. When it's time to run through a routine, recorded drumbeats and singing fill the long, narrow studio.
Habeeba's, named after the woman who founded the school in 1971 and still operates it, moved from one space to another until settling in a warehouse off King Avenue last winter.
Habeeba - she goes by only one name - toured as a professional belly dancer in the 1960s and '70s and opened her school at the demand of women who wanted to learn the art. It was the first belly dance school established in the Midwest and, she says, it's now the longest continuously operating belly dance school in the country.
With the extra space at her new studio, she's added Latin dancing and Pilates classes, among others. "I wanted someplace that women could just really have a good time and hang out and leave their stress outside the door," Habeeba said. "And every woman needs that, especially now."
Most students are interested in belly dancing as a hobby, and typically don't come with dance experience. When asked about its benefits, students at Habeeba's mention the emotional and psychological ones first.
But Lissa Beck said she's lost at least six dress sizes. And Melissa Caldwell boasts she's more flexible than her other 40-something friends.
The improvements can be noticeable, but they only happen with time. Caldwell, an instructor who's danced for 16 years, and other advanced students laughed when they remembered the soreness in their arms and burning in their calves they'd feel after class as beginners.
Now, they move in careful synchronization, running through five-minute-plus routines filled with belly rolls and shuffling around on toes. They occasionally perform at community festivals throughout Central Ohio. The group's passion and camaraderie is evident.
"Another thing, too, is people might have a set idea of what a belly dancer should look like, and obviously we're a really diverse group-age-wise, ethnic background, body type," Caldwell said. "I've heard women come up and say, 'I didn't think I could do this, but I see you do this. I think I'm going to try it.'"Belly-dancing body benefits: Strengthens legs and arms Tones shoulders and upper back Tightens abs, rear and other muscles Decreases dress size (not necessarily weight, because you're building and toning muscles) Straightens posture Improves flexibility and coordination What to wear: Black leggings or yoga pants Fitted T-shirt Socks or ballet shoes Hip scarf Where to go:
Habeeba's Women's Activity Center
1145 Chesapeake Ave., Suite R, Grandview