Legal assistant is part-time belly dancer
By KIM MORGAN
A snake slithering down one's pants would be terrifying for most people, but if you're Debbie Scheel, it's merely a technical difficulty.
It was going fine until the snake decided he didn't want to play with me and climbed down my pants," said Scheel, a belly dance guru and instructor at Sirrom Studio, 5570 Weslayan in Houston.
I was doing stomach undulations and it decided to go south. I ended up having to leave the stage."
From 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Scheel, 58, is a legal assistant at Beirne, Maynard & Parsons in the Galleria area of Houston, where she's been working for 22 years.
But during evening and weekend hours, Scheel trades her business attire for any of her 30-plus, jewel-toned belly dancing costumes and becomes Shakira Massood-Ali.
Massood" is Scheel's mother's maiden name. Her maternal grandparents were Syrian.
I told my mom I was going to be a belly dancer for my heritage," Scheel said.
That was when Scheel was 26.
She and nine other dance sisters" began training under Zaina Ali. After a couple of years, they all took Ali" as their dancer last name. Shakira" was bestowed on Scheel by her dance sisters.
Now, at the Sirrom Studio in Houston, dancers can also earn the name Ali after taking Scheel's classes for two years.
It's quite the honor, said Jenny Lanteigne, also known as Layla Ali," who has been taking lessons for six years.
It's pretty cool to be part of that dance world," said Lanteigne, 49, a Navasota resident who commutes to Houston for her work in the Greenspoint area.
Belly dancing is a lot harder to do than it looks. You really kind of feel it the next day. But it's a lot of fun."
Scheel said belly dancing is indeed an entire body workout.
To look good at it, you have to have very good posture," Scheel said. Then your hips can move and your rib cage can move. Your face has to be engaged. Your arms have movement.
And this concept of thin belly dancers is an American concept. Larger women are beautiful belly dancers. They don't have to work as hard to get that extra little shimmy."
Scheel describes herself as not a little bitty thing," and truly loves how sensuous belly dancing makes her feel.
There are a lot of people who think of it as sexual," Scheel said. But I think of it as sensual. A lot of this dance is me dancing for me. It's my journey. I'm letting you go with me. I am not necessarily there to entice you or fulfill your fantasy. It's mine."
Ironically, although belly dancing is believed to have originated in the Middle East, women who do it in Egypt are held in the same regard as prostitutes, Scheel said.
There is a discrepancy between what the public thinks a belly dancer is and what she truly is," Scheel said.
There are a lot of theories about how belly dancing came to be, but it's believed it was passed down within various cultures from mother to daughter.
We have Turkish movements, a little bit of Greek in there, we have Tahitian hip circles, we have some Indian movements," Scheel said. We think the gypsies would come down from India, sweep through the valleys and pick up movements."
Scheel said it may have originally been a woman's dance for women particularly those in harems, and those who were about to deliver babies.
Those beautiful hip undulations could have been their version of childbirth classes," Scheel said.
History also comes into play when it comes to some of the props belly dancers use.
Sometimes I start my dance wrapped up in a veil," Scheel said. It's like unwrapping a Christmas present. Remember, we're talking about people who lived in the desert. They would have carried veils to save themselves from the sun and the sand. They would dance with whatever they had on them."
Sometimes it was swords.
We think, and this is just one story out there, that the swords were something the women stole from the French soldiers, and they would dance with the swords balanced on their heads to entice them," Scheel said. We have a lot of dancers that dance with swords. There are swords designed especially for dancing. They still have blades, but not as sharp. You dance with them on your head, belly. I've seen them on dancer's feet, on their chin "
For now, Scheel is teaching at the Sirrom Studio in Houston Tuesday nights, and Fierce Dance Studio in Spring in Thursday nights.
Belly dancing has been around for thousands of years," Scheel said.
I want to make sure it stays alive."
For details, visit www.sirroms.com.