Professor doubles as belly dancer

Belly dancing. When you hear the term, does your brain fill with an idea of exotic bombshells performing a dance of seduction for an audience of male suitors? Naturally, this is the most common stereotype surrounding the dance. Inside the basement of Willingham Hall, Yaschica Williams, chair of the criminal justice department and avid belly dancer, describes how she exudes a passion for both her art and profession.

There are numerous misconceptions about the art of belly dancing, she said. Misconceptions Williams herself admits to once having about the style of dance when she first took up the art form in 2002, she said.

Williams explained belly dancing is often misconstrued as sexual in nature. To her, belly dancing is used as a way to entertain friends and family — not a means of seduction, she said.

“Belly dance is a type of dance that’s about movement,” Williams said. “It’s about becoming one with the music.”

Williams has performed at festivals and benefits like the Alabama Renaissance Fair and currently practices with the Rainbow Dancers, a belly dance troupe in Florence.

“Since coming to our area and joining our troupe, Yaschica has made us better and more beautiful,” said Rainbow Dancers troupe member Ellen Aday. “When she performs, she moves with such grace and energy you can’t take your eyes off of her.”

Born in Tuscaloosa, Williams’s studies took her to Michigan where she took up the style of belly dance while in search of something to fill her leisure time.

“I decided to go to graduate school in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and my first semester there I decided I wanted to do something for leisure —     something extracurricular,” Williams said.

The skills she acquired from belly dance carried over into her career.

“I’m naturally a reserved person, an introvert,” she said. “When I started dancing I think it helped me to become more outgoing and more interactive with individuals.”

Williams practices with her troupe regularly and said she uses her time belly dancing as a retreat.

“There are core movements that go along with belly dance that develop muscle memory,” she said. “So when you hear a song come on it’s like your muscles automatically go toward that movement.”

Williams she finds solidarity with her troupe and her fellow dancers.

“I enjoy the sisterhood among dancers – it’s like a community,” she said.

Aday said she shares the sense of camaraderie among dancers with Williams.

“She is my sister in dance, and I greatly admire her,” Aday said.

Williams said her favorite part of belly dancing is the way it helps people become more comfortable in their own skin.

Williams’s advice for anyone interested in belly dancing is simple.

“Look in a phone book and see if there is a belly dance instructor or group in your area,” she said. “Usually if you’re trying them out the first class is free.”