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The belly dance and its beauties

Troupe Benat Serat translates to “a group of pretty girls.” Beauties, indeed, they perform interpretative belly dancing while colorfully beaded, belted and veiled with scarves flowing and torsos weaving as they make their way through the Strawberry Festival, Jade Festival, Oktoberfest, Kite Festival or Cayucos Fourth of July parades.

Among them is their instructor, director and friend, Patti Harsch, who has lived the dance for 48 years.

“Belly dancing is the ugly stepchild of the dance world,” she explained. To lure fairgoers to the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, Saul Bloom called the gyrations belly dancing. Harsch believes all who attend the 13th annual Caravan on Saturday will see belly dancing is beautiful. It’s scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at 1001 Kennedy Way. Half the $7 ticket will go to the Morro Bay Community Foundation for recreation scholarships.

Harsch says it’s her last Caravan show. “It is the culmination of all we’ve learned all year, but it has become so expensive to produce,” she said.

Clearing her schedule after the Caravan, however, will only mean more time to teach the dance program she created 36 years ago for the Morro Bay Recreation Department and more time for her group to perform at community events and private parties.

“It is a lifestyle,” she said. “We’ve been performing together for years. They’re my extended family.”

Everyone in the group has something to contribute. Lori Simon helps design two costumes a year, and they hold sewing parties. Debbie and Gary Barlow create the coin belts. Jaime Fend designs the posters. “My daughter Kim (Daugherty) does all our computer work,” Harsch said. “My husband, Herb, has always been there for us.”

Belly dancing is made up of 12 core moves, with three basics in each of the following categories: staccato hip moves; rolling hip moves; rib-cage circles; and arm, shoulder and head moves.

“Once you’ve mastered the basics,” Harsch said, “then you enjoy interpretative movement and mastering the zills (the finger cymbals). You’re good when you can move and do zills at the same time.”

Harsch summed up her teaching experience: “Women don’t always take time for themselves. I’ve seen women come into class all stressed out, but after they dance, they get back in touch with who they are … like tight flowers, they come out and bloom.”

“I’ve done everything I want to do in life: dance, direct Caravan, publish my poetry. My kids are doing well, and I’m still married to a good guy. We married six weeks after meeting on a blind date,” she said, smiling.

So, shall we all dance?

Reach Judy Salamacha at 801-1442 or jsalamacha@yahoo.com.

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