Christine (Willow) Dempsey is originally from Long Island. She has lived in Saugerties since 2004. She has a studio in Woodstock above her husband’s business, Dempsey Tattoo Company, where she teaches belly dance.
How did you become a belly dancer?
I first saw belly dancing at a Renaissance festival and I was fascinated.
How did you learn belly dancing?
I had friends who were into belly dancing and studying with a teacher; and they started teaching me some moves. I picked it up pretty quickly and then they referred me to their teachers.
Were there many teachers in this area?
No, not really. I had to go to Long Island, Suffolk and Nassau counties, to find a teacher. Of course there were many teachers in Manhattan but no one close.
Belly dancing doesn’t strike me as a momentary fad or the popular dance of the moment the way some movements have been:
That’s true. Belly dancing is classic and timeless; it’s an ancient art form and it’s always evolving. There are basic things taken from its origins but it is always changing. Dance is a living art form.
What is the most misunderstood thing about belly dancing?
I guess it’s that people think it’s a seductive dance. That is the number one cliché. It is beautiful, sensual, even sexual, but that’s not its purpose.
What is its purpose?
It is about where it comes from, the culture it comes out of; it is actually a folk dance. It’s a dance done by the common people. It’s a dance done by housewives in their homes. It’s women dancing with other women. Arabic culture keeps men and women segregated and so the women danced with other woman. It’s a very common thing in that culture. What we now call belly dance is not necessarily what they do. What we do now has evolved out of that common dance.
What do you enjoy most about it?
I love being a student. I love taking classes and studying. It’s my favorite part. I’m always learning, always refining, practicing, and keeping my chops. I also love teaching. I love to bring the dance to other women who develop a passion and a love for it.
It’s seems to be a dance that is very accepting of different body types. Is that true?
Yes! Women can feel beautiful belly dancing no matter what size they are and they don’t have to conform to some standard of beauty.
Is there anything you find difficult or challenging about it?
Well, it’s an art form so it’s always going to be difficult to make a living. You have to find a market, or create one. This isn’t Manhattan where there is a thriving belly dancing community; we have a small community here with limited resources.
Do you have any influences?
There are two dancers that I’m currently very interested in: Ansuya, and Rachael Brice. They are both prominent belly dancers with very different styles. I love them for their costuming and make up as much as for their dancing. Costuming is integral to belly dance.
This article originally appeared in 2014.