Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Holy Hip Swinging

Get ready for a wedding – belly dance style.

Columbus-based Sacred Shimmy Belly Dance troupe is committed to marrying ancient tribal customs with some that are new.

“When I started dancing, there was a taboo against having any body modifications – piercings, tattoos, and so forth. It was this whole dated idea of ladylike behavior,” said local dancer and instructor Angie Never. “You weren’t supposed to smoke. You weren’t supposed to drink. You weren’t supposed to be seen with a man and you weren’t supposed to swear when you were in public.”

Never aimed to change that perception when she founded Columbus’ Sacred Shimmy Belly Dance in 2003.

“It all started with Carolena Nericcio, founder of Fat Chance Belly Dance in San Francisco,” said Never. Nericcio, a young dancer who was heavily immersed in both folkloric belly dance and San Francisco’s newly emerging modern primitive scene, set out to integrate the traditional dances and culture of the Middle East and North Africa with more contemporary rituals like tattooing and piercing. It was from this cultural fusion that American Tribal Style Belly Dance was born.

“American Tribal Style Belly Dance gives us the freedom not to buy into that stuff,” said Never. “We can have a pure and beautiful art form without all those societal constraints.”

Fittingly, Sacred Shimmy came together because Nick Wolack, owner of Evolved Body Arts, was putting on a show. “He knew I was a dancer and he asked me if I would bring some girls to perform with his band Only Flesh,” said Never. “I put together a group of girls, and we started rehearsing and performing together and that was how it all started.”

At its inception, Sacred Shimmy was performing a wide range of dance styles.

“We did whatever we had learned,” Never explained, “but around 2004 we decided that we were going to head toward becoming more of a tribal act.” That decision meant doing more group dances and less solos. It also meant that they would need to incorporate a live music component. It was at that point that a live drum circle became part of the Sacred Shimmy family.

“My sister was in the troupe at the time and she had years of drumming experience from high school. My boyfriend was interested in taking up drumming and so was the husband of one of the other dancers,” Never explains. “I had this long railroad apartment at the time, and the dancers would rehearse in the front room and the drummers would rehearse in the back,” she said with a laugh. “We did our first show with live drumming at Com Fest in 2005.”

Sacred Shimmy, like its counterpart in San Francisco, has fully embraced body modification as part of its cultural practice.

“We have one drummer who doesn’t have any tattoos,” Never said with a grin. “Otherwise, every member of our troupe has tattoos. One of our plans for 2014 is to get a troupe tattoo. We are working on creating a design that we can all agree on and we will all get. It is very important. It defines who we are and marks us as part of our tribal community.”

Sacred Shimmy performs Tribal Brew – an evening of dance, drumming and coffee drinking the last Friday of every month 7:30 – 9 p.m. at Upper Cup Coffee (79 Parsons Ave.).