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It all begins with the Taxim and the Goddess posture, standing feet parallel, shifting weight from left foot to right foot, hips swaying slowly, not in a circular fashion but along a strict horizontal line.

It is the beginning of American tribal belly dance, as instructed by Margarita Jaime, a teacher at Grow In Motion Dance and Wellness Center.

As Jaime slowly sways her hips, she instructs her students in the intricacies of Goddess Posture.

Arms up, forming a crescent moon, chest out, showing off jewelry, she reminds her students they are all beautiful.

As the students carefully follow Jaime’s lead, a sense of seductiveness and an almost palpable increase in self-confidence emerges as the students sneak peaks at themselves in the mirror.

A sense of well-being grows as they gain confidence in their moves, forget about hip sizes or perfect body types, and learn to
appreciate the beauty within. At least
that’s the goal.

“It is about integrating the body, mind and spirit,” said Gabrielle Deschaine, who opened Grow In Motion last June. “We focus on a sense of well-being, centeredness, feeling peace and contentedness?”not losing weight or inches.”

As Jaime continues teaching the Taxim, she demonstrates a movement called the Florao, fingers slightly splayed, wrist initiating a circular motion in towards the body, then away from the body. She keeps her students focusing on the moment, concentrating on the movement, forgetting everything around them but the beat of the music and the motion of the hips, hands and feet.

All classes taught in Grow In Motion and in its sister company Equability Yoga & Pilates, run by Catherine Lewan, are about just about that?”remaining in the moment.

“We are process-oriented,” Deschaine said. “Pilates works with the body on a structural level and creates a balanced state. American tribal belly dance is like a moving meditation; it is about accepting the limits of the body.”

The class follows the leader as she switches to a Taxim with both arms.

She calls it “catching rain” in one palm and “pulling a string” with the other.

Bodies still swaying calmly side to side, the women draw an arc with their right arm up towards the ceiling, beginning at the hip and pulling an imaginary string from their hip towards the sky. Simultaneously, the left arm is “catching the rain,” following a downward arc, palms cupped from the ceiling back towards their hip.

The result is a beautifully synchronized horizontal “S” shape, traced by the women in the class, still meditating in the moment, concentrating on the movement.

In theory, any woman in the class could become the leader, Jaime explains, as the dance is performed in an improvisational fashion, where the dancers share leadership roles and mutual validation. They also feed off each other’s movements and energy.

“This is the first dance form where you see women working solely on behalf of one another to share the dance and explore what they are capable of,” Deschaine said. “It is about balancing, not about being at war with their bodies. It is about embracing the self.”

On a deeper level, the dance is meant to be therapeutic, as the women lose themselves and learn to feel better about their bodies.

In this respect, tribal is a lot like a lesser known aspect of Deschaine’s work at Grow In Motion: movement therapy.

“Movement therapy is an extension of dance,” Deschaine explained. “Dance is therapeutic but this is actually therapy.”

Movement therapy is a body-centered, clinical counseling that combines authentic movement and moving meditation with verbal processing?”what most of us think of when we think of therapy.

“We integrate the mind, body and spiritual side; we don’t separate the body from what is going on emotionally,” she said.

Deschaine has been working as a dance/movement therapist for six years and has a master’s in movement therapy from Columbia College, Chicago. She is also licensed as a clinical professional counselor in the state of Illinois.

Traditionally, movement therapists work with patients who are unable to relate to their environment or communicate in conventional ways as emotional difficulties are observable in movement behavior, according to the American Dance Therapy Association.

A depressed individual, for example, will have a flaccid or immobile body stance.

“All those things are road maps to the self,” she explains. “If we just become centered and focused in a compassionate way, we are going to learn what our needs are and how to get them met.”

Oftentimes the body reveals more about a person’s problems than the person is capable of verbalizing, she said, as our minds are often cluttered and emotions can be hard to understand.

“Movement therapy is about learning to trust the inner voice, what I like to call body wisdom,” she said. “Sometimes up here [in our heads], we get a lot of input, and what we think we need is off the mark.”

She said her experience as a dancer is what brought her to see movement as an avenue for emotional expression and said other types of dance don’t work as well in combination with movement meditation as tribal belly dance does.

“Tribal is about being compassionate and noticing the needs of the body, accepting its limits and learning how to get those needs met,” she said. “In my classes I get the same type of response [as in movement therapy]: finding joy, love and respect for the body.”

The women in the class all seem to agree, as smiles are exchanged and movements are synchronized and mimicked during the dancer’s circle.

Under Jaime’s careful instruction, the women Taxim into a modified grapevine walk, moving in a large circle, hands doing a Florao, arms arching into an “S” motion.

Deschaine and her instructors have been at 7518 W. Madison St. for almost a year and teach Pilates, Yoga, American Tribal Belly Dance and perform movement therapy.

The location, Deschaine said, has been a definite plus for the dance studio.

“The first six months were slow, but since January it has exploded,” she said. “It is a very consistent clientele that is much larger. It has been the best space I have used yet. We have had art openings and performances for 200 people.”

And her brand of dance meditation seems to be catching on, as the students in her class smile and leave class with heads held high and spirits higher, carrying the Goddess posture with them back into the world outside.