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FIRE IN THE BELLY
by Sharon Anderson

Carolena Nericcio and members of Fat Chance Belly Dance practice choreography for their Halloween performance during their weekly rehearsal. The troupe has performances booked through the end of the year.

Jenna Bowles / Staff Photographer

Believe it or not, Carolena Nericcio started belly dancing as a teenager because she was shy. While some might think that the unabashedly feminine and seductive dance would be the last thing a shy teen would want to do, Nericcio was more pragmatic. "I wanted to dance, but I wasn't good at the talking-to-boys thing so I needed a dance where I didn't have to be asked to be someone's partner."

One thing Nericcio likes about belly dancing is its adaptability and flexibility. The dance has been constantly changing throughout its history, she says, and is different just about everywhere it is danced. Before modern times no one ever really wrote belly dance instructions down. "Every thing is passed down from teacher to student," she says.

At Fat Chance Belly Dance , her studio, she teaches a style called tribal belly dance, also referred to as American fusion. The tribal style takes traditional belly dance and incorporates elements from flamenco, gypsy, North African, and Indian dance and music. Her career got its start when she began dancing outside the traditional belly dance venues of Middle-Eastern restaurants and clubs. This exposed belly dance to a new audience and allowed Nericcio and her troupe to experiment with their style and escape the constraints of traditional belly dance.

At Nericcio's studio, all body types and levels of dance ability are welcome. Beyond learning the steps, students learn about the rituals and traditions behind them, and pick up a new appreciation for their own bodies. The beginning students' self-consciousness is driven away by the loud, melodic ringing of the zils, metallic finger cymbals a dancer uses to accompany her steps. After classes, adult students act like little kids playing dress-up in Mom's closet as they try on the exotic skirts, scarves, headdresses and jewelry Nericcio sells in the studio's lobby area.

Name: Carolena Nericcio

Age: 40

Occupation: Director of Fat Chance Belly Dance, a belly dance studio with professional and amateur dance troupes.

Responsibilities: Nericcio teaches several belly dance classes a week at her studio and another studio in Berkeley, performs frequently with her professional belly dance troupe at festivals, private parties and public venues, and handles the business aspects of running the studio.

Education: "I never had any formal dance training. I taught myself and incorporated things I learned from other belly dance teachers."

Route to the job: "I started teaching in 1987. Every little thing I did, every performance, every class, was a step towards having this studio. For about 10 years I worked so hard I couldn't see straight. I was working out of tiny little spaces all over the Bay Area, without a place of my own. Some friends of mine who were in real estate were taking classes from me and they said 'Why don't you get your own studio. We'll help you look for a space.' Well, they found this studio and I realized that I needed to go for it if I wanted to have a real life

If I could change one thing about my job, what would it be and why? "I wish I had more time to put into each individual thing that I do, so that I would know that I had done it well. Right now everything is a deadline for me, I'm re-writing our new catalog (of belly dance related merchandise) while doing this interview and waiting for the UPS guy."

Life Goal: "I never had one, but I guess this is it. Actually, I always knew when I was growing up that I just didn't want to end up with a job selling junk to people, or manufacturing junk that people didn't want or need. And in that regard I've succeeded because people seek me out (for classes and performances) and they like the things I sell at the studio. Creating something relevant for people was the goal."

From the Hip:

Most valuable job-related course: "I took the course necessary to become a certified personal trainer. Although I took it quite a while after I became a belly dance teacher, it taught me a lot of things about body mechanics that helps me now."

Favorite Course: "No favorite course, just life experiences."

"Hate" course: "Ironically, I really hated math and science classes when I was in school. In my business I have to use those skills a lot but now I like it. I was preparing a belly dance video and had to count out all the steps and the different patterns and that mathematical aspect made me appreciate the art of it differently."

Course I wish I took: "I don't think there's a class out there that I should have taken. I'm Greek and Italian and I think I inherited a pretty intuitive sense of business from both sides of my family."