The right moves

As she moves her hips in unison with the music, 22 girls attempt to imitate her every move.

The music is blaring and intoxicating – a mix of deep bass drums intertwined with fast, rhythmic Arabic instrumentation and overlaid by a solemn male voice overflowing with emotion.

For UH belly dancing instructor and history senior Shireen Amira, this is a part of life.

"I learned from my mother and cousin," Amira said. "My mom used to take me to a bunch of belly dancing shows in Jordan (where I was born). I would watch the dancers, then go home and practice."

Amira, 23, moved to Houston in 2002 at age 17 and taught classes in Katy until about a year ago, when she learned that the UH Campus Recreation and Wellness Center was in search of a belly dancing instructor.

What started as a bi-weekly beginner’s class has turned into three weekly classes, two of which are advanced and intermediate level dance classes with roughly 25 students each, and UH’s first belly dancing student organization, the Hourglass Girls.

"As my beginner students started to become more comfortable with (the dances), they started moving up into my Tuesday and Thursday (advanced and intermediate) classes," Amira said.

The beginners’ class with 22 students is now the smallest of the three.

The Hourglass Girls consist of five members who perform in numerous venues around Houston, including Agora and the Last Concert Cafe.

"Also, my stepmom is an Arabic singer and she (has) gotten us clients to perform at Arabic clubs," Amira said. "We did Frontier Fiesta; I organized that…. There was a multicultural performance set up by Campus Activities where we won an award for best costume."

The group has also performed at the University Center and other areas on campus for various events.

For Amira, belly dancing is also a vessel for spreading the culture of her Arabic upbringing to others.

"I feel that by doing belly dancing it shows you to the Arabic culture, especially at this time when everyone thinks that Arabs are terrorists and all that," she said. "People have a chance to stop and see that there are different types of Arabs. It makes me happy… to see different races standing together."

After graduating in December, Amira plans to move to Los Angeles in pursuit of her dream of becoming a professional dancer.

"I plan to continue doing belly dancing solo and maybe organizing some groups down there,… we’ll see where it takes me," Amira said.

"Right now I just want to go and pursue this dream. I majored in history and religion just because my parents didn’t want me to do dancing for my degree; they wanted me to have a backup (career). I want to focus on dance and see what happens."

As far as her legacy on campus is concerned, Amira understands the possibility of this being the last semester of the Hourglass Girls.

Besides starting the group from the ground up, "I feel like I’ve done a lot at UH for the girls," Amira said. "I get their costumes; I make up all the dances; I get all the music; I introduce new moves in the Hourglass Girls; and I even take them sometimes to Agora as a little field trip.

"When I leave, I don’t know who is going to take my place, so I want everyone to take advantage of me while I’m here," she said.

For Amira, her passion and her dreams for the future are intertwined.

"I’ve always loved belly-dancing," she said. "I’m going to be Shakira’s backup dancer some day."

For more information on the Hourglass Girls, go to

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