Article - Office of College Advancement

Belly dancing class comes to Ohlone College

By Matthew Artz, The Argus.

Saturday, December 20, 2008—Reprinted from Inside Bay Area.

For eight years, Debi Lemon, a Spanish teacher at Ohlone College, has been trying to get her students to roll their "R's."

But this year, come nighttime at least, "Profe Lemon" is Naiya, the college's coin-rattling belly dancer who teaches students how to shimmy.

When Lemon tells her students to "shake it out," they aren't necessarily finishing an exercise—they might just be getting under way.

As Turkish and Egyptian tunes fill the college's Newark campus workout studio, Lemon helps her beginning students learn one of the world's most traditional and sexiest dances.

"There are just certain movements that make you feel—gosh—what am I saying?" said Elsa Nimedez, a Fremont nurse. "Some of the moves are just kind of sensuous."

A tall, slender blonde, Lemon would seem more at home dancing a waltz rather than shaking her hips.

She grew up doing more traditional tap and jazz dancing and moved on to Latin dancing before devoting herself to belly dancing as a graduate student in Santa Barbara.

"I opened the Yellow Pages and signed up for the first belly-dancing studio I found," she said.

Within six months, she was so dedicated to the art that she had hired three teachers. A year later, she was Naiya, a professional belly dancer at Middle Eastern-themed restaurants.

Lemon said she always had been intrigued with belly dancing. It began when her father went on a business trip to Morocco and returned to tell her about the performances he saw. Then, her grandmother took up belly dancing at age 60—and even had her bellybutton pierced, Lemon said.

Her biggest inspiration these days is her husband, Mauricio Del Prado, a computer engineer who also decided to become a belly dancer and adopted the stage name Numa'ir, which means "panther" in Arabic.

Six years later, they were named the best duo at the 2008 Belly Dancer of the Year competition in Danville.

As a male belly dancer, Del Prado tries to keep his chest out and focus his movements around his shoulders and upper torso, rather than his hips.

"I try to keep a masculine mind-set … like a bullfighter," he said.

Meanwhile, Lemon wants to look "girlie" from head to toe. Her navel-exposing costumes, which cost between $600 and $1,200 each, all come from the Middle East. The elaborate bead and crystal designs aren't made anywhere else, she said.

When Lemon dances at restaurants, she has to walk the line between being sensuous and not being so over-the-top that female diners feel uncomfortable.

"You don't shake your boobs; you don't put your booty in someone's face," she said.

Four years ago, Lemon approached Ohlone about letting her teach a belly dancing class, and this year finally received approval after demonstrating community interest.

More than 20 people enrolled in her first class, during the fall semester, which met two evenings a week for a little more than an hour. Two classes are scheduled for next semester.

The lessons begin with light exercises, and then move to specific belly dancing motions. The students, who wear sweat clothes, practice with veils. In these sessions, less flesh is on display than at local gyms.

Nobody was sweating after one class last month, but students said it was a workout nonetheless—especially for the muscles around the stomach, hips and butt.

"It's just that you're moving stuff that you'd never normally be moving," said Nadia Nasiri, 24, of Fremont.

One key aspect of belly dancing is to separate hip movements from chest movements. It helps to have some hips, but, as long as it's done right, the dance is sensuous no matter the dancer's body type, Lemon said.

Her biggest challenge is getting students to relax their stomachs.

"If you don't have anything to shake when you're shimmying," she said, "it's not going to look interesting."

Lemon will teach beginners and intermediate classes next semester, starting in late January. To register, call 510-742-2304 or visit

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