Secrets of belly dance to be laid bare at fest

How do those belly dancers swivel and shake their hips? All the tricks of the trade will be revealed Sunday afternoon at the "Israel in the Park" festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

Belly dancer Mae Ziglin Meidav and folk dancer Donna Frankel will provide the gyrations and instruction at Israel's 50th birthday celebration in the park's Sharon Meadows.

For the festivities, the area will be redesigned to resemble Israel, complete with 10 of its cities arranged in the shape of the Jewish state.

Belly dancing will be in Beersheva, and Israeli folk dancing will be located in the Jerusalem area. The Israel in the Park festival programs will list the times of instruction.

Meidav will conduct two 45-minute sessions. At each, she'll perform with her students for 20 minutes and teach for the remaining 25.

A Berkeley dance teacher, Meidav said belly dancing is not traditional in Israel, and that only within the last decade has it come to be practiced there.

"It's an adaptation of Turkish, Arab and Egyptian, Lebanese and Greek dancing. Belly dancing is a hybrid. [In Israel,] culturally it wasn't accepted. It was viewed as Arab culture," she said. "Now it's beginning to catch on."

She said her students see belly dance primarily as a method for personal "transition and transformation."

"I teach women to accept their bodies and integrate their expressiveness into the belly dancing. It's an exhilarating dance, and it's ancient and modern at the same time."

For her performances and classes, Meidav uses a blend of Egyptian, Arab and traditional Israeli music.

"I've always had an affinity for Middle Eastern music. The first time I saw belly dancing, 25 years ago, I could do it right away," she said.

It's the dance form's cross-cultural background that inspires her and makes her feel connected to the Middle East as a region.

"I think that's where we're headed — toward an acceptance of a cultural integration between the Arabs and the Jews," she said.

Meidav is originally from St. Louis. Her husband is Israeli and two of her three children were born in Israel. She began performing and teaching belly dancing in 1981.

Frankel, who teaches folk and ballroom dancing throughoutt the Bay Area, will offer instruction in a different kind of dance.

"After performing on many stages in classical ballet and with my Israeli dance troupe, the real joy for me is helping others who are sure they can't dance experience the joy of Jewish dancing," Frankel said. "At the festival I hope to let experienced dancers express their joy for Israel's 50th anniversary and for brand-new dancers to try something new and exciting."

At the festival, she plans to teach both beginners experienced dancers.

"Israeli dancing is fun. There's a dance for everybody — if you like aerobics, if you like romantic, slow or fast dancing. And there's a large variety of music," she said.

Frankel's inspiration was her uncle, a Jewish folk dancer. She "fell in love" with classical ballet and was with a troupe for 12 years.

She grew up in a Conservative household in San Diego, where Frankel said that she and her five sisters "had the spirit of Judaism" and celebrated the holidays with passion. The area had a small Jewish population, and the family's synagogue was located 90 minutes away.

"I really felt my Judaism," she said. "When you live in an area where there are few Jews, it's that much more important to live your Judaism and make every possible connection with the Jewish community."

Dancing connects her to her past and to her Judaism.

"I sing with my body," she said. "It's what God supplied me with to express my gratitude to Him."