By Dante Schmitz
Every year the Route 66 Marathon features a variety entertainment acts for runners. Although the majority of the entertainers are bands and musicians, several variety acts have added a unique and fun essence to the marathon experience since the very beginning.
Tulsa Gypsy Fire Belly Dancers have been dancing alongside runners for several years and will again be encouraging participants with tribal belly dancing this year. I recently conversed with a Gypsy Fire member, Janis Layman, to learn more about who they are and what they do.
Q: Being in Tulsa, I would imagine there aren’t a lot of belly dance groups around. How did your group come to be and what kind of response have you gotten from the community?
A: Actually, it’s become very popular over the years. It originated in San Francisco and I saw it begin to emerge in the 90’s. We started our group about 13 years ago. Now there are probably 10 to 12 different groups in the area.
Q: What is it about belly dancing that you think appeals to your dancers?
A: It’s very empowering for women. I think that’s why it’s gotten so big. Women love to dance and it’s also a great outlet for creative people. Creative people are able to express themselves through their dance and also through their costumes and dress styles.
Q: After being involved with the marathon for so many years, what kind of reactions have you had from the runners? Do you have any interesting stories?
A: Yes. We always seem to get a good response from the runners. A lot of people stop and take pictures and I remember one guy stopped running and danced by with us. It’s a lot of fun.
Q: It says on your website that your group focuses on American style tribal dances. Have you noticed any unique blends between Middle Eastern style belly dancing and traditional American dance styles?
A: Yes. Each belly dance group has their own flavor. Our group focuses more on a traditional belly dancing style, but some dance groups blend hip-hop and other American styles into their dancing.
Q: Your website talks about belly dancing as a group function rather than a competitive activity. How has belly dancing strengthened you as a group or community?
A: Belly dancing is universal. It appeals to all age groups and body types. That’s part of why it’s so empowering for women. We always encourage our dancers to perform but some people choose to do it strictly as an exercise. It’s also a healing dance. There’s a lot of body isolation in the movements, which is very healing.
Q: Aside from the marathon, your group also performs at other events. What kind of events do you typically dance for and what’s coming up next?
A: We dance at the different medieval fairs and other local events. Sometimes we’ll even have people invite us out to birthday parties or private parties. We’ll be performing next at the Tulsa Oktoberfest on Sunday, October 23 from 4 to 5 p.m. We have been featured as one of their main acts at the International Folk Dance Stage for several years.
To learn more about the Tulsa Gypsy Fire Belly Dancers, please visit them at www.tulsagypsyfire.us and you can also find them on facebook.