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The Gilded Serpent presents...
Karen Andes: World Dancer
by Jawahare

Much as an experienced chef blends flavors to present cuisine that fulfils a sense of taste and comfort, Karen Andes has cooked up a unique fusion of eastern and western movement that that provides rich nourishment for the minds, bodies and spirits of women. She is a teacher, personal trainer,
video producer and published author. Her trilogy of books, "A Woman's Book of Strength, "A Woman's Book of Power " and " A Woman's Book of Balance', have inspired many woman to build physical and spiritual power through weight training, cultivate balance and peace in the stillness of Yoga and express emotional release in a delicious mix of dance movements.

Over the last several years she has developed a format for several special group classes: Woman Power Workout, Ecstatic Yoga and Muscle Dance. It is in these classes that people are able to experience her wisdom, beauty, and tangy sense of humor as they reach for the ultimate stretch, don silken veils and feel the magic meditation of dancing with weights.Karen has a unique way of describing her initial introduction into the world of belly dance.

"It was about 6 years ago, in a time when I felt a spiritual dryness. I was working a corporate job when suddenly the Goddess mugged me, filling my mind with the words "belly dance". At first I shunned the idea, thinking, "I'm a bodybuilder, not a belly dancer!"

I finally gave in, and started taking some classes. I immersed myself in the belly dance learning experience, attending classes, festivals and studying videos. I should add that I started taking dance classes when I was 7 and for years studied ballet , Modern, jazz Afro-Haitian and a little bit of ballroom dance. Then I got into Chinese martial arts, then fitness, aerobics, bodybuilding, yoga… you name it. I have always loved everything that pertains to movement. I grew up watching and still love Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, West side Story, Gypsy, Busby Berkeley and the June Taylor Dancers too. Do you remember them from the Jackie Gleason show? I'd seen belly dancing before, but it didn't click with me until I was older and it shot like an arrow straight into my soul. It was a "Ta-da" moments that changed my life"

Jawahare "In what ways has belly dance affected you physically or emotionally? What kinds of changes have you noticed in other areas of your life?

Karen " Well, I had just come from this place of operating on a masculine wavelength both mentally and physically. Mentally this is a classic disguise a lot of women use to get ahead in a career, and I was using it too. The problem was, I forgot to take it off, so I'd go from "bottom line" linear thinking to distress at the gym with linear movements borrowed from the military. My soul rebelled and said" Yo, girl! Get thee to belly dance class!" When I did I knew I was home at last.

The circular , feminine movement patterns of the dance freed and soothed my spirit. It softened some of my physical armoring and definitely softened my thinking and opened my heart.

On stage as a competitive body builder, I used to enjoy dancing, but in a very muscular sense. Belly dance took me to a more internal, expressive and emotional realm. Through the dance I discovered a blend of mind and muscle, a marriage of softness and strength. I got in touch with my
inner four year old who still loves to play and dance.

Perhaps the best gift of belly dancing is that I have deepened my relationships with women via sharing this wonderful dance form.

Although I've taught mostly in a gym, I feel blessed that I've been able to fold the
sacred aspect of the dance into what doubles as a workout. I suspect that sensual, sacred movement is something that women have always done and do naturally, This quality is something that women have always embodied, but it has been asleep or dormant for centuries and now women are waking up all
over the globe!. For me personally, I've often used dance as a sanctuary, a place to retreat to from the daily problems of life. My experience with belly dance has not always been great though. When I first got in to it, on my 40th birthday I went to Rakkasah and spent $400.00 on costumes, music, veils and a long blond wig and my husband thought I had flipped out . He also got jealous of the dance because I'd often choose to be with it rather than with him (but that's another story), He also wasn't thrilled with the idea of me dancing in public. He got over it eventually.

Jawahare "What are some of the things that you appreciate the most about the dance and its surrounding culture? What aspects do you find unappealing?"

Karen "I love the Middle Eastern influence, the art and the music, but there are some aspects of traditional Arab life that don't demonstrate fairness or equality towards women that I find very disturbing. Still. I don't know enough about the subject to speak eloquently about this "Shying away from that subject she continues to describe her fascination with belly dance." I love the costumes, the music and all the festivals! I love how you can see the highs and lows of the art form and everything in between for all ages, races and levels of ability have a place in the belly dance world. What I don't like are the ego battles that occasionally go on between some dancers and troupes.. That kind of thinking holds us back from making a more powerful impact in the world.

This is work connected to the Goddess and is not about "either/or". Its about "and".

We need to appreciate each other for our differences, pushing aside negative judgments to see to beauty of effort and self expression, epecially in beginners. I think we have the ability to learn from all teachers and dancers-even ones that don't appeal to us.

Jawahare: How did you develop the Woman Power Workout?

Karen: Over the course of a year I spent a part of every day just dancing in a small room in the gym. People started asking me about teaching and I could feel that it was time. I approached the owner of the club, Moana, about the idea. She didn't exactly warm to the idea. I basically begged her to let me do the class for free, just taking a donation from the students. Soon, it caught on and was officially "on the payroll". It quickly became a popular class averaging 35 people at 8:00 a.m. on a workday! Out of Woman Power came a dance troupe that performed with Bread and Roses (founded by the late Mimi Farina). Woman love to come to class to play with a variety of props, costumes and dance to different music. Some women come for the first time and find that even putting on a hip scarf can be liberating! "

I comment on the box of veils, the fans and the swords that Karen generously lends out to the Woman Power dancers. Amused, Karen recalls a memory of her childhood.

"My mother used to tell me that I shared my toys too much with all the other kids, but I love to play and have fun by sharing. There is a spirit of camaraderie surrounding the box at Woman Power Workout. When women return from their travels, they bring back exotic veils to donate to the box."

Jawahare: From your point of view as a teacher, describe a typical woman Power Workout Class."

Karen: "Aside from the rounded shapes and circular patterns of belly dance, I incorporate a blend of the various dance genres and martial arts styles that I've studied. This includes the extensions of Ballet, the expression of Modern, and elements of African and Hindu Temple Dance. I always have some time for improvisation too."

Here our conversation digresses as we discuss the nature of these improvisational exercises. Sometimes Karen plays music with no intention but that which inspires the individual dancers, leaving each to explore her movement without a defined focus. Other times she may guide the improvisation by having students pay attention to certain qualities in the music. Then there are exercises that are based on a specific purpose. I ask her about this, remembering one in particular where we were encouraged to call out phrases that mothers often say when giving advice (e.g. That's ice dear, but when are you going to get a real job?). I had the impression that everyone in the room could relate to the situation-we all have mothers or mother figures in our lives. It was like a lighthearted type of group therapy through movement. Karen elaborates further on this:

"There are so many common experiences and archetypes that can be expressed in movement. Improvisational dance in this manner becomes a bonding support between women."

Getting back to the format of the class, Karen explains that she organizes the class around the three main components of building and maintaining fitness: strength conditioning, cardiovascular training and flexibility
exercises. "In class on a daily basis I try to achieve a balance by weaving the joy of dance with muscle building and awareness."

Julia: Where did you come up with the idea of working with props in your classes? Dancing with swords and fans is empowering, beautiful and a great way to tone the arms!

Karen: I did some weapons training in the martial arts, mostly with the staff. Although we use martial arts swords in class, the idea came to me while watching a belly dancer perform a sword dance.

I knew a person could do more with a sword than just a balance it.

So, I studied various types of sword work and the cultures that they represent. There are so many types of swords. There is the samurai sword, the tai chi sword and the fencing sword, to name a few. I'm inspired by the Dakini goddesses depicted by the Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist tradition using swords to slice through complacency. The evocation of goddesses like Durga and Kali through sword dancing becomes a powerful force that symbolizes cutting through what is necessary to attain the truth. In the fan dance of Mulan it was a similar situation. I saw someone do a fan dance and then using tai chi fans I created a series of movements based on the story of the warrior princess, Mulan.

Julia: From your unique perspective as a dancer and fitness educator, is there any advise that you would like to share with belly dancers?

Karen: I would advise dancers to work on all over strength conditioning with special emphasis on the legs and the core muscle of the torso. Also, don't park your dancer's brain at the door when you train for strength. Use your experience and sensibility to feel your way through to your muscles. Dancers
make the best lifters!

Jawahare: Is there any specific program or modality that you would recommend to belly dancers to achieve this?

Karen: Pilates may be useful because it works the deeper torso muscles in an entirely different way than belly dance does. It also increases shoulder stability. I've seen many dancers who lack stamina; therefore, some kind of endurance training could be helpful too. I still see some improper ways of warming up and stretching in dance studios, so, for dancers or anyone who exercises it's important to remember to stretch when the muscle are warm, hold the stretch in a safe range for a minimum of 10 seconds and don't bounce while holding the stretch.

Jawahare: You are in the process of making a major transition. Can you discuss your future plans and goals?

Karen: " I plan to continue my work with woman and movement. I have been in California for the last 15 years and while I realize that this is a special place, unlike any other I've ever been, it's time for me to leave.
I 've been feeling held back in my personal life, so I'm moving back to my hometown of Philadelphia.. My husband and I had been renovating a house for the last 8 years and it has been like living on a construction site. My strength has allowed me to cope for years, but it got to a point where I realized that coping was not only stupid, it was draining my life! I surrendered to my truth, my my vulnerability and softness and asked the Goddess where to go. She said" Go home to Philadelphia." In my work I provide soul nourishment to others and to myself with dance, but now its time for me to receive nourishment on a deeper level. I also remain commited to continuing my work.

Jawahare: How then, do you plan to manifest this in a new, deeper way?

Karen: I'm moving into this wonderful Decco building near the park. I'll enjoy the view of the changing leaves of autumn and live more simply since the cost of living there is cheaper. I have some leads there for projects that I'm interested in pursuing. related to broadcasting and video production. Eventually I'd like to open my own school. The name came to me the other day-"Sacred Sweat".I don't know how long it will take, but watch for it. Since Philadelphia is a city that is lacking in sacred dance, I think there is a good potential for the work that I do. They are ready for a more profound and joyful experience with movement.

For more insight into Karen's world of dance please visit her website: .
Karen Andes can be contacted at .


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