belly dancing truly is a celebration of life
By Tom Shea
In the early '90s, Rose
Champagne was a high school kid in Easthampton listening
to college radio. Stairway to Layla on the commercial
airwaves wasn't for her. The Pixies, The Make-up. Blonde
Redhead rocked Rose Champagne's world back then. The
Pixies still do. But what she liked best about college
radio, whether it was Amherst College's student station,
or WMUA, or WTCC, were the elements of surprise and
discovery. "The DJ's had their own taste, and it
wasn't mine," she recalls. "And it was wonderful."
doesn't remember what station played world music after
the student disc jockeys signed off - "maybe they
all did" - but she stayed tuned in. She found the
music exotic and beautiful. Rose started searching bulletin
boards and telephone polls in Northampton looking for
fliers offering information about Middle Eastern or
belly dancing. A friend found one. Rose started taking
lessons. It was supposed to be a new hobby.
By the time Rose graduated from Holyoke Community College
in 1997, her plans of attending a four-year college
were put on hold. Her dance hobby had transformed into
a career. A busy career as a performance artist.
It takes a couple of
days before Rose has time to talk on the phone and to
carve out time to meet. Rose, who now lives in Holyoke,
teaches nine belly dancing classes a week, in West Springfield,
Northampton and Hadley. She directs two troupes. She
is planning a recital for the end of the month. You
wouldn't believe how many weddings, birthday parties
and anniversaries she dances at. Her reputation has
been spread by word of mouth in the local Arab, Turkish
and Armenian communities. She is learning Arabic ("only
baby talk at this point") and is a student of Middle
Eastern cultures and traditions.
Every Saturday night, she performs at Pintu's Indian
Palace in West Springfield. This Saturday at 4, she
will perform with one of her troupes at West Side's
Taste on the Common. She will also offer a group belly
is an umbrella term," she says. "It's also
something of a misnomer. You can see the belly. But
it is mostly about the hips."
She pauses for a second. "Actually, dancing is
about your heart and soul," she continues. "I
view dance as a celebration of life."
Rose is now 27. She
has brown eyes and shoulder-length dark brown hair with
bangs and a gentle, serene nature. She looks taller
than her 5-foot-7 height. Two years ago, Rose was diagnosed
with a brain tumor.
In New York, taking part in a weeklong dance workshop,
she was heading to a friend's apartment in Brooklyn.
She felt great. The next thing she knew, she was looking
up at emergency medical technicians who asked if she
knew her name. Rose had suffered a grand mal seizure.
It was July 1, the day after her 26th birthday. A month
later, she underwent seven hours of surgery to, as she
puts it, "have as much of the tumor taken out as
possible." She was given no promises.
is the shorthand Rose uses to describe the transition
from an athletic young woman to someone facing the threat
of paralysis or death. "But, I thought if this
was it, I never sat on my butt, I did what I wanted
to do," she says. "I taught and shared my
art." Rose couldn't drive for six months. She didn't
dance for a year. While she recuperated, she moved back
to Southampton to be cared for by her mother. Rose kept
getting clean MRIs. The cancer appeared to be gone.
She returned to dancing and teaching this time last
year. Rose says she has never felt better.
She shares her story
because she believes it offers some hope to people in
the midst of their struggles with illness. "Hope
is an important healer," Rose says. "When
you are sick, you hold on to hope. It is a comfort on
long days. Rose has to leave the Barnes & Noble
in Holyoke where we've talked. She has a lesson to teach.
About the celebration of life. Though some might call
it belly dancing.
This review was printed
in the Thursday, June 09, 2005 edition of the Republican
Newspaper and carried by MassLive.com. Tom
Shea can be reached at
Tshea@repub.com ©2005 The Republican © 2005
MassLive.com All Rights Reserved.