Kim Leary of Alexia’s Belly Dance and Beyond. (Photo by Stacy Pastorella.)
A class participates in a Zumba dance workout at Alexia’s Belly Dance and Beyond on Oct. 5, 2010. (Photo by Stacey Pastorella.)

Kim Leary knows what some people think about belly dancing.

“That you can just put on a hip scarf, and shake it, and you’re belly dancing,” Leary said.

The truth, Leary said, is that it’s a much more complex genre that includes elements of history, culture, music and rhythm.

It is one of the dance forms taught at Alexia’s Belly Dance and Beyond in Lawrenceville. The studio also offers classes in other genres of dance, including flamenco, West African dance and Bollywood. Alexia’s Belly Dance and Beyond also holds Zumba classes, which can be started at any time. Participants can attend Zumba on a drop-in basis for $10 a session, and get the first class free, Leary said. If they plan to attend more than once a week, they can purchase a package that will save them money, Leary said.

Leary admits that she was skeptical about belly dance at first. Growing up, she had danced in traditional genres such as ballet and tap. Her mother, who was taking a belly dancing class, suggested that Leary give it a try. Leary wasn’t convinced at first, but went to see a performance by her mother’s teacher, and was captivated.

She has now been belly dancing for 21 years, and teaching for about 12.

“From that point forward, I’ve been very involved in belly dance, which also opened up all kinds of other ethnic dance avenues for me that I didn’t know existed,” Leary said.

Leary, whose stage name is Alexia, began studying with her mother’s teacher, whom she had watched perform.

“She had a plan to what she was doing, but there was also improvisation, so there was an element of creativity that appealed to me,” Leary said.

Leary still studies dance. Once a year, she travels to California to work with her main instructor. That instructor also visits Leary’s studio to do a belly dance certification workshop.

“I still study. It’s just a lifelong passion,” Leary said. “I’m never really going to stop.”

Leary said that dance has opened many doors for her. She has studied it in the middle east, and has networked with other dancers from places such as Turkey, Dubai and Egypt. “Dance has kind of been my vehicle for travel, for learning about other cultures, for learning about music,” Leary said. When Leary started as a dance instructor, she taught in different locations throughout the state. About five years ago, she opened a dance studio in Bordentown, where she taught for four years before moving to her current studio in Lawrenceville. In October, Alexia’s Belly Dance and Beyond celebrated its first anniversary at its current location.

Leary says she teaches classes, and that some classes are also taught by advanced students from her dance company.

Leary said that belly dancing classes are taught in a 6-week series, because they are more instructional and students need to attend classes regularly to get all the necessary information.

Leary and her students perform at festivals, open houses and events in the community. They perform with live percussion musicians, Leary said.

Leary believes that belly dancing has physical as well as mental and emotional benefits. Physically, it tones the body and changes the physique. It also makes a person more aware of their body, Leary said. It provides exercise for the mind as well.

“The way we work, it’s very rhythmic and very layered in rhythms. Your brain is working overtime,” Leary said.

Leary said that ethnic dance genres are accessible for dancers of all ages. Most of her students are adults, and she said she knows professional dancers who are still performing in their 50s.

Leary said that when she teaches, she makes sure students understand the timing of the dance, the muscles to use, and how to shift their weight. Although everyone in the class learns the same moves, Leary said the dances look different depending on a dancer’s body type and personal style.

“Some of my students are a little more funky, they like to get down, and it’s a little more earthy. Others are more balletic and they like to work up higher. So, that’s the beauty of it. You find your own voice in it, which is pretty cool,” Leary said.

Alexia’s Belly Dance and Beyond is located at 4110-4120 Quakerbridge Road, at the corner of Avalon Way and Quakerbridge Road, in Lawrenceville.

More information, including a schedule of classes, is available online at drumdancecenter.com. Information is also available by phone at (609) 324-7383, or via Email at ddlcnj@gmail.com.