“It’s a very womanly dance,” Valentine said, who prefers to go by "Rabia” when she’s performing. “It’s a celebration of women.”
And the celebration stuck as Valentine, an avid fan of theater and modern dance, soon picked up belly dancing after that performance. After 28 years and taking her dancing overseas, she’s still at it.
Inside Valentine’s house in Reno, her upstairs dance studio is filled with photos, instruments and, of course, at least 30 or more traditional dancing outfits. From that one spark years ago, Rabia has flourished.
“With the theatrics of it, plus the music, it’s very enticing,” the local belly dancing teacher said. “I always loved dance. And I’m just fascinated with different cultures and people.”
Valentine, over the course of taking several dance company directorships in California before moving to Reno in 1999, took her fascination with learning and reached out for different cultural dances. Flamenco, Persian, Moroccan, Tunisian and Egyptian are among many that Valentine has studied and learned. Any quick glance at a traditional outfit and Valentine has the origin and dance pinpointed.
“I go through National Geographics and try to emulate the outfits,” Valentine said, adding that many of her dresses are handmade and can take as long as a month to complete because of the intricate details. “I try to stay true to form.”
This commitment to style Valentine carries over in her dancing, constantly trying to perfect her technique. In 1996, she even took a trip to travel primarily around Egypt to learn and appreciate the dancing and culture.
“My feeling was that I could fit in over there,” Valentine said with a laugh, mentioning that many locals would speak their native tongues with her. “I would dance for them and they would take me in as their own.”
But despite the variety of dances at her fingertips, Valentine still comes back to belly dancing and its rich history, as it combines many techniques from Middle Eastern countries.
“It’s very eclectic in a sense,” Valentine said, explaining that there are multiple off shoots of belly dancing. “That’s what art is, it evolves for every person in a different way.”
For that reason, belly dancing is a difficult dance to trace back to just one country, much of it dating to the time of harems when women would dance for one another for entertainment.
“It was also used to prepare women for childbirth,” Valentine said. “And it’s a celebration dance. In the Middle East, if there is a birth or a wedding, a belly dancer is usually there.”
Valentine can personally attest to that, as she remembers spending many years as the entertaining belly dancer at local venues and even restaurants around California.
“It feels really good in my body,” Valentine said, tempering that with perhaps the biggest misconception about belly dancing — that it objectifies women.
“To some, it comes across too sexual,” Valentine said. “It’s in people’s heads, it’s stuck with them. But really, it shows what the female body can do. It is empowering.”
Valentine’s classes are held at Perfect Balance Therapies located at 7485 Longley Lane in Reno on Tuesdays from 6:45 to 8:45 p.m. Cost is $15 and drop-ins are welcome.
Valentine is also heading up a six-week course, held every Sunday from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. at In Motion Studio of Dance located at 9410 Prototype Drive in Reno. Cost is $68. The start date will be announced soon, but all those interested call Valentine at 857-4656.